Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS): Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

by | Jan 29, 2018


Recently, a veteran educator in central Florida mentioned that her school, in a move to better serve students who were failing, had transitioned from using Response-to-Intervention (RtI) to Muti-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). Fresh from reading excellent case studies where schools had made tremendous turnarounds using the MTSS framework, I could not help myself.

I excitedly asked her how it was going and she dryly replied, “It’s not.”

She explained that teachers didn’t have any time to meet – no collective planning periods, no time set aside to discuss and map out instruction for the students they shared, or to contribute data that would help revise instruction.  If the teachers were unable to collaborate to help the students succeed, how could they possibly use MTSS to benefit their students? The short answer is, they can’t and it won’t.

MTSS is an intentional framework that, at its heart, focuses on growth through collaboration and multi-faceted approaches to student supports by integrating academic, behavioral, and social-emotional instructions. In the case of the veteran educator I mentioned, her lack of results indicated a need to revisit and reevaluate the school’s choice of instructional framework and the supports that were clearly missing.

MTSS, The 3-Tiered Approach

MTSS or Multi-Tiered System of Supports has been billed by numerous research studies and heralded by the US Department of Education as a best practice in differentiating instruction and implementing interventions for struggling students.  With elements of the old standards, RtI and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) folded into the newer MTSS, schools can knit a wide and strong safety net created by the community to ensure that no student falls through the gaps.

When speaking of RtI and MTSS, there are some who use the terms interchangeably. However, in reality, RtI is a significant part of MTSS, which encompasses much more. MTSS leverages the principles of RtI and PBIS, combined with sharing resources system-wide, along with collaborative strategies, structures, and practices.

“RtI is to MTSS, as phonemic awareness is to phonological awareness.”

MTSS calls for a 3-tiered approach to differentiating instruction. All students receive the universal curriculum, known as Tier 1. Students who need more targeted instruction are in Tier 2.  Students who receive the most intensive support and intervention are referred to as Tier 3. Teachers who share the same students work together to develop instruction across tiers and gather and share data in order to further inform instruction.

Communication and Collaboration

In order for MTSS to truly be effective, the school and district must create supports for teachers and staff to be able to communicate and collaborate successfully. Here are three examples of highly recommended supports:

– Teachers who teach the same students must have ongoing common planning time in order to discuss students and instruction across tiers.

– The MTSS team (which can include administrators, teachers, counselors, interventionists, and grade or subject team leaders) needs regular time and space to analyze data and problem solve.

– Parents must be informed and updated as to their child’s progress and should be included as active participants in the problem-solving processes in Tiers 2 and 3.

Successful Teachers = Successful Students

Schools can be transformed when students receive high-quality, differentiated instruction that is informed by the right types of data as called for within the MTSS framework. In order for teachers to be able to deliver this type of instruction, they need to be given time and space to effectively communicate and collaborate with their colleagues and community members to do the work that is necessary to prepare students for college and careers of their choice.

Without these essential elements, ​school improvement initiatives will continue to experience challenges and some will fail.