What it Looks Like to Implement MTSS In a High School Setting with Dr. Jake Olsen and Dr. Peg Donohue [Episode 77]


Here's What to Expect In This Episode:

Are you familiar with MTSS? In case you aren’t, MTSS stands for Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Essentially, it is a framework that helps schools be effective and efficient with how they identify and support kids who need academic, social, emotional, or college and career development support.

To help us better understand this framework, I invited Dr. Jake Olsen and Dr. Peg Donohue on the podcast. They are experts in the field of school counseling and have extensive experience working with schools to implement MTSS.

During our conversation, Dr. Olsen and Dr. Donohue are going to share how to implement MTSS in high school settings. Not only is MTSS a way to better support students, but it is also a crucial tool for school counselors to feel effective and recognized. If you’re ready to put MTSS into practice, this episode is for you!

Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • An overview of what MTSS is and how it’s different in the high school setting vs. elementary or middle school
  • A breakdown of the three tiers of intervention
  • Specific challenges of implementing MTSS in high schools, including the large number of students and staff, and the need for intentional programming, and data analysis.
  • Including student voice in school improvement efforts, such as advisory committees, focus groups, and surveys
  • Tips for successfully implementing MTSS in high school
  • The importance of MTSS in improving collaboration and helping school counselors feel like their efforts are making a difference.
  • Creating an MTSS task force with a variety of voices to provide leadership opportunities and help plan implementation efforts
  • Recommended resources for counselors looking to implement MTSS in high school

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Meet Dr. Jake Olsen:

Dr. Jake Olsen is an Associate Professor and School Counseling Program Coordinator at California State University Long Beach. Prior to becoming a counselor educator, he spent several years as a school counselor with Highline Public Schools outside Seattle, Washington. As a school counselor, he implemented a school counseling program aligned with the ASCA National Model. In addition, he was part of a district leadership team that supported the development and implementation of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework across the district.

His research agenda is focused on school counseling program and MTSS alignment and the implementation of school counseling programs aligned with the ASCA National Model. He has published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals and is a co-author of the ASCA book, Making MTSS Work. Dr. Olsen also conducts research and provides school counseling and MTSS-related training as a member of the School Counselors for MTSS Collaborative.

Meet Dr. Peg Donohue:

Dr. Peg Donohue is an Associate Professor and School Counseling Coordinator at Central Connecticut State University in the department of Counselor Education and Family Therapy. Dr. Donohue spent 16 years working as a school counselor in both Connecticut and California.

Her primary research interests include: aligning school counselor preparation with multiple-tiered systems of support (MTSS), fostering social and emotional learning, school counselor ratio, and universal screening for mental health concerns in schools. She is a co-author of The School Counselor’s Guide to MTSS (Routledge, 2019) and Making MTSS Work (ASCA, 2020).

Connect with our Guests:​

Read the transcript for this episode:

Before we get started on this week’s podcast episode, I wanted to let you know about something special going on right now in my Counselor Clique world. Doors are currently open to the High School Counselor Kickstart Course, an eight episode private podcast audio course for new high school counselors.

Whether you’re a seasoned counselor diving into a new role at the high school level, or you’re fresh out of grad school, there’s something inside this course for you. With easy access to listen on the go you’ll feel competent and confident to step into your new role in just under two hours. The course comes with text transcriptions of episodes, a workbook, and a PD certificate. You’ll also get two valuable bonuses, a high school counselor and curriculum map to help plan your year and a sample needs assessment.

Head over to counselorclique.com/new counselor to join us inside the High School Counselor Kickstart Course. If you’re interested in hearing more about what’s inside head back to last week’s episode of the pod to listen to a deep dive of everything that you’ll get inside the course. Join us inside. Counselorclique.com/newcounselor. Now let’s get to the episode.

Hello to my favorite high school counselors out there. Yes, I mean you listeners of High School Counseling Conversations. Welcome to this week’s episode. It is a guest episode but you’re in for a treat because it’s not just one, but I have two guests here on the episode. Before we get into it, let me first mentioned what we’re going to be talking about.

We are talking about multi-tiered systems of support and what that framework looks like in the high school setting. You’ll hear us refer to that as MTSS. So my two guests for today are Dr. Jake Olson and Dr. Peg Donohue. Let me tell you a little bit about them and their backgrounds for tell you what we talk about and then we’ll dive right in.

Dr. Jake Olson is an associate professor in a school counseling program coordinator at California State University Long Beach. Before becoming a counselor educator he spent several years as a school counselor with Highline Public Schools outside of Seattle, Washington.

As a school counselor, he implemented a school counseling program aligned with the ASCA national model. In addition, he was part of a district leadership team that supported the development and implementation of the MTSS framework across the district. His research agenda is focused on school counseling program and MTS s alignment. And then also the implementation of school counseling programs aligned with the ask a national model.

