Ask yourself, is the organization I lead yielding the kind of success I expect? Do I need to rethink a part of the organizational systems and structures? During the pandemic, it is a perfect time to do a reset and ask those questions to evaluate whether you are achieving the results you expect. Working smarter, not harder (and having a clearly articulated plan) has been my mantra throughout the implementation of MTSS, and if done well, you will see the benefits of it, too! Implementation of any system, structure, or initiative takes strategic planning and leadership. However, knowing how or where to begin can often feel overwhelming, lead to frustration, and lack an organized approach. Over the course of my years in education, I have been part of various projects at the building and central office level. The ones that have been met with the most success include thoughtful planning, communication, and collaboration.
Implementation of any system, structure, or initiative takes strategic planning and leadership. However, knowing how or where to begin can often feel overwhelming, lead to frustration, and lack an organized approach.
In this blog, I would like to provide insight into moving from the planning stage to implementing an MTSS framework in a system. I have recently coordinated this project with a large city school district in New York State. Although there were some systems and structures in place, having a strong alignment amongst 60 buildings and central office was the action I was tasked with.
Definition of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)
One of the first things I did was define what an MTSS is. I quickly found that some people thought this meant establishing a problem-solving process, while others referred to it as RTI. Although these elements are not entirely wrong, they do not portray the entire framework. MTSS is a comprehensive tiered intervention model that aims to improve all students' academic, behavioral, and social-emotional performance within a school system. Sounds simple, right?
The Challenge: Where Do I Begin?
Once defined, the next challenge was to create a logic model and decide the best way to measure success for this initiative. I found it useful to focus on a 6-component model for MTSS, which consisted of the following:
Another challenge was to outline ways to measure success and have a ‘road map’ to support leadership with the rollout of this project. Also, it was essential to establish a communication plan to ensure every stakeholder group was included as part of the process. Once all these things were in place, it was time to execute a plan for the framework.
Accomplishments: How to Move from Planning to Implementation
Which topic should I start with? I thought it was important to start with Leadership componet. This component does not and should not insinuate the sole role of the principal. Instead, leadership refers to all who are involved in creating and implementing the systems and structures of an MTSS. However, the principal does play an integral role in identifying members of their leadership team. The principal and their team have a critical role in assuring the work involves collaboration, professional development, communication, and a strategic plan of action.
Which topic should I start with? I thought it was important to start with Leadership componet.
Part of Capacity Building/Infrastructure involves creating a strategic plan specifically for MTSS. The work I was involved in consisted of two goals/commitments, action items, stakeholder groups, and a timeline. In addition, an MTSS Planning Guide was produced, which included indicators, definitions, and a glossary of terms. It is important to do a needs assessment to determine where the organization is, and I used a Self-Assessment for MTSS (SAM) adapted from Floridarti.usf.edu. This tool provided building leadership with assessment results of where they were on a continuum of successful implementation of the framework: Optimizing, Operationalizing, Emerging/Developing, or Not Implementing. Two versions were used based on personal preference: one in the form of a rubric and the other with descriptions of the components, indicators for success, and a place for notes.
A strong plan for Communicating/Collaborating involved creating a Professional Development Plan for MTSS with other departments (i.e., Curriculum/Instruction, Special Education, Office of School Innovation) to support the overview and messaging of the framework. Implementing a communication cycle for the entire organization is important for stakeholders to view the work in progress and not just something that starts and has no finality. I started by communicating with administrators at the central office and building level, all supporting departments, and teachers. Part of
this process is to communicate the message and other relevant information more than once, which is an important part of the implementation process.
Implementing a communication cycle for the entire organization is important for stakeholders to view the work in progress and not just something that starts and has no finality.
The next stage of professional learning and communication focused on Tier 1 supports as part of the Multiple Tiers of Instruction/Intervention component. Presentations were delivered myself and two MTSS Coaches specifically on academics, behavior, and social-emotional learning. Another resource that I generated was an MTSS Toolkit, and this offered a Menu of Tier 1 Instructional strategies and interventions for academics, behavior, SEL, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Another outcome of this component was a resource for Response to Intervention. As noted earlier, during interviews and meetings with teachers and administrators, I noticed a misunderstanding or misconception between MTSS, RTI, and Problem Solving. Some thought MTSS was a stand-alone concept, and others perceived RTI as the same thing as MTSS, while others believed it had to do with problem-solving. The purpose of the RTI Guidance Document was to clarify the legislation of RTI, provide information on RTI as a multi-tiered prevention framework, and share the different types of assessment for screening, progress monitoring, and data-based decision making.
Developing a structure for a Problem-Solving Process was the next accomplishment. The use of data-based problem solving to make educational decisions is a critical element of MTSS implementation, and I coordinated the process and the protocols for documentation purposes. This ‘road map’ or guidance document for problem-solving was created and this involved benchmarks for attendance, behavior, and course performance, along with other relevant information for monitoring student progress and a structure for problem-solving meetings. Given the importance of Data/Evaluation, it was important to address the access of data sources that align with assessment purposes.
Having a strong MTSS framework will help schools achieve a system for ongoing success. However, sometimes you must go slow to go fast. What I mean by that is having a strategic plan devoted to MTSS was important as a starting point. It served as a continual reminder of what the goals were and how to operationalize them. Understanding the six components of this framework were critical elements that led to an effective MTSS implementation. I am pleased to say all expectations and established goals were exceeded by the end of this project.
Does your school or district need some support developing, revising or implementing MTSS? We at ACP can not recommend Lisa Montanaro enough!
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Lisa Montanaro, Leadership Coach.