March 23, 2020

Growing numbers of educators across the country are investing time and resources in helping their students develop the social and emotional competencies needed to be successful—not only in school, but also in life. Their efforts are not in vain. In the short term, educational approaches that include social and emotional learning (SEL) lead to higher academic achievement and fewer aggressive behaviors. In the long term, they lead to improved college readiness, career success, positive relationships, and mental health.

One of the challenges of implementing SEL is that no single approach works for everyone. Schools need to implement a range of programs and practices to address the diverse needs of their students. To this end, EDC and our partners at Transforming Education have been working with schools across Massachusetts on developing coordinated approaches to the planning and delivery of SEL programs and practices using a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework.

MTSS helps schools organize their SEL programs, practices, and policies across three tiers:

  • Tier 1 focuses on in-classroom instruction and schoolwide initiatives that foster competencies such as emotional management, goal-setting, and responsible decision-making. This tier includes stand-alone curricula, integration of SEL skills into everyday instruction, schoolwide events that focus on specific competencies, and adult role modeling.
  • Tier 2 provides small-group interventions for students needing supports to address social-emotional struggles, such as acute or chronic stress, or difficulties developing meaningful relationships.
  • Tier 3 provides individualized clinical interventions to address the needs of students suffering from mental health challenges, including trauma.

MTSS, though, is more than just a collection of discrete interventions. A comprehensive MTSS approach also requires planned coordination—for example, school adjustment counselors consulting with classroom teachers on strategies for reinforcing Tier 1 program messages during Tier 3 individualized sessions. Selected intervention must also be informed by sound evidence—that is, interventions rigorously evaluated and demonstrated to be effective—and carefully selected to match student needs.

By using the MTSS framework, schools can help all students build important SEL skills, while addressing the unique needs of those students who need additional supports.

Are you implementing an MTSS approach in your school to support SEL and mental health? If so, how is it going? Share your thoughts below.

 Shai Fuxman is a senior scientist at EDC with expertise in social and emotional learning (SEL) and behavioral health.


Join EDC for the free webinar, “Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Students: Taking a Multi-Tiered Approach” on March 25 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. (EST)

Behavioral, Physical, and Mental Health
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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