He’s published in a variety of peer reviewed journals and is the co author of the book Making MTSS work. Dr. Olson also conducts research and provide school counseling and MTSS related training as a member of the school counselors for MTSS collaborative. You’ll hear that come across in his speaking he has had a lot of experience doing MTSS with different teams of high school counselors, which I think is really neat.

And then next up our second guest is Dr. Peg Donohue. Dr. Peg Donohue is an associate professor and a school counseling coordinator at Central Connecticut State University in the Department of counselor education and family therapy. Dr. Donohue spent 16 years working as a school counselor in both Connecticut and California. Her primary research interests include aligning school counselor preparation with MTSS, fostering social and emotional learning, school counselor ratio, and Universal Screening for Mental Health concerns in schools.

She is the co author of the school counselors guide to MTSS and making MTSS work. I know you’re going to enjoy our conversation.

Here are the some of the things that we talk about. First, we talk about an overview of what MTSS is, and then how it’s different in the high school setting. When we compare it to elementary and middle school, we’ll talk about what’s been helpful with working with high school teams. So when they go out and do consulting and PD with teams, what is helpful in the school settings, specifically in the high school, and then what resources do they encourage high school teams and high school counselors to use when they’re trying to take some small steps to implement the MTS S framework into their schools or districts.

So it’s a really rich conversation. It got me very excited to learn about MTS s and just hear some of that language and why the MTS S model will provide some effective and efficient practices for your high school counseling program. So let’s go ahead and dive in.

You got into this profession to make a difference in your students lives, but you’re spread thin by all the things that keep getting added to your to do list. I can’t create more hours in the day but I can invite you into my Counselor Clique where you’ll finally catch your breath. Come with me as we unpack creative ideas and effective strategies that will help you be the counselor who leaves a lifelong impact on your students. I’m Lauren Tingle your High School Counseling hype girl here to help you energize your school counseling program and remind you of how much you love your job.

I want to go ahead and welcome Dr. Jake Olson and Dr. Peg Donahue to the show. We’re excited to get to talk about MTSS and hear how that applies to the high school setting. I brought, I would say two of the most specialized people that I could find for y’all in this with highly extensive backgrounds in researching and speaking and writing. And I’m just pumped to have you all on here. Because this is such a, it’s hard to find people to talk about high school things, you know, we get an elementary school expert in to kind of relate it to high school. But you all have experience with high school. And I’m really excited to hear from y’all.

Will y’all tell us just a little bit about your background. I know I gave an intro to the audience, but maybe like what you have done a lot of research in what you like to study and kind of what you’re doing now as your role with school counselors.

Sure. Well, thank you for having me. So I coordinate the school counseling program at Central Connecticut State University, Go Blue Devils. I’m really proud of my students. They’re amazing people and my colleagues are awesome. My main areas of research are born out of the 16 years I spent as a school counselor, 2 in California and 14 in Connecticut, where I really became a systems thinker.

So my dissertation was about PBIS, and school counselors, and a lot of the work I’ve done is about aligning MTSS and school counseling with some emphasis on social emotional learning, and universal mental health screening. Dabbled a little bit in tier two other that is Jake’s territory. I just love working with our collaborative school counselors for MTSS, which is how I met Jake.

Awesome, Jake, tell us about you.

Yeah, thank you. Yeah, thanks for having us started out in Seattle, Washington. And then I did some work also in North Carolina, Charlotte area, as well. And in those buildings, especially my first school district, we I just kind of hit the lottery. And I was in a great district, outside of the Seattle, Highline Public Schools, and they were doing, you know, at the time, it was, you know, very much PBIS on the behavior side, social emotional side, RT on the academic side, that became kind of aligned with the MTSS framework, but I just landed in a district where comprehensive school counseling was in place.

We’re learning as school counselors MTSS. And so I was part of the teams that development, scaling up K 12. And then just kind of took that on as I went to North Carolina just kind of continued, that work, particularly at the high school level. And that’s where I started to research and from then on North Carolina, now in Long Beach, California, Cal State Long Beach, and really my research is once in my territory, but definitely my passion area is tier two in terms of I just think that school counselors and other support staff, have, you know, the skills to be able to support students that need a little bit more support, often in smaller settings, smaller groups and stuff like that. So that’s my real passion, or that’s what I write in, in training, think most about.

Well, awesome. Give us like a little overview of MTSS, like simpleton version for those who maybe like maybe this is a term that they’ve never really heard before, because they are head down in their counseling work, maybe not like reading research, or, I don’t know, hearing these acronyms. They’re just like trying to get by each day. And they’re not thinking of like that larger scale framework. Will one of y’all share, just like an overview of what that is?

I can jump in. I think we can both do this and if I miss anything, Jake, you can add on. I think in the shortest version of this is that MTSS is a framework that helps us be effective and efficient with how we identify and support kids who need academic, social, emotional, or career college and career development support.

