How SEL Supports Your MTSS Efforts (Part 2)

More Examples and Tips to Help You Integrate and Maximize these Programs’ Benefits

How SEL Supports your MTSS, social emotional learning, implementation

In my last post, I discussed what is needed to teach social-emotional competencies within a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework through teaming, use of data to identify what competencies and expectations are most needed, and by ensuring there’s extensive and comprehensive instruction for all students. Now, let’s dig deeper into how to implement both social-emotional learning (SEL) and MTSS.

Both Support the Development of Positive Competencies

Both SEL and MTSS are about explicit teaching, and students benefit from explicit instruction in social skills and behavioral development.

The MTSS matrix is a chart that clearly communicates a school’s expectations for positive social, emotional, and academic behaviors in various school environments. It aids teachers and administrators in teaching, modeling, and reinforcing these behaviors in the classroom, hallway, playground, cafeteria, and home.

Social and emotional skills equip students to meet the expectations, procedures, and routines made explicit in the matrix. We teach, model, and practice these smaller skills that go into the bigger skills. Take this middle and high school matrix as an example, which shows how the expectations within the matrix encompass many different social and emotional skills.

Matrix Example

How SEL Supports your MTSS, social emotional learning, implementation

To be able to successfully regulate and express emotions in a way that keeps others safe, students need skills for identifying feelings, managing anger, frustration, and disappointment, handling mistakes and accusations, managing hurt feelings, calming down through self-talk, avoiding assumptions, and handling put-downs.

Students are more equipped for setting and working toward personal and academic goals when they have skills for making a plan, solving problems, seeking help, planning ahead, and breaking down big goals into smaller steps.

“When social and emotional competencies are directly connected to the schoolwide expectations and the teaching matrix, staff may be less likely to view them as an extra burden or a separate initiative.” Teaching Social-Emotional Competencies within a PBIS Framework, p. 6, line 3, Barret, Eber, McIntosh, Perales, & Romer, 2018

Social skills are not taught in isolation; they are taught in context. This is where the matrix comes in. The matrix guides instruction and makes expectations and support explicit. It ensures that the skills taught are being used, and it helps to monitor progress to determine what needs to be re-taught and practiced. If implemented and supported correctly, it also gives students more opportunities to practice in the natural environment because the skills are reinforced and practiced across multiple settings and routines.

Focus on Growth and Feedback

All skills need instructional support, whether specific social skills or more general expectations. These four elements are part of SEL and MTSS implementation, and they can be powerful influencers on student learning. All four are typically part of a strong, evidence-based social skills curriculum.

  • Explicit teaching: Break down skills into steps and further define within lesson plans.
  • Re-teaching: Do this in-the-moment, as an instructional response to behavior, or during dedicated time. Should be based on data showing the need to re-teach or extend previous teaching.
  • Prompting: Reduce the need to correct students with short 2–5 minute prompts based on previously taught skills. Prompt prior to a transition or new activity.
  • Feedback: Make it short. Include both verbal and nonverbal feedback. Focus on what the student is doing well. Correct only if needed.

Both SEL and MTSS set students up to be successful. They each offer something. If you are implementing both in your school or district, I hope this provides a useful guide for how the two may look when skillfully implemented together.


Read more of Kim’s articles on the Committee for Children blog, and check out this SEL eBook, which is a collection of articles about SEL as it relates to restorative practices, trauma-informed practices, MTSS, and character education.