Enhancing Current Models of Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS)
By Dawn Foreman, M. Ed., Partnership Director
Addressing the current youth mental health crisis requires thinking differently about our collective approach to providing equitable, positive learning experiences and safe, supportive environments for all students and educators. We’re continuing to more deeply understand the negative impacts of historical and ongoing biased and racist perspectives reflected in the design and practices of schools, and what role the design and practices of schools can play in mitigating this impact.
Many schools across the country currently leverage a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), which the National Association of School Psychologists defines as “an evidence-based framework for effectively integrating multiple systems and services to simultaneously address students’ academic, behavioral, and social-emotional well-being.”
Turnaround for Children has applied the science of learning and development to enhance the traditional MTSS approach in our Tiered System of Supports. All students have unique needs, interests, strengths, and areas of vulnerability to strengthen, support, and maintain. The science tells us that there are reasons behind the academic, social, emotional, and motivational challenges that students present.
What Are the Opportunities to Enhance Current Models of Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS)?
In many MTSS models, schools unintentionally place an emphasis on gaps, challenges, and/or difficulties students present. For example, the area(s) of struggle is identified, a research- or evidence-based intervention is provided, and the student may or may not make progress toward identified goal(s).
In many MTSS models, students are blamed for failing to meet our expectations. The U.S. education system under which we continue to educate students has been shaped in, conditioned by, and made to reflect the biased White Supremacy that created it.
How Does Turnaround’s Approach Enhance a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)?
Turnaround for Children’s approach to MTSS is aligned to whole-child design and grounded in science. We have enhanced existing models of multi-tiered systems of support by applying the science of learning and development. All students have unique needs, interests, strengths, and areas of vulnerability to strengthen, support, and maintain; the science tells us that there are reasons behind the academic, social, emotional, and motivational challenges that students present.
Turnaround’s Tiered System of Supports approach takes into account the context of the student — the environments, relationships, and experiences of students. Development is bi-directional; it is both our biology and our context that make us who we are.
In order to meet the needs of students in a whole-child way, we must get to the “why” or the root cause of the student’s struggle:
- Are they struggling with a math or reading skill that is really because of a lack of relationship between teacher and student?
- Is it because the learning environment is chaotic?
- Is it because they have not yet mastered a prerequisite skill?
If we do not take student context into account, we are likely going to continue treating the symptom — that lagging reading or math skill — and apply a research- and evidence-based intervention that may or may not meet the student’s need.
Turnaround’s Tiered System of Supports approach asks districts, school leaders, and school staff to engage in reflection. We believe that reflective practices will help to mitigate against continued reinforcement of inequitable systems, structures, policies, and mindsets that often lead to a negative school experience for some of our students.
In order to meet the needs of students in a whole-child way, we must require that district and school staff reflect on their current systems, structures, practices, and mindsets. Some examples are below:
- How could this system, structure, or practice be refined to enhance a sense of calmness and predictability, as well as to ensure all students feel physically, emotionally, and identity safe?
- In what ways do we acknowledge the role the environment plays in the ability for students to demonstrate skills and mindsets?
- What is my learning environment like (safe, unpredictable, etc.)?
- What assumptions might I be making about this student? What assumptions might the student be making about me?
When making a shift from one approach to another, there will be both technical and adaptive challenges along the way. Turnaround provides knowledge-building content and tools that will support educators in this journey as they move from a more traditional approach to MTSS to a Tiered System of Supports that is whole-child aligned and grounded in the science of how young people grow and develop.