So this is a framework that’s borrowed from public health, where we think about what do we do for all students in the school? So what does everybody receive? How do we identify students who need that small group support for a targeted intervention? So that would be tier two. And then those students even after the supports of tier one, and tier two, are still struggling in some manner, get tier three, which is intensive one on one support?

And essentially, you know, the things that undergird is data systems and practices. So when Jake and I go out and do training, we’re working with school districts or schools or, you know, we love to do interdisciplinary work supporting school based mental health teams, because school counselors don’t work in isolation.

But we’re talking to them about what data they’re looking at. What data are they concerned about? Are they approaching things using culturally affirming practices? Do they have redundancy? And then what kind of systems have they set up to, you know, design and implement their tier one for all students and identify the kids who need the tier two interventions. So what’s their system? And then, you know, how do we identify evidence based supports on all levels, but certainly in tier two and tier three, so we can do that brief solution focused, effective work. So I don’t know, Jake, did I miss anything?

No, I think that’s so well said. I think the two things that I would just add that I, I do in any training class, conversation, whatever it is, when that question is asked, you know, kind of what is MTSS. And I think it’s important for us to, to know that like, exit, it’s a framework. So it’s an approach to providing supports and doing prevention work, right. So you would often look at the triangle, and we see tiers one, two, and three. And I just think it’s really important that as an approach, we remember that it’s not a type of kid. So it’s not a tier one kid at tier two kid at tier three kid. What those tiers really mean is a level and intensity of support.

So tier one obviously, is preventative because every kid in the school is getting, you know, core instruction and prevention work and kind of that school climate stuff. And then the tiers of intervention are different levels of intensity of support. And so I hear all the time tier two kids or three kid, I know what people are saying, but really, you know, the intention behind the framework is it’s an approach to supporting kids not kind of a type of kid that goes into a, you know, concrete kind of step along the tear.

Right, and the student can move up and down. So it wouldn’t really make sense to call them one one type of tear or something.

Peg, I love what you said about like the framework being just a way to be more effective and more efficient, because especially in the high school, I just feel like I mean, everywhere, but our time is so limited that why would we not want to do things the most effective or efficient way? It’s like, if there is a better way, let’s do it if there’s a better way to serve our students.

It can sound intimidating, though, because that could be like this whole comprehensive program that we don’t have yet. Like, where do we start kind of thing, but it makes sense, what you’re saying that this is borrowed from health care where like, we’re responding to things, we’re making sure everybody has the education that they need to find success. And then we’re, we’re triaging it out so that we can we can help the kids who need it, who have the highest needs right now, you know, just on that pyramid?


Let’s talk about Elementary, Middle, High School, like high school, is it? These are the people who are listening right now our high school counselors. So what makes implementing MTSS in a high school setting different from elementary or middle? Because maybe I don’t think we’re talking about it enough in the high school setting.

Yeah, I can start it. Yeah. And I agree, it’s, you know, oftentimes, it’s, you know, an implementation happens in the district or state, it is k 12. And it starts with K and scales up. And I think a couple of reasons. Number one is, you know, in a high school, obviously, especially big comprehensive ones, there’s, there’s just a lot of kids, a lot of staff, right, and so that’s the system and this is system work, right. So we have to set up things where the staff and the kids and the families are on the same page with school wide expectations and how we’re going to create a climate that’s, you know, conducive to safety and learning.

We’re going to, you know, school teams are going to be established to look at data. And so all these things, require people to be on the same page and have some buy in and some interest in making it all work. And so I think with high school, there’s just, there’s a lot of staff, and oftentimes, at least high schools I’ve been in, physically, people are in different silos and buildings, oftentimes, and we don’t always do a good job anyway in education, of kind of communicating and talking across those areas.

And then just the number of students, I think, you know, there can be 1000s of students in high school. And so to have a caseload that’s manageable, and be able to kind of, you know, support students with those direct services, you know, groups, classroom stuff, but then also do all the other stuff that we do as counselors, it just makes it that much more, we have to be more intentional.

And so I think the other thing, just really quick, too, is, you know, obviously, the developmental is different. And that’s, we know that, but I think in my experience, the adults in the building high school tend to be different in terms of their philosophy of being in high school, right, we kind of expect or we expect students to be able to kind of have the skills, you know, be able to behave, be able to attend class and kind of have their needs met, versus the little ones we kind of expect for, you know, us to be able to, or need to kind of teach them skills, like social emotional skills and stuff. So I think developmental levels, obviously there.

But I think the silver lining though is we can really engage high school kids, that’s a big difference that I’ve seen is really engaged them in the work of MTSS. So what is what are the school wide preventative expectations supports events that they want to meet to be healthy to be productive learners. And then also, you know, tier two and three also, like they can help inform and have a voice. And their experience can be a piece of data where we use that to then inform what the adults are doing in the building. So I think there’s some opportunity there.

