Multi-Tier System of Supports: Professional Reflections

What is MTSS?

Most educators are familiar with the term response-to-intervention, or RTI. This term came about from the re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), which explicitly prohibited states from requiring school districts to use IQ-achievement discrepancy criteria in the identification of students with specific learning disabilities, and encouraged use of a scientific, research-based approach known as response-to-intervention. RTI is the practice of providing high-quality, multi-tiered instruction and interventions matched to students’ needs, through ongoing monitoring and data collection.

According to The State of New Jersey Department of Education (2017), RTI has been in schools for over 15 years; however, RTI has evolved into a multi-tiered system of support or MTSS, which incorporates system components that support the core instruction and intervention components.  Multi-tiered system of supports or MTSS takes RTI one step further and directly addresses not only academic concerns, but also social, emotional, and behavioral development. MTSS integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavioral problems. With MTSS, schools use data to identify students at risk, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness.

Professional Reflections on MTSS

To fulfill one of my internship requirements in obtaining my principal certification, I utilized teacher surveys, student data, as well as relevant research to identify district-wide areas of need with the implementation of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). Through conversations with educators in both my school district and in districts across the state, I have seen multiple instances where the implementation of MTSS was scattered, incomplete, and superficial.

For the purpose of this article, my reflections focus on the need for improved targeted professional development on MTSS for both teachers and school leaders. Educational reform, demanded by policy, ultimately relies on teachers. Yet, in many cases they are not afforded the opportunity for adequate  development. Research has proven that effective professional development is key to teachers learning and refining the pedagogies required to implement MTSS; however, from my professional experiences, adequate professional development falls short.

Through the process of my internship, I learned many teachers felt unprepared to meet the needs of students within their classrooms as it pertained to MTSS. Teacher survey data indicated that staff members felt overwhelmed and confused with the MTSS resources available, and lacked a conceptual understanding of the MTSS process. Many teachers believed they were forced to implement “one more” initiative on top of everything else they’re asked to do, when in actuality, they were already personalizing student instruction. The vast amount of information shared with the teachers seemed to complicate the process of strategic change, and diminished the focus of targeted MTSS teacher support.

MTSS is not merely another initiative; it promises to reform education in significant ways, through a more personalized learning approach. From this experience, I learned that school leaders must provide quality, ongoing, professional development when implementing change and district-wide initiatives. It didn’t matter how perfect the paperwork and digital resources were, or how well the MTSS committee worked as a team, if teachers don’t know how to implement tiered supports in the classroom, the initiative is a moot point.  School leaders must be present and visible in supporting classroom instruction and initiatives by providing ongoing and embedded in-class coaching and consulting. They must acknowledge teachers who are taking steps towards effective implementation, and be clear with teachers who are not participating that they are expected to grow and move forward in providing supports for all students.

Effective professional development provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice. Therefore, MTSS PD initiatives must engage teachers in learning over weeks, months, or even academic years, rather than in short, one-day workshop .

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