MTSS for Educators

Four puzzle pieces in the shape of a human head. A hand moves the fourth and final piece into place.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Dr. Matthew Cheeseman lost both parents to suicide. 

“When you have two parents pass away by suicide, each and every day you look through a new lens of intent,” said the Superintendent at Beaufort County Schools in Washington, North Carolina, during a recent Tech & Learning webinar. 

Judging students and colleagues by intent rather than behavior is one of many ways in which Cheeseman – the NERESA Region 1 Superintendent of the Year – has tried to lead his staff and students through the mental health challenges of the past two years. 

Cheeseman and Dr. Tim Hudson, Chief Learning Officer at DreamBox Learning, spoke about how school leaders can use multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to help teachers and students. The virtual event was sponsored by DreamBox Learning and hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray. 

View the webinar on-demand here (opens in new tab)

Key Takeaways  

Supporting Educators

MTSS Programs Should Evolve 

Beaufort County Schools has been very intentional about setting up its MTSS program to address social and emotional learning, student behavior, and traditional academic learning as well as staff needs. “Each and every month we have assigned times to really look at our programs, value our programs, and look at what we need to change moving forward based on those values,” Cheeseman said. “We've developed an intentional plan for what it should look like for students. But we've also strategically provided monthly professional development to assist our system principals and our counselors at the school sites.” 

A key component of that plan is providing educators with the MTSS support they need so that they can be empowered to empower their students. “We're working through our adults in order to reach those students,” Cheeseman said. 

Educators Should Be Part of the MTSS Plan 

“We've had a lot of adult behaviors that needed support and needed to be addressed,” Cheeseman said. The district had “adults needing to be recognized, needing to feel loved, needing to feel respected, but also needing some accommodations along the way,” he added. 

Often staff members don’t know how to ask for the support they need, so part of the district's plan has been to train principals and other school leaders in MTSS and establish more lines of communication for educators to request help and assistance. These school leaders are also making sure they’re asking their staff what resources they need to be successful in their lives outside of school. 

Encourage Educators to Strike the Right Work-Life Balance

“I tell everyone that I'm in contact with that I would like you to work to live instead of living to work,” Cheeseman said. “Although we're in the business of teaching and learning, and we desire to have the greatest student outcomes for all, our goal is to make sure that our employees have the resources they need to be successful. So they know that each and every day we want them to come back refreshed from living that great life on the weekends, living that great life at home in the evening, but at the same time being present 100 percent of the time when they're here at work.” 

The Right Kind of Assessments  

Accelerate Students Without Causing Trauma 

Educators want students to hit certain benchmarks, but they need to be realistic about how they identify students who have fallen behind and how they get to them to catch up effectively, Hudson, from DreamBox Learning said. 

“Not every student is on that same schedule. So if every fourth grader is not going to be proficient in fourth-grade standards by the end of this school year, we have an obligation this year to accelerate them in a way that can get them on track by the end of fifth grade next year,” Hudson said. “We have to have those realistic expectations. We don't want to inflict any trauma on students by trying to rush them through things in a shallow sort of way.” 

Be Smarter About Assessments 

Effectively identifying the students who need support means designing assessments that meaningfully test student knowledge. Hudson said that if we tested driving the way we frequently test math, we would test each driver on turning, then on acceleration, etc. without ever having them combine the various skills needed to drive. “If we do assessment this way, it's not going to give us the most authentic picture of a student's true performance capability,” he said. “Assessing those isolated skills is the wrong way to monitor progress toward driving performance.” 

If your math assessments can be easily answered by Excel, a calculator, or another tech tool, you may need to rethink your assessment, he said. 

Don’t Take Shortcuts

Hudson said it’s important for teachers to take the time to develop meaningful assessments that challenge students. “We can't prioritize short-term gains on shallow assessment items,” he said. “Good learning takes time.” 

He then quoted a friend’s grandmother’s sage advice: “If you don't have time to do it right, you better have time to do it twice.” 

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author (opens in new tab) and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.