Of course, we like know that working with high school students that they have voices, they get some buy into what we’re doing, but they also will learn it will apply it. You can almost I was gonna say you can trust high schoolers more to do that, but maybe not all the time. But you know, there, are mini adults like they’re about to launch out into the real world. And so, you know, they have, hopefully, they have some skills that we can build on.

But we do have kind of one last shot, to give them the skills, they need to be functioning adults with healthy, healthy coping skills to be able to form healthy relationships when when they leave our building. And if we’re not intentional about it about the programming with data to back it up and to make changes to it, then I think we’re missing a really big opportunity with our students in this like, just four years right before they’re not ours anymore.

I just wanted to piggyback on what Jake is saying about student voice, and high school, because I think one of the things that’s really important to any educational reform any systems work is that we’re doing it in a way that is culturally sustaining and culturally affirming. And so to have multiple seats at the table, when you’re making systemic change in schools filled by students, paraprofessionals, community members, caregivers, we do better work when we have a chorus of voices that you know, will be impacted by the work.

So I just really want to underscore what Jake is saying about how important it is to bring students into this effort to be proactive and preventative. Because at the end of the day, I think what’s attracted me to this work is that we can get out in front of problems. Especially if we have k 12 coordination in our district, that we can teach kids the social emotional competencies that they need to navigate the minefield of adolescence.

And I think that if we have little ones that go into middle school, knowing how to articulate their feelings, and manage their big emotions, and identify what’s going on in their peers, and look after their peers in ways only kids can do, then they’re better equipped and more available for learning as middle schoolers.

And likewise, if we have intentional supports in middle school, to help kids in all three domains of academic, social, emotional, and college and career development, they’re that much more prepared to enter high school with those strategies and supports and knowing to go to school counselors and others when when they have challenges.

And I think now more than ever, where we have students who have missed out in, you know, significant years of development, no matter where they were when COVID hit. We’re definitely seeing students coming to high school presenting like seventh graders, and kids going to college presenting like sophomores in high school. And that mismatch of the demand of the situation, academic, social, and whatever, and the actual maturity level, is creating huge issues around anxiety and depression and people dropping out.

So I think that, you know, one of our colleagues, Dr. Jenn Betters move on just, you know, when when we first started working together, she said, you know, aligning our school counseling with MTSS just makes sense.


It’s a set the right table and helps us to be part of school improvement. So those were my thoughts.

Yeah, that’s so interesting to think about, just from the loss of skills, unless that they’re having like the gap. And that’s scary. That’s like, Okay, now we have like double work to catch them up to where they should be, and then make sure they’re prepared for what’s next.

Peg, can I ask you a follow up question on almost like the cultural competency, having all those voices at the table. Let me give you an example and you tell me if I’m like, really off or something you would add to this.

So when I was at my high school, we tried to do this for our Advisory Council, where everyone around the table almost like fit a specific role where maybe they didn’t know that but we were intentionally trying to find like in our student population we wanted.

We wanted students who looked different, who we knew who had different socio economic economic backgrounds, but also someone who went to the Fine Art Center, someone who went to the Career Center, someone who is an athlete, someone who was an average student, like the C student who goes along throughout their day, the high achieving student, I mean, we probably I think we had four students and then so then we had a 9th, 10th. 11th. 12th and tried to make we knew them enough that we could say, hey, they’re gonna have some valuable input and this is kind of their background.

If that the kind of stuff that you’re saying, like have those everyone different around the table because they all bring something different when you’re planning your programs and stuff.

Yeah, I mean, I really think that’s true. And you know, from being a high school counselor, I think being transparent and authentic with students about why their voice is being led to this effort is best because kids can figure out and a half a second if you’re not being authentic.


So, you know, I think anytime that we include student voice, whether it’s having them on an advisory committee or doing a focus group, or doing a survey, we are saying to students, you’re important. There’s a big uptick in the use of youth participatory action research in school counseling y par, where you engage students in identifying an area of school improvement and having them design, you know, the intervention or the program and collecting data about it.

And I think anytime we can empower students to look around, look outside of themselves and say, how could we be doing better, because schools are dynamic changing, you know, environments, and what worked last year might not work this year. And so I think, I think that empowerment of saying, this is your space, this is your time in high school, how do we improve it not only for you, but for the kids coming behind you.

And I would imagine, you know, being asked to, to lend that voice can really set students on a trajectory of feeling like, I could improve my college campus, or my workplace, or my military brigade or whatever, that that, you know, collaborating together and sharing voices. And I think every school should be doing focus groups with their seniors and saying, what did we do well? What could we do better? And, you know, what would you want for your younger siblings that you didn’t get a chance to experience? We need to be accessing this very valuable resource of of our seniors as they walk out the door, they’ve got a lot to say.

