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Mike Siebersma Director of Consulting and Technical Assistance

During these days of work from home, I find that food is too accessible. After putting on my first 8 COVID-19 pounds, I decided I needed to take that weight back off. So, I built an MTSD—a “Multi-Tiered System of Dieting.” It involves a screening assessment of my weight, a diagnostic assessment of my caloric intake, and frequent progress monitoring. I also have a core program for diet and a system of supports and interventions as the needs intensify. If someone asked me if I’ve been successful, I might respond, “What do you mean? Look at the system I built. Of course, I’ve been successful.” But if the question was “How much weight have you lost?” my answer would have to be, “Well, none, I’ve actually gained more weight…but look at the system I built!”

Building a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) in schools and districts often has the similarities to my COVID-19 weight loss MTSD described above. Creating an MTSS has become so popular and deemed so critical to effective systems that leaders often see the creation of MTSS as an end rather than a means—a deliberate and systematic approach—to achieving critical student outcomes.

Whether for academic success, graduation outcomes, social-emotional success, or behavior, an MTSS must define and aim at outcomes. Building an MTSS is really about answering a series of questions:

  • What outcomes are so critical for our students that no one can slip through the cracks?
  • What are we doing for all of our students to ensure they meet those outcomes?
  • Who is off track or at risk of not achieving a critical outcome?
  • What do we do for students who need more than just the regular supports?
  • How do we know if students are responding to the extra help and support?
  • What do we do if the extra support doesn’t work?

Answering all the questions above with some rigor and reliability takes strong organizing and technical tools. Systems need desired outcomes to be defined. They need assessments that will measure those outcomes, screen for risk, and diagnose challenges. They need to be infused with evidence-based ways to help students meet the desired outcomes—methods for all students, interventions for the few that need extra help, and special tools for students with intensive needs. MTSS systems also need to be designed to include opportunities for educators to collaborate with each other, learn together, and interpret data to make decisions.

There’s a significant difference between putting in place all of the elements of an MTSS with a dogged focus on critical outcomes and doing it all because everyone agrees it’s a good idea. Weighing myself, monitoring calories, and researching good food to eat are all great ideas. But absent the pursuit of a critical health outcome, those activities lose their value, becoming just a lot of extra busy work.

Whether you’re developing an MTSS for a home weight loss program or school system, remember that it’s imperative to use data and evidence to define critical outcomes and build systems to pursue those outcomes with intention and focus if you expect to realize results.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can develop or improve your own MTSS system, or if you’d like to partner with our staff to do so, please feel free to contact us.