As busy educators, it’s hard to find time to read, let alone sift through the thousands of different resources available, to get the most out of the reading time we do have. At Branching Minds, we try to stay as current as possible with the literature and best practices in the field, so you don’t have to. We compiled a list of what we believe to be the most useful books for your MTSS practice. What’s even better: all of these books are relatively quick to read, include many case studies or real-life examples, and are easily broken down by chapter. If you can’t read a whole book at once, narrowing it down to one component can be easily done with these resources. We love these books and hope you find one in the list below that will be helpful to you.
For reference to key MTSS terms, check out this blog: Demystifying the MTSS Mystery.
Long before the pandemic shuttered our nation’s schools in mid-March 2020, many districts across the country had been working to transition to MTSS (Multi-Tiered Student Support System). Schools started to let go of traditional models to evaluate students for special education and instead began moving towards a Whole Child approach to consider the needs of all students. Many chose to transition to MTSS because it uses a multi-tiered support foundation that wraps around a school’s entire student body and uses data-driven problem-solving to address academic and non-academic (attendance, social-emotional, etc.) needs. Schools and districts making this shift found that they improved education for all students, gained efficiencies, and prevented students from “slipping through the cracks.”
“We live in a time of opportunity and danger. Individuals, organizations, communities, and countries must continuously adapt to new realities to survive. Wanting more, wanting to thrive even under constantly shifting and often challenging conditions, people in all sectors are called on to lead with the courage and skill to challenge the status quo, deploy themselves with agility, and mobilize others to step into the unknown.”
- The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Alexander Grashow, Marty Linsky, and Ronald Heifetz
When someone considers preparing a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, they can’t simply start cooking. They gather recipes, inventory their pantry, and create a timeline to tackle the multiple simultaneous efforts that will occur on preparation day. Furthermore, a novice cook will have a very different knowledge base than someone who has been cooking for their kids and grandkids for thirty years. We all come to such a project with a similar end goal; a lovely meal surrounded by happy stuffed friends and family. Much like cooking, schools come to Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) from all different places.
For many educators the acronym MTSS is new, but for most, the work of MTSS is actually quite familiar. Most educators can agree that:
These commitments have been part of almost every school district’s mission, goals, and plan in some form across the country for decades. MTSS, or multi-tiered system of support, may be a rebranding of these commitments and best practices in education, but what it comprises is in no way a new initiative.
There is a universal truth when starting any sort of new project, vision, implementation, or system change: a disruption and reallocation of time and resources must be addressed. With the addition of a new goal, there will be a back and forth battle as finite (time, staffing, money) resources are reassigned. To minimize or alleviate the exhaustion that accompanies the tug-of-war, alignment should be the goal of every leader.
In 2001, motivated by the desire to make US education rankings more competitive in the global climate, the G.W. Bush administration pushed through an initiative called "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)." Through this initiative, schools were held accountable for student success determined by state testing. Schools that did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state exams could be penalized, placed under state supervision and required to make significant improvements in their programming. Alongside the birth of NCLB came Response to Intervention (RTI), a practice designed to help educators apply many teaching best practices to proactively identify and intervene on behalf of students needing additional support. Whereas state tests worked as an accountability measure to determine if students had made adequate progress for NCLB’s purpose, RTI practices pushed educators to seek out more proactive data, such as benchmark assessments (tri-annual broad outcome measures) that sampled students' mastery of grade level skills. Using adaptive measures that adjusted the level of difficulty based on previous responses, the assessments were able to identify every student's ability level and compare them to local and national samples. These data were analyzed by school teams early in the academic year to identify students who were at the highest risk to ensure they receive more and/or targeted instruction in deficit areas. Students identified as needing intervention were then briefly assessed 1x/week or 2x/month to get small samples of their growth in a specific skill area. This "progress monitoring" was designed to help educators evaluate the quality of a student's response to the intervention they received. If students showed growth, they could graduate from needing the additional support. If students struggled to progress, teachers would use tracking graphs to determine if they should change or intensify what they were doing to support the student.
School districts are increasingly adopting MTSS/RTI intervention management software to help teachers streamline their documentation work and strengthen their student intervention practice. This is largely due to the evolution of the MTSS/RTI software space, which has grown significantly over the past ten years. There are two primary factors responsible for this renaissance: 1) advancements in technology and design have finally made their way into education technology, fostering user experience and engagement that delights rather than dismays teachers; and 2) the culture of intervention has shifted from the compliance-driven Response to Intervention protocol, which often felt like a laborious chore, to the more holistic and school-wide practice of Multi-Tiered System of Supports, which resonates with teachers’ desire to personalize and accelerate learning in equitable ways.
As a lifelong educator, I have worked for decades with teachers and teacher candidates in pre-k through high school classrooms in both public and private schools. One constant for my teachers across the board regardless of subject matter/specialty or grades taught--all consistently have experienced the “educational pendulum” swinging throughout their careers, and some may have even experienced the pendulum swing with multiple initiatives, new policies, etc. in a single year. In just this past year alone, teachers have experienced the shift from remote instruction to hybrid learning, and then back to in-person learning. It is no surprise that experiencing many shifts in the classroom can lead to fatigue, burnout, skepticism and a feeling that whatever the change is, “it won’t last.” Research has found that teachers make more minute-by-minute decisions than brain surgeons, and this can obviously be exhausting, especially when trying to keep up with new school initiatives (Watson, 2017). Unfortunately, due to this exhaustion, I believe that some vital processes such as MTSS/RTI run the risk of becoming miscategorized and put on the “just something else to do” list; rather than recognized as a best practice for all students, and a model for all schools.
Students who are meeting or exceeding standards may require enrichment beyond the core to demonstrate academic growth. It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that all students make academic progress regardless of their entry-level. The Branching Minds Support Library contains learning activities that may be used as early as Tier 1, as teachers design differentiated instruction for individual or small groups of students. Below are some examples from the Branching Minds Support Library: