As schools across the country grapple with the continuing aftermath of pandemic-related impacts on education, it is clearer than ever that students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral challenges are inextricably linked. In order to address the overlapping crises of widespread learning loss and declining academic achievement, youth mental health problems, and increasing behavioral issues, many districts across the country are adopting a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to identify, triage, and provide the appropriate levels of support that students need to achieve success. In this framework, schools use collaboration, data, and evidence-based resources to provide equal opportunity for all learners to access grade-level content. MTSS addresses the needs of the whole student — academically, behaviorally, and socially-emotionally, and is widely recommended by education researchers to improve student outcomes and shrink equity gaps.
But for all the promise of the MTSS framework, bringing the component parts together can feel like an impossible challenge in a classroom setting without support and scaffolding. And for teachers who are already struggling to manage increasingly intense student needs for academic, social, emotional, and behavioral intervention, the conversation has moved from making the job of the teacher easier to making it even possible. Is it any wonder that many teachers are fleeing the profession they once loved? We want students to thrive — and we also want teachers to thrive, to have the tools they need to reach struggling students without sacrificing their own well-being.
School districts are turning to technology to better support teachers as they face the increased need for academic and behavioral intervention.
As a district administrator, it was my job to curate resources and develop systems that supported effective intervention. In conversations about MTSS in my district, we realized that an online platform that supported the entire intervention process would make all the difference for our teachers. Not just a compliance and reporting tool, not a document and data warehouse, but a live, interactive MTSS software platform that would reveal students’ personal learning and behavioral support needs, streamline communication and collaboration, point to the right interventions, make documentation simpler, and increase clarity and accountability in actionable ways. We knew what we were looking for — but as we waded through the various MTSS “solutions,” it seemed like they were completely disconnected from the actual practice of teaching and intervention. Then we came across Branching Minds, and it felt like we had discovered a unicorn. Here was an MTSS platform that was developed for teachers by teachers to meet our precise needs, and “make the best practices of MTSS really practicable.”
Branching Minds was created to give teachers the insights and guidance they need to understand why students are struggling to learn and what to do to help them succeed. By focusing on empowering educators, we are able to actually improve student outcomes. So many of the platforms out there prioritize compliance over improvement, and the result is that they become places to document failure rather than to guide success.
Technology empowers teachers, but only when it is the RIGHT technology
A robust Multi-Tiered System of Supports encompasses, connects, and drives the work that schools are doing to support all students. Implementing this framework impacts almost every area of campus and district life, including budget, hiring, curriculum and instruction, technology, behavior and wellness, professional development, and more. But it’s the teachers on the ground, doing the day-to-day work of instruction and intervention with students, that need the highest consideration in MTSS implementation. Just as we wouldn’t expect an accountant to work with a push-button calculator and ten different platforms that don’t talk with each other, teachers deserve carefully selected software tools that are integrated and tailored to their specific needs.
A teacher-friendly MTSS software platform:
Brings data together in a way that promotes understanding and action.
It is easy to become data-rich but information-poor. Data from student information systems, universal screeners, benchmarks, and progress-monitoring assessments should be seamlessly ingested and translated into actionable insights. The right MTSS software helps teachers see and understand which students are struggling and why, as well as the best intervention options.
Provides the infrastructure necessary for collaboration and increasedcollective efficacy among teachers, critical to student outcomes and teacher satisfaction.
Collective teacher efficacy is ranked as the single most significant factor influencing student achievement. Effective intervention systems provide the practical tools needed to increase collaboration and shared responsibility for student outcomes, along with a supportive and engaging culture for teachers.
Increases transparency between systems and stakeholders.
From general education to special education to gifted to ELL; from academics to behavior to wellness; from class to class, grade to grade, school to school, and district-wide — stakeholders should be able to easily document and access assessments, intervention plans, progress monitoring, student support meetings, and family communication so that everyone in the ecosystem has insight into how to holistically support their students.
Helps with early identification and intervention in academic and behavioral needs.
MTSS is the opposite of “wait to fail.” The right MTSS software brings together screening and assessment data to highlight areas where early intervention and support could improve student outcomes and prevent unnecessary and time-consuming special education referrals. When a disability is suspected, a rich history of MTSS intervention data strengthens and streamlines the special education evaluation process. At the secondary level, Early Warning Indicators provide insight into which students are at the highest risk of not graduating, helping educators target interventions that help prevent failure and drop-out.
MTSS implementation with the right tools empowers rather than exhausts teachers in meeting the needs of their students.
The significant learning and behavioral challenges in our schools are not going away. Teachers deserve technology tools that equip them to meet these challenges. Implementing the right MTSS software platform can be a transformative step in your district’s journey toward equity in supporting all students and providing real relief for overwhelmed teachers — it certainly was for mine.
Wherever you are in your MTSS journey, please remember to balance accountability with compassion, and increased student needs with increased educator support. When it comes to improving educational outcomes, we must prioritize the well-being of students and teachers simultaneously, and implement strategies that empower both to succeed.
And if you are searching for an MTSS platform to support this work, this guide can help you get started. It provides step-by-step directions and resources for the entire MTSS platform selection process, from building a task force to securing funding to communicating with stakeholders.
To learn more about how Branching Minds works to empower educators to more effectively, efficiently, and equitably support the holistic needs of ALL students, visit branchingminds.com.
Trudy Bender, Ed.S., LSSP, NCSP
MTSS Content Manager