At Branching Minds, we use the most advanced learning science and education research to help schools transform from their current practices to MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports), on a daily basis. MTSS is 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.
MTSS includes the following:
Robust core curriculum and differentiated instruction that meets the needs of 80% or more of students, and the use of valid and reliable universal screeners to identify student needs for all students;
The creation of student support intervention plans and progress monitoring for such interventions; and
Creating processes to consistently review student data and adjust instruction based upon progress.
Wrap-Around MTSS Cycle of Support
The following guide has been created to help schools jumpstart solving the top four MTSS challenges we see in the field:
For more information about the nuts and bolts of MTSS, check out
➡️ This blog post on Demystifying MTSS
➡️This MTSS Guide
MTSS Challenge #1: Analyzing Current Core Practices
To kick off the transformation process to MTSS, schools can begin by analyzing their current core curriculum. The core curriculum is the collection of strategies that are used routinely with ALL students within a general education setting. Schools and districts implementing MTSS look to their core curriculum to meet the needs of at least 80% of their students. To tackle this challenge and understand if the core curriculum is serving the student body, ask the following questions:
Is there a core curriculum in place, and if so, is it being used with fidelity?
Robust professional development regarding the core curriculum and peer-to-peer teacher observations can be helpful when analyzing fidelity to the core curriculum.
Are instructional best practices such as differentiated instruction being used consistently?
Research has shown that when teachers consider the content, process, products, or the learning environment when planning for instruction, they are better able to meet the needs of all learners. (Weselby, 2021) Peer-to-peer teacher observations, protected teacher collaboration time, and highlighting instructors to model differentiation are all helpful strategies for evaluating instructional best practices.
Are universal screeners being used routinely?
When universal screeners are consistently administered in the fall, winter, and spring, teachers can quickly identify their student’s areas of strength, as well as their areas of need. This data is critical to understand if most students are progressing, need significant or proactive support, and what specific areas of need will receive a targeted intervention. Universal screeners should be easy to administer and include percentiles and raw scores, which schools can use to group students into tiers based on their level of performance.
➡️Learn more about selecting MTSS supports such as universal screeners
➡️ Download our Core Workout Worksheet designed to help school leaders determine the state of their core instruction, and walk through the questions they need to reflect on with their teams to affect positive change in targeted ways.
Challenge #2: Creating New MTSS Processes
As we all know, teaching is one of the most challenging jobs. As educators emerge from pivoting back and forth between remote and in-person learning, students and teachers alike may feel exhausted. Recent studies show that teachers nationwide work an average of an additional 1-2 hours either before they arrive in the morning or after they leave in the afternoon, averaging a 10-11-hour workday (Rode, 2019).
As we work to create new MTSS processes to meet all student's needs (and concurrently reduce fatigue and create efficiency for teachers), it is essential to analyze all current meetings teachers are required to attend. Many current meetings can be trimmed (or removed) to reduce redundancy by moving to the following three student support MTSS meeting types.
(Meeting Type 1) The Grade/Content Team MTSS Meetings:
These meetings are facilitated by grade level/content level teams and can be held monthly to create intervention group plans, identify patterns of need within the grade and/or content area, and monitor student progress.
(Meeting Type 2) The Individual Problem-solving MTSS Meetings:
These meetings are facilitated by assigned teachers and can be held weekly or biweekly (depending upon number of students with needs) and used to create and evaluate plans for individual students.
(Meeting Type 3) The School Level Meetings:
These meetings are facilitated by leadership and can be held three times a year after each benchmark screening period. The leadership team should use these meetings to discuss the evaluation of tier movement, growth, and equity of tiers across the school.
By transitioning to this streamlined approach, leadership can remove extraneous meetings as the above meeting types should cover all student needs.
Challenge #3: Efficiently Find and Implement Effective Interventions and Tracking Their Progress
Intervention strategies can be easily googled and subsequently taught; however, how do teachers know if they will actually work? Interventions can have varying levels of evidence behind them--some are robust and research-based, others may have very little evidence of success. When educators use strategies with little or no research base, valuable instructional time gets lost waiting for the support to impact student progress over time. To determine if a favored intervention is research-based, educators can search for ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) curated interventions. ESSA was developed to help educators select interventions that are grounded in research. The duration and frequency of intervention support are based upon student need and the research-driven recommendations.
Progress monitoring assessments to measure intervention effectiveness should be administered weekly or biweekly, depending upon the students’ needs. It is critical to regularly create the time and space for reviewing progress monitoring data to determine if the intervention(s) provided needs to be adjusted/changed.
MTSS Implementation Fidelity Reference Guide
MTSS/RTI fidelity assessments review the most critical features of MTSS/RTI school-wide practices and help identify the critical missing steps to inform what schools should do next.
Use this MTSS/RTI Implementation Fidelity Reference Guide to figure out where your school is at in its implementation, and keep track of your infrastructural growth towards fidelity.
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Challenge #4: Managing the Change Management Processes
Successfully managing the challenge of the change management process is critical in transitioning from a traditional support model to MTSS. You may have heard the old phrase "...if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've got." (Anonymous). To avoid this from happening and ensure success, leadership must thoroughly think through and plan the change management process. The following tips are essential when engaging in change management in schools:
Find exemplars for modeling best practices and collaboration;
Concisely and frequently communicate policy changes;
Explain the "why" behind the change [eg. for MTSS];
Check-in regularly through quick surveys and questionnaires to see how the new policies are going; and
Create individual touchpoints with those that may be resistant to change. (Airiodion & Crolley, 2021)
When change occurs, some may feel overwhelmed or tempted to slip back into old patterns. As a result, thoroughly thinking through the above bullets can help avoid this from happening and instead create excitement about providing a wraparound foundation to meet all students' needs.
As a quick reference, you can use the checklist below to help identify and overcome the top four challenges when transitioning to MTSS.
Brief Checklist for Tackling the Top Four MTSS Challenges
Check core practices for fidelity and differentiated instruction
Create new MTSS processes/meetings for collaboration and efficiency
Find and implement effective student interventions as well as track progress
Actively manage the change management process
About the Branching Minds Solution
Branching Minds is an MTSS/RTI system-level education platform that brings together innovative, easy to use technology with the latest insights from the learning sciences to help drive student and school success, while making teachers and administrators work easier and more effective. Branching Minds connects data, systems, interventions, and stakeholders so that educators, administrators, and families can work better together to support students' holistic needs.
Weselby, C. (2021, April 29). Differentiated instruction: Examples & classroom strategies: Resilient educator. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/
Rode, D. (2019). Teachers Work a Shocking Amount of Overtime Hours and It’s All Unpaid. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from https://www.boredteachers.com/news/hours-teachers-really-work
Airiodion, O., & Crolley, F. (2021, January 27). The best guide for change management in education institutions. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from https://www.airiodion.com/change-management-in-education-guide