Committee for Children Blog

Implement SEL Within Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (Part 1)

social emotional learning, SEL, MTSS, implementation, classroom, support, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Also referred to as Response to Intervention (RTI) for academics or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) for behavior, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a continuum of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices that are matched to student needs. It’s a framework for helping school personnel adopt evidence-based behavioral interventions to improve academic and social behavior outcomes for all students.

For the past 20 years, I have supported social-emotional learning (SEL) in many capacities at the school and district level. I am also deeply connected to MTSS efforts. While supporting both, I’ve navigated misunderstandings and concerns regarding implementing them together, and learned much along the way. I hope this two-part series will help you harness the strengths of MTSS and SEL to meet the needs of all your students.

The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support framework is identified by several key characteristics, including selecting practices based on evidence for effectiveness, and planning and implementing interventions organized along a tiered continuum. These are behavior-focused examples of what SEL supports look like within MTSS.

Be Selective

Selecting practices based on needs and evidence of effectiveness means taking care with new practices and being sound consumers of data. Know what outcomes you want and identify strengths and weaknesses in your data before making additions or modifications. Tie decisions to the needs identified in data, such as student attendance and school climate results.

For Example:

  • Climate survey data show students and parents feel that the students don’t have opportunities to develop strategies to manage their feelings and actions. Teachers don’t feel the school provides resources for them to support SEL. After digging deeper into the data, it’s decided that the staff needs more professional development in SEL and the school needs a social skills curriculum. Results from a social-emotional behavior rating screener given to all students, such as the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment-mini, and minor office disciplinary referral (ODR) patterns show which skill areas need support. The school leadership team reviews the effective social and emotional learning programs guide from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to find the best curriculum options that address these needs.
  • There’s a high rate of minor ODRs for inappropriate comments during math. It’s determined that students need more explicit teaching, and practice in perspective taking and managing strong emotions. Anchor charts are introduced in these classrooms and teachers more explicitly reference the matrix, re-teaching and practicing expectations during small-group routines. Students then regularly self-monitor and ask for feedback.

The SEL approaches you adopt based on your data should be SAFE—sequenced, active, focused, and explicit—and procedures should be taught throughout the year. Students need social, emotional, and behavioral skills as well as clear understanding of expectations in order to succeed.

Organize Interventions in Tiers

There are three tiers of support in Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Tier 1 offers universal supports for all students, tier 2 offers targeted supports to provide short-term interventions to remedy problems, and tier 3 offers intensive supports, which are individualized interventions to address specific needs. Each tier is an additional layer of support. One of the common misses with SEL and MTSS is that SEL supports are often provided at tiers 2 and 3 but not tier 1. For example, school psychologists, social workers or counselors may pull out small groups of students to teach them social skills even though there are no universal SEL supports in place in the school.

Strong tier 1 supports promote behavioral, social, and emotional development to prevent challenges from emerging and ensure students have the skills needed for meeting expectations. Tier 2 supports are for students who, according to data, do not respond to tier 1 supports, not students who lack high-quality social and behavioral supports to begin with. In the example of small-group instruction, the teachers and other students cannot reinforce positive use of social skills when they have no connection to what is being taught in the small groups. In such situations, the transfer of social skills to other settings is not likely unless the small groups are an extension of the already existing tier 1 supports.

Use data to determine what you will support and how you will support it, and consider universal social, emotional, and behavioral supports for all students.

Look for my next post on SEL-MTSS to see more examples of how to make connections for seamless implementation!

Read Part 2: How SEL Supports Your MTSS Efforts

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.