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How Can MTSS Work in a Remote Environment?

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June 23rd, 2020

Can MTSS really be done in a remote environment?

Although the environment might be different, many of the elements of MTSS are the same. It’s just a matter of how we can elevate decisions or practices that can be highly generalizable across different scenarios.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Christine Russell shared insights around how to successfully implement MTSS in a remote environment, based on her experiences as an MTSS Coordinator at a virtual academy. In this post, we’ll highlight some of those suggestions.

MTSS Team Meetings in a Remote Environment

Collaboration is an essential part of successful MTSS implementations. Luckily, when it comes to holding team meetings, remote meetings can function fairly similarly to those happening in seated environments. In either instance, you can essentially be in the same room. But there are some things to keep in mind, especially if you’re someone helping to lead those remote meetings.

  1. Staff need time to catch-up and share prior to getting into the work. Whether it’s 5 or 10 minutes, allow that time to give some space for personal sharing.

  2. Be honest about what can be accomplished during a meeting. Realize that people have limited time in their day and can only spend so much time in a remote meeting. Prioritize what’s important, schedule out your agenda, and get the most important things done first.

  3. Be clear about what needs to be done before and after meetings. Could you shorten meetings if some work is done prior to the meeting? See if you can find ways to free up more time for everyone.

  4. Set up an organizational system for meeting notes and action items. Identify an online system or shared drive to store meeting notes and student information. Also, make sure your team agrees on a good structure within the drive to make files easier to locate (i.e., proper naming conventions, folders, etc.).

  5. Assign partners to action items or a point person to follow-up and check in on progress. There’s less ability to casually check-in on one another when working remotely. Consider assigning partners on action items to ensure the responsibilities don’t just lay on one person or fall through the cracks.

Using MTSS Data in a Remote Environment

What is the data telling you about your kids? Although it’s often harder to gather data in a remote environment, doing so is still a priority. And you still have enough tools available to help you do the job (albeit with a little more creativity). You can continue to:

  1. Use screening, formatives, and summatives. Whatever data you have in front of you, use it to evaluate growth. Screening can happen with more creative methods.

  2. Use exit tickets. Try asking students to throw an “exit ticket” response in the chat box as they’re leaving. Or ask them to send a quick email to ensure they understand the material that you wanted them to learn that day.

  3. Be creative in how students show their knowledge and learning. Try your best to get as many progress monitoring data points as possible. When you come back in the fall, you’ll have more data to evaluate and help inform your decisions.

Certainly, there are some things to watch out for when you’re thinking about how to gather data in the future if kids are still at home.

  • Parent-coaching during assessment. You want the parents to be coaches with the kids, but not during an assessment. Stress how integral it is for the students to show you what they know on their own so you can plan for what to do next. (The concern here is not with the students getting every question right, but having accurate results so you know how to proceed with instruction.)

  • Anxiety or stress that may impact student results. This current environment can cause anxiety and stress for students. Keep this at the forefront as you look at their data.

  • Making decisions with only one piece of data. Be sure that you’re using multiple pieces of data to triangulate with any of the data that you have, even if you feel it isn’t as adequate or thorough as in a seated environment. Use as much information as possible to inform your thinking about what the next steps will be.

Evidence-Based MTSS Practices in a Remote Environment

With regards to evidence-based practices, the main questions to think about are: How do I typically accomplish this? How can I best keep students engaged through the work? How can I continue to achieve the intended purpose?

Here you should consider two points.

  1. Try to keep as much educational continuity between seated and remote environments as possible. For example, Anita Archer, a researcher and author who focuses on active engagement, encourages a sample resource like this following card that could be applied in both the traditional classroom and remote setting. Students can print out a hard copy of this card, which could be used and flipped around to address multiple choice, social-emotional well-being, true/false, and yes/no questions. This could be adapted in either environment.

  1. Keep a balance between intention and engagement. There’s a tendency to fall into the temptation of doing an activity that’s trendy or fun, while losing the purpose around instruction. Or you can stick too much to the purpose even as you’re losing the interest or attention of your students. Therefore, it’s important to keep a good balance.

In any case, remember the purpose of what you’re doing and consider the best way to adapt (if you can’t continue) the format in a different setting.

MTSS Continuous Improvement Cycles in a Remote Environment

Adapting continuous improvement cycles (plan-do-study-act or problem-solving cycles) in a remote setting still requires basic data. Here we should consider the pieces at each support level: universal, targeted, intensified.

  1. For all students – You can simplify the collection and sharing of basic data such as grades and attendance. Are they coming in at all during the week? Are they progressing in the courses? How are they performing with their screening and formative data?

  2. For some students – Consider moving to additional supports when classroom level supports have been provided but are not having the desired impact. At this point, targeted teaching of a strategy or skill is needed. Move onto intensified supports when multiple and/or severe deficits are affecting progress, and additional supports are in place but progress is slow.

  3. For both additional and intensified supports – In both cases, the following elements should still be consistent: attendance, fidelity, attitude/engagement, and progress.

In Summary

In light of these steps, note that we should also apply special attention to two areas. The first area is social-emotional needs. It’s important to elevate our ability to meet those needs at this time.

The second area is equity and restoration. Most districts had to pivot quickly, which has likely amplified some inequities or brought about new inequities. Applying attention in this area provides a way to tell us who has not been served, who are we concerned about, and how can the system be adjusted to make this all work smoothly.

We hope your team can apply these tips as they meet over the summer. Putting in the planning time now will help you capitalize on a system that’s been disrupted and carry the work forward in a new and meaningful way.

Would you like to learn more? Watch our on-demand “Thinking Forward with Equity-Based MTSS: Supporting All Students in a Changing World” webinar.


Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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