Yeah, and that’s so empowering for a student, especially high school. They have those voices, they have thoughts and opinions and, you know, putting out a survey or asking for their feedback, you, you might need to develop some tough skin, but it is worth it to hear it because it’s only going to make things better.

You know, you might have just this blind spot these blinders on that you didn’t realize that this other program that you put all your energy into was like really not that effective, because they weren’t bought into it. When you have their perspective, you get to say, Hey, y’all came up with this. And then they get their peers on board, too. And so I mean, you’re making your own job easier by taking that data and their stories and their perceptions and turning them into programs or things that can make change in the school. That’s such a good point.

Okay, so when you are working with high school teams in like, kind of like a consulting arena, what has been helpful, as you’re like teaching those counselors and helping them implement what are things like tips that you would share with counselors to help implement MTSS successfully in their schools.

Last year, I spent a year with a high school group. So this is a Connecticut high school that literally, when Jake was talking about siloed buildings, their campus is set up like a college campus. So they had multiple buildings for all the different subject areas. And while that was really cool, and the students felt very grown up, coming off of COVID, it was they were more fractured than ever, and they had an extensive leadership change. So they were really at sea in a lot of different ways. And they hired me through school counselors for MTSS, to come in and support their MTSS implementation process.

So we spent a lot of time talking about their goals. And we talked a lot about this concept of beginning with the end in mind. What are, how do you want things to look by the time that we finish our work together? Even just this year, and then developing a multi year plan because it takes three to five years to implement MTSS with fidelity. And that’s what support I think,

Andthat’s probably without like turnover of people, and there’s so many variables in this to make sure that it happens in three to five years.

Right. And that leads me to my next point is that we decided pretty early in the process to create a Google Drive that everybody had access to, and we distilled the elements of MTSS implementation and just created a placeholder folder for every aspect. So you know, a resource map, you know, a tier one folder, tier two, tier three, and kind of zeroed in on okay, we don’t have to fill all of these in the first year, but we can we can work toward things and we need to prioritize.

So we did a prioritizing activity. We you know, identify things like creating a referral form that was used everywhere and on a Google form. And they were really jazzed and piloted that with 10th grade, and they’re presenting at our state association, about the changes they’ve been able to make.

And I think circling back to, you know, beginning with the end in mind, they were simultaneously working on the portrait of the graduate for their school. And I think it was really helpful to hook into the concepts that they were prioritizing with their portrait of the graduate. So that was a touchstone for us. And we did an activity early that we do a lot in our trainings where we, you know, create empty triangles with, you know, the three domains social, emotional, academic, and then college and career and just kind of take inventory of what did we do for all, some, and few, using multi tiered systems of support.

And, you know, anytime we go to a school, we’re able to say, like, you’re already doing so much. This is not one more thing this is about organizing, and being intentional. So I think the main things that helped us was a recognizing that this is hard work. You know, I liken making change on a high school to, you know, changing the trajectory of a cruise ship. You know.


It’s not easy to do it. This is hardest to implement in the high school level, but with administrative support, and, you know, everybody trying to row in the same direction, and coming off of COVID, this idea of meeting kids where they were, and being proactive and preventative. But I think having the shared Google Drive, thinking about aligning with the portrait of the graduate starting small in different areas, piloting pieces.

What they then piloted the second year, after we’re done was a structured study hall, for kids who were struggling. And there, they were a little nervous about that. And I came back in the fall and helped him out. But they they’ve done a beautiful job with that, which is going to be part of their implementation. So I think I think those things that have been kind of the core pieces.

But I think the most important thing that we did, because I was to come every month, was I invited the idea of having an MTSS taskforce that had, you know, multiplicity of voices that would meet in between our trainings, and provide leadership opportunities for folks. But also to help plan what I was going to do in the next training.

And so that task force, I’m really proud of them, because they’ve continued to meet as a professional learning community. They’ve, you know, distributed roles. I hope by now they’ve presented in front of their administration.

So, you know, whenever we go to a high school, or any school, we’re trying to help them think about what would this look like here, in order to best meet our students rght now. So it’s a very contextual implementation. And, uh, you know, a very, it’s a complex process, but when you break it down into phases, you know, for them, phase one was a referral form, and connecting to the portrait of a graduate and a structured study hall.

And then they really wanted a deep dive into learning about tier two and having a high school system that worked for tier two looking at examples. So Jake came in and did a session with them on tier two. So, you know, just leveraging resources and looking at who is in the building that can help make this happen. And I’m really proud of the group they did a they did a fabulous job.

It was really cool that you just gave examples of like, the things that they started small with. Because I hope that anyone listening is like, okay, yeah, we don’t have a good system for referrals. We need to get that in place. I mean, that feels very doable as a starting step that would totally change how your systems worked in your school, and how students got to see the counselors so that you can do counseling. Like, that’s what we’re all trying to do is be able to have direct time with students to make an impact on them. And but if we don’t have those initial things set up, like we’re not gonna get there.

