MTSS stands for “Multi-Tiered System of Supports.” It’s a framework, process or model used by schools and districts to elevate student learning, giving targeted support to struggling learners. It should be a robust framework, backed by social science, and used by schools and districts to support struggling students.

MTSS assists schools in identifying struggling students early in the process to they can intervene as soon as possible. It focuses on the whole child, meaning it supports not only academic success, but many other areas like behavior, social and emotional needs, and attendance that all lead to success in life.

The tiers of support are a large part of MTSS, and grow in intensity as the student moves from one level to the next.

MTSS is commonly believed to be the same thing as Response to Intervention (RTI). It is not the same, and is more comprehensive, but it may include the RTI tiers, which is why it is often thought to be the same.

In a nutshell, MTSS tries to address two large and important areas within struggling learners, behavior and academics.

Because MTSS isn’t a scripted framework, it doesn’t define a particular program, although there is a range of popular programs under the MTSS umbrella. Its six key components include:

  1. Screening. Screening tools that assess students in the areas of behavior and academic performance.
  2. Student plans. A committed plan to address identified struggles.
  3. Strategies. The use of evidence-based instructional strategies to help students. No gut feelings, if you will.
  4. Professional development for educators. Quality educator training is vital to MTSS implementation.
  5. Family involvement. Supportive family members are integral to the collaborative process.
  6. Monitoring. Monitor progress to know what is and isn’t working.

Two of the most popular programs within MTSS are:

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Response to Intervention (RTI). PBIS is a program for encouraging productive and positive behaviors from students. RTI is a program that systematically helps students grow in their academics. It should be noted that RTI frequently contains components that address behavior as well. It’s probably no surprise that behavior affects academic performance.

Pulling all these components together into a coherent process takes effort. Done wrong, this can result in loads of extra work and confusion for teachers, students, and parents. Done well, students grow, teachers focus on teaching, and parents feel part of the learning process.

Creating your Playbook

The playbook is adaptable. We currently work with many customers and there are many commonalities between these customers. But there are also many customized components. You can customize the elements of your playbook to fit your needs.

Make sure your playbook is geared towards simplicity, and also geared to take into consideration all your stakeholders. This helps reinforce the simplicity.

Every Playbook Should Come with a Project Plan

When you create your Playbook, you’ll want a corresponding project plan. The project plan keeps track of who does what and what due dates exist. It will help you assure fidelity to your playbook.

Who are the Stakeholders with MTSS?

Students, of course, are the root stakeholder with MTSS. Counselors and/or intervention specialists or an MTSS coordinator are usually the adults in charge of the process. Classroom teachers are critical to providing supports and identifying needs. And of course, family members will be part of the decision-making process.

Milestones (M)

Milestones are key sections of your playbook. Think of them as their own micro-project plan.

(M1) Initial MTSS Referral

When an educator suspects a student requires MTSS and the defined framework, a referral kicks the process into gear. You’ll need to create a referral form. A referral really should contain data that demonstrates what a teacher is using for basing the referral.

(M2) Decision Making Group (Agenda Writing)

Once a referral is made, a decision needs to be made. Are the Tier 1 supports doing the job for the student? Or are higher tiers of support required?

Most schools use a decision-making group to determine the answer to these questions.

The group frequently invites family members and students into the process. Thoughts and ideas are captured on an agenda.

If the decision-making group does come to the conclusion that, yes, a student plan is required, they then move to the next milestone.

(M3) Launch an MTSS Student Plan

Technically, MTSS isn’t exactly an education plan. Rather, it’s a framework that uses a variety of education plans.

(M4) Professional Development and Training

Learning is critical to teachers as well. Professional development helps deploy an MTSS framework with fidelity. A Professional Learning Solution should include:

  1. The creation of staff professional development plans.
  2. The tracking of growth against that plan (and can be used for license renewal).
  3. The ability to create and share professional learning courses.

(M5) Bringing Families into the Entire MTSS Process

The whole child experience should also be available to family members. This knowledge helps them with their involvement in their child’s learning.

With the MTSS, family access helps with:

  1. Viewing any education plans for their student
  2. Viewing the data used for monitoring growth (for example: MAP scores)
  3. Viewing behavior over time

(M6) Monitoring Over Time

  1. Consistently monitor progress over time and share with all stakeholders.


A good playbook aims for a true goldilocks experience - not too hard, not too soft, but just right.

Every school and district has its own unique differences. Allow your playbook to be adaptable. Make it fit your needs. And drop us a line. We’d love to hear how things are going.

About the author

Zach Vander Veen.jpg

Zach Vander Veen has worn many hats in education, including history teacher, technology coach, administrator, and director of technology. He loves learning, teaching, traveling and seeking adventures with his family. Currently, Zach is the co-founder and Senior VP of Innovation and Outcomes at, an education management platform.