A multi tier support system is built on a foundation that focuses on basic interventions for all students. Academic and behavioral support is provided for students; both of which see significant boosts when social-emotional learning is integrated into everything at a schoolwide level.  At its core, MTSS begins with building positive relationships between students and staff and the use of proactive classroom management strategies that work to create a positive learning environment for all students. Thoroughly planning and implementing social-emotional learning effectively has a significant impact on your multi tier support system. I would even dare to say that without intentional and effective SEL implementation, your MTSS will be sorely lacking.

I have seen social-emotional learning work to increase academic achievement and decrease behavior problems among students. The effects it has on teachers are a bonus. SEL works to increase staff morale, boost teacher retention rates, and lower the stress level of teachers. Though MTSS and SEL may look different at every school, it always creates a positive environment that impacts the overall school culture.   

What is Multi Tiered System of Support?

MTSS takes a proactive approach to avoid student failure. It starts with a framework comprised of three tiers. MTSS has five key components that make it successful. The key components are:

  • Screening of all students early in the school year
  • Tiers of interventions that can be increased in response to levels of need
  • Ongoing data collection and assessment
  • Whole school approach to expectations and support
  • Parent involvement
Image of students working together in a classroom with text that reads MTSS addresses not only the need for academic support but also social and emotional competency.

The overarching goal of a multi tiered support system is to provide a structured way for schools to respond to students with challenges so that they may intervene before it interferes with the student’s learning process. MTSS addresses not only the need for academic support but also social and emotional competency. Experiences have shown that a framework like MTSS that includes every student significantly boosts academic achievement because every student learns crucial skills in Tier 1.

The Three Tiers of MTSS

MTSS uses three tiers of support to assist all students at various levels. Collected data and ongoing assessment of student’s needs allow students to move up and down in the tiers.

Graphic that shows tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 in a multi tier triangle with arrows revealing that MTSS is a process of academic support, behavior support, and social-emotional learning.

Tier 1: All Students

This tier encompasses all students. The goal in tier one is to create a supportive educational environment and provide core instruction on the skills needed for success. Social-emotional learning and executive functioning skills should be the top priority to set students up for success in this tier. Teachers should model and provide a variety of opportunities to practice skills like collaboration, problem-solving, planning, and organization. 

Tier 2: Small Groups

Small groups give a little extra support to students in this tier. We often see this tier at work with small groups for reading, but it can be beneficial for any content or area where students need more support than the basic interventions in tier 1. Teachers should think about the development of SEL and executive functioning skills when determining which students need to be placed in small groups. 

Tier 3: Individual Students

This tier is for students with significant challenges who do not respond to the interventions in tiers 1 and 2. These students are able to receive individualized support. In this tier, it is possible that students need or may benefit from a more explicit approach to SEL and executive functioning development. 

Multi Tiered Support System in the Classroom

Integrating SEL and teaching executive functioning skills to all students is the place to start with your MTSS in the classroom. Research has proven that SEL and executive functioning skills increase academic achievement and decrease behavior problems. We cannot expect that students have already mastered goal-setting, planning, organization, note-taking, or time management. We cannot assume that students’ experiences have led them to increased self-awareness, self-management, or social awareness. Students need to be taught how to problem solve, build relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Many teachers may feel like it is not their place to teach these skills or that they do not have the time to teach these skills because of their demanding curriculum. The fact is that when SEL is integrated into everything students do and when executive functioning skills are taught before content students’ chances of success are tremendously boosted. The development of skills encompassed in SEL and executive functioning are a greater predictor of success than how smart a student is. 

So, go ahead and spend time helping students map out their planners and organize their class materials. Allow for lots of class discussions and opportunities to collaborate. The skills students develop through these activities will set them apart from any others. This is the ultimate way to intervene before challenges arise. 

Image showing a student's desk with a backpack hanging on the chair and a binder, notebook, and textbook sitting on top of the desk.

Multi Tiered System of Support for Behavior

Social-emotional learning also works well within MTSS to decrease behavior problems in the classroom. SEL teaches students how to identify their strengths and weaknesses, handle tough situations, and work through challenges. If SEL is integrated effectively then behavior problems will naturally begin to decrease.

When using MTSS and SEL to improve the behavior of students it is often best to first ask why the behavior problems arise in the first place. Chances are it is because a student is struggling in some way. Maybe they don’t understand the content and don’t know how to ask for help. It could be because they have never seen or been involved in healthy, caring relationships. What if it is because they just don’t see the potential that they have and therefore think they can never be successful? Imagine how empowered these students would become if we took the time to teach them the skills that are needed to be successful in life. Consequently, you will also be stopping any problems before they even start. 

Image of 2 students being disruptive in the classroom with text that reads stop behavior problems before they even start.

Social-Emotional Learning Is Not An Add-On Curriculum

Social-emotional learning is not just a desirable addition to a school’s multi tier support system; it is an absolute necessity. By prioritizing the development of students’ social and emotional competencies, we can create a more inclusive and supportive educational environment where every individual feels seen, heard, and valued. SEL equips students with the tools to navigate challenges, build healthy relationships, and become resilient, empathetic members of society. You can easily integrate SEL into each tier of the support system. We can provide targeted interventions, foster a positive school climate, and promote overall well-being. We should embrace the power of social-emotional learning as a catalyst for transformative change and work towards building a future where students not only excel academically but also thrive emotionally and socially. Schools can empower students with the skills they need to navigate the complexities of school and life.