Going beyond the basics: Using feedback to support MTSS implementation

By Jennifer D. Pierce | June 04, 2018

If you’ve been reading this blog series, by now you know that MTSS is here to stay. But, you also know that a lot can go awry when MTSS is implemented in schools. Tier 1 instruction may not be provided for all students. Tier 2 and 3 progress monitoring using valid and reliable assessment measures may not occur. Screening may only occur once a year. So what should educators do to increase the likelihood that MTSS implementation is successful? 

The good news is that educators recognize the value of supports for MTSS implementation. For one, we commonly offer high quality training and ongoing coaching to staff to help make changes to how they work with students. Second, we tend to set up a leadership team that is responsible for guiding staff in the use of MTSS. Third, we often ensure that staff have access to the resources that are necessary to implement the framework (e.g., appropriate curricular and assessment materials for students in all tiers).

Although these three supports are essential for long-term use of MTSS, educators need to go beyond these steps when implementing the framework. This is because in the world of Implementation Science (check out a journal dedicated to this area of research here), we’ve learned that when additional supports are in place in conjunction with more common ones, use of MTSS is more likely to lead to improved student outcomes. So what can you do to support successful implementation of MTSS? Read on to learn about one powerful way you can enhance your use of MTSS.  And, stay tuned for a follow-up blog on a second implementation support you can use after you master the one described below. 

Embrace- and use- feedback to continuously improve MTSS implementation.

During implementation, stakeholders (e.g. teachers, coaches, para-educators, and leaders) often learn a lot about what is working with MTSS and what is not. Unfortunately, leadership teams often don’t consider these insights as formal data about MTSS implementation. To ensure that stakeholder experiences with implementation challenges and successes are known and addressed, the MTSS leadership team should provide meaningful opportunities for stakeholders to openly communicate with stakeholders. That stakeholder feedback can then be used as data to reduce implementation barriers and to celebrate implementation successes. In Implementation Science, we call this process a feedback loop.

Let’s make the idea of using feedback as data more concrete. Imagine two different schools that are starting something new as a part of their overall effort to use MTSS. Let’s say the goal is for teachers to use a specific Tier 2 intervention with a small group of students. The teachers received training and have set up a coaching schedule. The teachers at both schools also obtained the necessary materials they needed to use the intervention. Each school then set up a monthly meeting between the teachers and school MTSS leadership team to talk about the impact of the intervention on student learning.  

At one of the schools- let’s call it School A- the leadership team first reviewed student data with the teachers. Then, they took an additional step: they asked teachers to share their feedback on the use of the intervention. The leadership team’s questions for teachers included the following:

  • What helped you use the intervention with students?
  • What made the use of that intervention more challenging?
  • What can we say about the use of the intervention program in relation to student learning?
  • Do you have any specific needs that the team should know about that would enhance the use of the program?

One by one, the teachers at School A share their perspectives to these questions. The leadership team, in conjunction with the teachers, then brainstorms solutions to offset the teachers’ implementation challenges. The leadership team also takes the time to celebrate teachers’ implementation successes. The leadership team then commits to following up with the teachers in a month to see how the proposed solutions worked and to get teachers’ latest insights about the use of the intervention.  In sum, the leadership team used teacher feedback as data to improve MTSS implementation.  

Now, let’s head over to the other school - School B. At School B’s meeting, the leadership team provided Tier 2 student data to teachers but did not ask them to share their perspectives on the use of the intervention. In fact, the leadership team emphasized that use of the intervention program was non-negotiable and provided reasons why it is important. The teachers sit quietly during this meeting and in the days that follow, teachers’ use of the program does not change. 

In the above scenarios, the leadership team at School A asks for and uses feedback from teachers to continuously improve implementation. And this cycle of collecting and using feedback isn’t just an occasional activity. The feedback loop occurs every month as a procedural activity: barriers and successes are communicated, barriers are resolved, and successes celebrated on a continual basis. In turn, the school as a system adapts such that it supports the sustained use of the intervention, and of the overall MTSS framework. And changes to an entire educational system, rather than changes on a case-by-case basis, means that more and more students will receive the supports they need.

On the other hand, the leadership team at School B missed an opportunity to support the use of the intervention- and MTSS in general. Barriers to implementation (e.g., delivery of Tier 2 intervention) go unresolved and implementation success goes unrecognized. Over time, existing barriers will likely become more and more pressing, requiring individual teachers to solve problems on their own instead of addressing problems in a systematic way at the school level. Just as concerning, the implementation successes become only temporary “wins” because the leadership team did not make a concerted effort to institutionalize the reasons why the successes occurred in the first place.

Moving forward with feedback loops

Take a play from the playbook of School A.  Apply the support described in this blog- in tandem with other supports- so that all students can demonstrate the academic and behavioral success that is expected with the implementation of MTSS. 

Tips for Success

  • Establish a clear process for how stakeholders provide implementation data to the leadership team. Some teams create brief (e.g., four item) monthly surveys that are automatically sent to stakeholders. These surveys ask stakeholders to submit implementation challenges and successes, questions, and possible solutions to challenges.  Other teams use paper-and-pencil methods to ask four prompts: 1) What is working and why? 2) What is not working and why? 3) What questions do you have? and 4) Do you have possible solutions to implementation challenges? Note that the feedback opportunities require very little time to complete and request specific information about MTSS implementation. The goal is to collect meaningful implementation data that allows the leadership team to take actions to support implementation.  
  • Create a positive climate for stakeholders to provide feedback. Stakeholders need to know that the person giving information about implementation- and the information itself-will be honored. To create such a climate, many teams choose to explicitly communicate that stakeholder feedback will be viewed as valuable input, not as criticisms of MTSS. These teams also ensure that stakeholders are thanked and are not treated in a punitive fashion. Creating a climate that is receptive to feedback will increase stakeholders’ desire to continually provide information to the leadership team.  
Jennifer Pierce

About the Author

Jennifer D. Pierce, Ph.D., is a researcher and senior technical assistant consultant for AIR with thirteen years of prior experience working in public and private school settings as a teacher, coach, building leader, and district-level leader and four years of experience working in higher education as a research assistant and instructor. Her areas of interest center on supporting the implementation of evidence-based interventions by teachers and schools, including professional development and coaching models to reduce the research-to-practice gap; Implementation Science, including frameworks across fields and factors associated with sustained use of evidence-based interventions; and, the application of MTSS across general and special education, including RTI and PBIS. Jennifer also has a background in literacy instruction for struggling learners. Learn more

Contact Dr Pierce at jpierce@air.org and learn more about the services that AIR has to support MTSS implementation, here