I loved how you said about how they use their profile of a graduate with the end in mind, because then that takes, even if you have 100 ideas, and you’re trying to narrow it down, you say, Okay, does this fit into that picture? Does this align with the goals that we’re trying to get to? Because not that that’s not a great idea, but like, this year, we’re concentrating on this piece of it. And so maybe that’s not what we’re going to implement right away, but like, let’s table that and try it next year, next semester, or whatever,

But so that we can do it in bite sized pieces and that administrators are not overwhelmed by all the change and teachers aren’t overwhelmed by all the change. But I think that’s hard for counselors to to be the ones who are saying, Hey, this is the change we’re making in the school. But if they can do it in smaller steps and more bite sized pieces, they feel confident behind it, they know it’s going to better their program. and ultimately better their students. Jake, do you have anything to add to Peg’s answer there?

No, I think it’s just really well said. And it’s cool to hear those examples too. And I think one thing with a Google Drive kind of handbook that she mentioned it, you know, I think that’s the biggest thing, too, is just documenting kind of what’s in place? How do things work now? And then how do we want them to work? Right.

So from referrals to team meetings, to looking at data, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that go into any school, but particularly high school is they’re doing lots of things, and counselors are doing lots of things along each tier, but documenting that and then documenting the processes and using that is kind of a kind of a sustainability tool, also. So as folks change over and change roles, that you can have those living documents that they keep going,

I think that’s that’s aligning your school counseling program with MTSS to have that written plan. I hope we move in our field towards, you know, I love the ask a national model, but also having you know, student wellness plans are models that incorporate all of the disciplines. But I think having an MTSS team and an MTSS plan that is written, helps us to implement with fidelity and to weather the storms of turnover.

You know, it’s a living document, so you can change it, you can give access to the administrators. What I love also is that you can then onboard new counselors, new staff, and say, this is kind of how we’re operating people can reference it. And, you know, I think if we measure it in schools, it matters. So we can measure our success, though, they’re using the referral forum to collect data on what kinds of issues are coming up, over and over. That’s helping inform what small groups they need.

So I think that administrators came to as many of the trainings as they could, but they have the buy in because at the end of the day, they’re answering to the school board, sharing how are you reaching the goals that are on your graphic for your portrait of the graduate, because we’re trying to help kids walk across the stage with a sense of efficacy with a sense of belonging that they felt like they were part of things, and with with hope for what their future holds.

You know, hope for the sense of whatever my post secondary plan is that I can achieve this. I can find another circle of support at my place of work, or my college or, or in the military, or my trade school that that knowing that we don’t achieve any of these things on our own.

So I think the thread to pull through it is what do we want kids to be feeling when they walk across that stage? What do we want them to be able to look back on? And I think it’s so important for kids to see adults collaborating and working together.

I think they have so many examples of divisiveness, and people being at odds are in conflict. And, you know, I asked my my grad students, you know, who do you remember working well together at your schools, and some of them can name a group, but there’s all these wonderful alliances that get the work done. And I think MTSS helps link together people toward a common goal. And it increases that level of collaboration, which is just another reason, you know, I’m a real believer in this being a driver for for positive change and improving the environment for the kids and for the for the adults.

Definitely. And if we’re not using everyone in the building for the gifts and abilities and skills that they have, we’re putting work on ourselves that maybe we’re not even equipped to be doing as counselors. Like if there’s someone who’s better at this aspect, or who has knowledge of this, like, let’s bring them in, because they’re gonna thrive in that setting, too. It’s like putting the right people in the right seat on the bus. Right?

And then, Jake, when you were saying about when you were talking about just how high schools are different where people and the building can be siloed, like you can just sit and work by yourself if you wanted to. And no one might even ask you what you’re doing.

But high school teams are usually bigger with counselors. Yes, there are people who are working solo, but I mean, there’s a high school in South Carolina that I know of that has 14 high school counselors working at it. I’m like, that’s a big team. And if we’re not all on the same page, then we’re not going to achieve these goals. We’re not going to meet those profiles, other graduate if we were all over the place and doing our own thing. We have to have the same goals and be moving in the same direction.

I’m smiling because one of the things I say to my students over and over is the better we are together the better we are for kids. You know, we are trying to all row in the same direction and I think one of one of the articles we did early on in our time together was about how the school counselors that participate fully and MTSS are actually helping build their capacity.

You know, we don’t leave our grad programs, as wonderful as we are at Cal State, Long Beach and CCSU. You know, we can teach you things. But a lot of this becoming process for school counselors, the first five to 10 years in the field, you have to be out there doing the work to really acquire the skills.

