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Using the 4 Load-Bearing Walls of Equity-Based MTSS to Plan for Next Year

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June 12th, 2020

We’re all navigating uncertainty right now. That uncertainty might be around what school will look like next year, the nature and intensity of student needs in the fall, or the best staff supports to help our teams successfully support students.

But as Dr. Dawn Miller and Dr. Christine Russell shared in a recent webinar, districts and schools also have pre-existing, load-bearing structures that can be flexible around those uncertainties.

Let’s unpack the four load-bearing walls of MTSS and recommendations for leaning into them as we plan for the coming school year.


Teaming Considerations

There are many different teaming structures when we talk about MTSS, from school-wide leadership teams to universal data analysis teams and intervention data analysis teams. As we look into the coming years, team collaboration will be more important than ever before. 

Here are some planning considerations around maximizing teaming this year:

  • Make team meetings a master calendar priority. Calendar out PLC and data analysis teams meetings before the school year starts. This means that if we do have to transition meetings between different settings, we won’t lose sight of what that team is doing.
  • Use a consistent agenda format. Make sure to include: check-ins, celebrations, processing of the meeting, identifying facilitators and barriers, and attention to accessibility issues/options. 
  • Utilize electronic format for agendas, notes, and artifacts. Being able to utilize an electronic format to go between different platforms really enables us to access our recent and past history, and allows people to get in and out of those documents. This will make the operation more efficient. 
  • Revisit team membership. Evaluate whose voices are missing and how can we make sure to get those voices at the table.



Data are key to MTSS and drive decisions ranging from student needs to evaluating programming to informing professional development. Although different data are used by different teams, they are typically used to answer four key questions at various levels: (1) How are we doing? (2) Who needs what? (3) Are we doing what we agreed to do? (4) Is what we’re doing working?

Here are some planning considerations around using data in the coming year:

  • Stay committed to questions that guide the effective use of data. We may not have the data we’ve always had (especially from this spring), but we still have data. Keep using the data you have and ask questions to help use data to drive action. Example questions might be: Who were we concerned about before the school closures? What did our universal screening data indicate in winter? Who has self-identified to be struggling?
  • Prioritize the questions around social and emotional well-being and executive functioning. Some of the questions we might not have asked, we want to be sure that we’re asking and check in on it. This will help us be tuned into how our students are doing holistically and not just academically.
  • Pay heightened attention to looking at data for marginalized students. Focus on those who have been traditionally marginalized (i.e., students of color, students who receive IEPs, etc.). We must commit to pouring our energy into understanding and addressing inequities for these student groups.

Using data consistently and thoughtfully now will allow your team to attend to that restoration quickly as possible in the fall.


Evidence-Based Practices

With regards to instruction, our approach should be towards using the best “evidence-based practices to the extent possible” around what we teach and how we teach. 

Here are some planning considerations around evidence-based practices:

  • Focus on relationships. We know the importance of relationships and how crucial it is to be authentic and consistent. This might involve creative teaching configurations (co-teaching, etc.), parent meetings instead of open house, “T+1” (a teacher and at least one other adult in the building to do check-in’s with students), and a “10-2-10” (i.e., taking 2 minutes across 10 days to have a conversation with 10 students). 
  • Set classroom routines and expectations. Consider areas of routines that would have a community focus and could extend across different scenarios. For example, classroom circles could be a good routine that would allow students to share how they’re doing and what they need, and practice good listening skills with one another. Revisit expectations at the beginning of the year; teach through examples and non-examples of what it means to be respectful, whether in the classroom or remote environment.
  • Provide frequent and positive feedback. Focus on your known techniques for keeping students engaged in their work. Try to keep some educational continuity as much as possible. Use engagement techniques that work for you. (Be+ is a good app from University of Oregon that can help give positive feedback.)
  • Give explicit instruction. What’s an activity you previously did face-to-face, and how can you now replicate this from a distance? Perhaps you can still accomplish the same thing, you just need to think about how to adapt it for the students in the remote environment. 


Continuous Improvement Cycles

No matter what you call it—whether it’s continuous improvement cycles, plan-do-study-act cycles, problem-solving cycles, etc.—a hallmark of MTSS is having a flexible mindset and continuously using data to determine where we got it right, what strengths we can lean into, what practices we need to strengthen, and what the workable solutions might be.

Here are some planning considerations around continuous improvement cycles:

  • Master calendar data/review cycles. These typically occur monthly or three times a year. Often, they will follow a key data collection for a more broad data review. Increase the frequency if you’re in a remote environment, and schedule those meetings now to ensure they take place.
  • Don’t let the absence of preferred data derail the review. Focus on what you have, think creatively about what you can gather, and recognize that you may need to ask some different questions.
  • Lean into strengths. Capitalize on this time as an opportunity for creative thinking about how to make things work.

Creating Your Plan

Below is a planning outline from the webinar that can be used to facilitate these conversations and streamline planning. It takes each of those four load-bearing structures across the tiers of MTSS and provides a space for opening the conversation around what are our current existing strengths for MTSS. So, we can first think about amplifying those strengths before moving into different scenarios for next year.


With this chart, consider how to elevate decisions or consider practices that:

  • Can be highly generalizable across different scenarios. In other words, consider how to approach in a way that it can be transitioning between a seated, remote, or hybrid environment with the least amount of disruption possible. 
  • Focus on social and emotional needs. Some literature has been talking about meeting social emotional behavior (SEB) needs, for adults as well as students at this time.
  • Focus on equity and restoration. We’ve had to pivot very quickly and that has likely amplified some inequities or brought about new inequities. This provides a way to put it on the table and tell us, goes to tell us who has not been served, who are we concerned about, how can the system be adjusted to make this work really well?

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

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