Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Five ways of looking at MTSS

MTSS stands for multi-tiered system of supports, and it's especially on my mind after Monday's in-service sessions aimed at professional learning. With apologies to poet Wallace Stevens who managed 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, I've manage less than half that. However, thanks to the quotable advice of writer Joan Didion -- who said, "I write to entirely find out what I'm thinking" -- I'm going to consider those ways in this blog.

1. Change is abundant where I teach: new schedule, new communication tools fronted by a new website, and what feel like new ways to navigate MTSS. This year, this makes me feel like a camel being heaped with straw. Rather than one reed at a time, the loading is happening by the bale.

2. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the context for MTSS change is unsettling. Current colleagues I know and respect have already begun crunching practical numbers in their heads and on backs of handouts to estimate what they predict it will take to execute MTSS plans, as we've heard them so far. These numbers feel neither manageable, nor sustainable, given currently available resources. These colleagues reached similar conclusions when analyzing the proposal to change our school schedule from seven periods to eight, and immediate hindsight seems to be proving them right.

3. This matrix showing a calculus of complex change sums up the current dynamics pointedly:

Based on what I heard Monday, I believe we need more of the four elements that follow (and bolster) vision; the sooner, the better, to alleviate the confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, and false starts experienced with only vision to guide us at this point.

4. Colorado's State Department of Education defines MTSS this way: "a prevention-based framework of team-driven data-based problem solving for improving the outcomes of every student through family, school, and community partnering and a layered continuum of evidence-based practices applied at the classroom, school, district, region, and state level." Meanwhile, a former colleague who shall remain anonymous commented from afar, "’I'm pretty sure MTSS isn’t real. As far as I can tell, every principal in the country is 'going to be implementing it soon, but don’t worry, it’s not actually that different from what we’re already doing.' "

5. A line from a book I've been rereading, Siddhartha, also sticks with me from Monday: "[Y]ou know that gentleness is stronger than severity, that water is stronger than rock, that love is stronger than force." (119-20)

So what am I thinking? I think I'll try flowing with change via curiosity; I can wonder about it, hopefully as I move closer to accepting it. This questioning stance can help me understand where colleagues are coming from, to test their ideas politely and in the process help strengthen or refine them. I can share the Ambrose infographic with school leaders to see how their view of MTSS implementation jibes with these findings and what we might learn usefully from the comparison. I can probe the state's vague verbiage to determine what it might mean for students at the school where I teach; I can also smile at the lived truth resonating through my former colleague's words. Lastly for now, I can speculate how MTSS might differ if one of the S's stood for Siddhartha.

I can also ask educators who read this blog what MTSS-related wins you're willing to share that I can relay to my team. Thanks for any insights or inspiration you can offer...


  1. It sounds like a whole lot of time not used actually teaching. I don't know if I want to know more. I hope you find your groove.

    1. Well, when I reread the state's definition for MTSS, I'm struck by how the 'teaching students' bit is buried in the middle -- "improving the outcomes of every student" -- which the primacy-recency effect would frown upon or would at least suggest makes it more easily forgotten :(

  2. Brian, my message to educators during my 2 professional development sessions is to be passion-filled, student-centered, collaborative, and create joyful havens of learning. Sounds much different than what you are talking about. Within my thinking is continue to challenge students, offer choice that leads to voice. Don't get exhausted early on in your current process of being in the muddle.