So you don’t leave graduate school, having your toolbox full. You’ve got your core competencies, but I think the best training I got as a school counselor was, you know, in PBIS, and when I became a PBIS, coach, outside of graduate school, that was, you know, it just made sense. And it made me feel like I was effective. And at a time when a lot of people are burning out in school counselor jobs and teaching jobs, you know, people leave jobs because they don’t feel like their efforts are recognized, or they’re making a difference. People leave jobs because they have a values conflict with what’s happening in their building.

And so, you know, MTSS isn’t the, you know, silver bullet for everything. But I think that it’s it’s a helpful approach to not only improving collaboration, but helping people feel like their efforts are making a difference, that they’re growing professionally, which I think is an important reason we all get into the education field to continue to grow and learn. So, you know, I think there’s, there’s an important reference point when we’re trying to convince the team or cheerlead.

Why Why put all the energy into MTSS? And I guess my answer to that is, because the kids that we serve have complex needs, and they deserve it. And we deserve to feel like, we have the tools and strategies that we need to make the difference and be intentional as we work proactively and preventatively.

Yeah, and I think, you know, you hear people around National School Counseling Week being sad and complaining that they weren’t recognized. Like one this isn’t about you, maybe this is a hot take. But like, if you want to feel like what you’re doing matters, have some sort of data that shows that, see the outcomes that your students are achieving, and celebrate that, because that is, that’s the thing that’s gonna keep you going, like, you have the students stories, and you see the success as they are walking across that stage at graduation. But you know, what it took for them to get there. And you know, the backstory, that’s the thing that’s motivating.

And I mean, I guess everybody is motivated by different things, but to know what you’re doing is making an impact. I really think that’s why most people get into this to begin with not to be recognized with flowers at National School Counseling Week. I know that feels good, but it’s about the impact that you can make and within the right MTSS structure implemented, you’re going to get more of that. And you’re just going to, you’re going to be able to keep moving forward, because you’re going to be encouraged by the growth of your students.

Okay, so y’all mentioned Google Drive, and kind of getting some systems in place there. Jake, can you tell us like what other resources would you give specifically to high school counselors who are looking to have a better grasp on an MTSS system in their school?

Yeah, I think of two things, I think, you know, in terms of, you know, their world in their building, and I also think that kind of outside resources. So I think, you know, in terms of, if you’re, you know, a school counselor in your building, you know, going from starting with, you know, what, what, folks, what expertise, what resources do we have in our school amongst our staff, right, and then going out from there. You know, I can remember, a special ed teacher, a fellow school counselor, school psych, a lead teacher and admin, that really just were champions around this work.

But then going out to the district level, in terms of, again, expertise and resources, and certainly going out to regional and state, you know, associations and folks that are in higher ed that are doing this work. I think, also on a more practical level, too, you know, and I can think back to myself, you know, one of the reasons that we, the four of us and others at school counselors for MTSS came together is because we’re school counselors in the building, doing school counseling, doing MTSS.

I mean, got out in higher ed, and we kind of looked around the nation and said, Where, where people at? Who else is thinking about this and passionate? And so it kind of grew from, you know, Peg, Jen, and Emily. And, and I kind of, you know, was was later in that group come out of my PhD. And we’ve added other collaborators. And I think the whole point of that was really to say, how can we do exactly what you’re saying is how can we engage and help more folks understand what MTSS is. What alignment is. Why, why does it matter? Why is it important?

And can we, you know, have a website where stuff is up there? Can we do some, you know, put some presentations up there? Can we do some free webinars? Can we have links to stuff and so that’s really where things started in terms of you a website is just how can we get stuff out there that’s free. And then Jen is done an awesome job with social media that’s as you know Lauren, a great way to get out information and stuff that’s accessible, bite sized.

And so again, I think, going to places like that, that has information and starting with some of those core presentations, and I know, folks don’t have time to read articles in the buildings, but there are some really, you know, two to three really good articles that this group has done that really break down what is MTSS? How do we align what we do? And then once you have that basic understanding, you can continue to add to that, through webinars, you know, through presentations.

That’s kind of that self learning. And then from there, it’s getting together with people in the building. And we’ve done this where then you start having conversations about how do we make sense of this? What does it look like for us in our setting? And then if you can add any kind of training and ongoing support, again, at the building district, or regional level? That’s kind of icing on the cake.

Yeah, I wanted to piggyback on that, too, because I love all the things that you shared, Jake. And I think that, you know, as we were talking, we were thinking about pre service school counselors. And that’s why we wrote the textbook school counselors for MTSS. And it first came out in 2019. And then the landscape has totally shifted.

So we did our second edition is coming out this summer, you know, there’s a, there’s a lot of change in there, because of COVID, because of the racial reckoning movement, and really thinking about the role of school counselors amidst all of that, and with the heightened mental health needs.

