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Building Strong Classroom Relationships: The Key to Successful MTSS Tier 1 Interventions

by | May 18, 2023 | News | 0 comments

Liz Toruno, MTSS Coordinator

This month, we sat down with our resident MTSS expert, Liz Toruno, to discuss how educators can effectively implement Tier 1 interventions.
Liz is the MTSS Coordinator for Bakersfield City School District, the Lead Culture Coach for Thriving YOUniversity, and has a passion for all things MTSS.

What is a common misconception about Tier 1 implementation that you see?

Sometimes, Tier 1 is implemented in a way that makes it seem like it is all just “fluff,” something that looks good on the wall, but that is it. The reality is that expectations can be posted with pretty signage around campus, but if it’s not being used in the classroom, it’s not Tier 1, and it isn’t going to change any behaviors for the better.

What effective Tier 1 interventions can be implemented in the classroom?

When it comes to Tier 1, It’s all about relationships! Educators need tools to build, maintain and restore them. Having universal expectations creates a common language on campus. Schools can create a system that acknowledges students who follow the expectations.

Using affective statements, active constructive listening, and empathy statements is a great way to start a Tier 1 structure. Classroom circles are imperative and will only succeed when embedded with academics. Ideally, Tier 1 interventions can become part of the everyday routine in the classroom.

Good classroom management should also be a focus at the Tier 1 level. It is essential to establish a consistent and positive classroom environment that supports learning and meets the needs of all students. Using evidence-based classroom management practices can promote positive social behaviors and help reduce the need for intervention at higher tiers. A strong Tier 1 team that meets regularly is vitally important to ensure data-based decision-making.

What resources are available to support Tier 1 interventions?

As I said earlier, relationships are key to Tier 1 supports. Relationship mapping is a great strategy to build community on campus and in the classroom. Research shows that students who have a positive connection with a caring adult on campus are more engaged at school and more likely to be motivated to succeed. Schools can use this Know Their Sparks document to implement relationship mapping and identify gaps in connection quickly.

In the classroom, utilizing Flip Frame Conversations as part of academic discussions can help enhance student voice and choice while teaching critical interpersonal skills. Our Bite-Sized SEL Toolkit is another excellent way to practice SEL skills throughout the day rather than just in a designated time block.

In terms of behavioral instruction, the Social Skills Toolkit can help provide students and staff with a common language and understanding of behavior norms/expectations. The toolkit can be paired with school expectations (e.g., “be responsible, safe, and respectful”) and embedded into academic instruction. The Social Skills Toolkit can also be used for Tier 2 small group instruction and be embedded into Check-in-check-out goals.

How can educators track student progress and adjust interventions as needed?

This should definitely be a team approach. Teachers can document low-level behaviors to find patterns and address them appropriately. The Tier 1 team should review discipline data at every meeting and provide Tier 2 supports to students who are not responding at Tier 1.

A big challenge in scaling up to Tier 2 is that we sometimes provide mismatched interventions. Data tells a story; gaps in instruction and behavior patterns should alert the time of the day or academic tasks that need modification, so interventions should be implemented when the student is struggling rather than at seemingly random times.

Teams need to develop effective Tier 1 systems to prevent Tier 2 from becoming their Tier 1! Without an effective system, the MTSS pyramid will be upside down, and teachers will seek Tier 2 support when Tier 1 is on fire.

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