And then we did a book for the American School Counselor Association, which is a resource that maybe your listeners might want to access. It is called Making MTSS work. So ASCA had Making Data Work. So we kind of patterned it after that. And we went around to school districts, k 12 districts throughout the country who had been implementing with some success and asked them, how’d you do it? Do you mind sharing your referral form, or, you know, the breakdown of what you’re doing on all three tiers?

And we got an amazing response from people we’ve done work with, and individuals that really, you know, care about seeing this work replicated. So what’s great about that book is that it has, you know, examples of what people are doing with with success and aligned with, you know, culturally sustaining practices and aligned with the ASCA national model.

But I think a good starting place for anybody who’s thinking about broaching the subject is, you know, ASKA has a position statement on MTSS. It’s well written, it’s been updated, it leads you to some of the articles that Jake was talking about, and some of the foundational research in MTSS.

And then we have a nice collection of evidence based interventions, specifically tier two interventions that are free for people to use. And I’ll mention two. We just mentioned these all the time. But out of the University of Michigan Medical School, they created an online resource that’s very effective with high school students called Trails To Wellness.

And Jake’s done kind of a deep dive and learned about their process. And they have great resources to work with kids from maybe a CBT, you know, approach like videos of kids talking about using mindfulness strategies, etc, managing anxiety.

And the other one that we recommend a lot is the Center for School Mental Health throughout the University of Maryland has amazing supports around screening, and they have a great conference. And I mentioned one more, and that is the Milwaukee Public Schools did an amazing job putting together the social and academic instructional groups, SAIG, which are totally free online, and anybody can access them.

And so when we teach about MTSS in our classes, you know, I assign my students to look around on those websites and look at evidence based practices that can help inform the work. So there’s a plethora of resources out there and, you know, state guidance around MTSS and school counseling is starting to merge.

Like my State of Connecticut MTSS is mentioned in our state framework. I think that’s something we’re going to see more and more of. So I think on the state level, recognizing that, you know, what are the guiding documents about MTSS and school counseling?

We’ve been invited to do pre conference training at State Association Conferences. So you know, there’s a there’s a lot of resources, and we welcome people to come to our website and, you know, ask a question about an aspect of MTSS. Or ask about training that we might do.

So there’s, there’s a lot of resources out there. Patching results has been doing a lot of training around MTSS. So we’ve got colleagues across the nation that are really engaged in this work and very committed to it. And we hope that the resources we’ve created through our textbook and through our ASKA publication, and through our website are helping people find this to be user friendly, you know, more accessible, and there’s folks using making MTSS work as a professional learning community. And we’re hearing that they’re having some really nice success with that. So we’re all about making this accessible to as many school counselors and school based mental health teams as possible.

Well, don’t mind me, I’m over here, like typing down all these resources, because I’ll put them all in the show notes, because there’s all sound awesome places to start.


Jake, you said, like, so much of this is, you have to have this desire for self growth as well. Like, you can’t, you can’t sit here and listen to this and be like, Yeah, I wish there was MTSS in my school, but like, it’s never gonna happen. I mean, just with anything, if you hear as a counselor, like a topic that you might be passionate about, or sounds like it could work in your school, okay, like, Y’all have already said that a lot of people are already doing this. It’s working places.

So like, dig in to reading some of the things. You didn’t give yourself enough credit. You’re saying nobody’s reading those journal articles. People are reading journal articles, like they just had to, to hear like a little bit more and say, oh, yeah, I do want to go deep dive into that and hear some examples. I think that’s one of the coolest things. I’ve read the ASKA the making data work one. And I think your sound similar in hearing examples of what people are doing at other schools, because that in itself feels like a mini Professional Learning Community.

Even if it’s just me in the book, like I say, wow, they did that, okay. I could tweak it this way and do it at my school, because the students are different, the admin is different, the just the population, the parent input is different. So everywhere, but when you hear somebody else’s idea, that’s, that’s just the energy that you get from going to a conference or sitting at lunch, listening to the keynote speaker at your state conference. Like you come home with new ideas.

Not necessarily to implement the exact same thing that somebody else did, but just what’s going to work for your school. And I think counselors are really good at being adaptable and flexible, like, if someone’s going to make some changes in a school, it’s going to be the counselor versus really structured teachers who liked that rigidity of their day. Counselors are, are good at this already. So let’s take some new ideas and, and make our school more effective and efficient for the students.

There’s a quote that we use a lot in our training by Margaret Mead, the anthropologist. It says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And I think that, you know, if you build alliances in your school, and you want to work smarter, not harder, because there’s no way there’s a high school counselor out there, that can work harder. You’re superheroes in my book. I have a high schooler who’s finishing up this year, and his counselors are great. And I think that it’s just important to think about the professional alliances.

You can’t get everybody on board with every initiative, but you can pull together the initiatives that work best. We added a chapter on braiding initiatives together through MTSS, like restorative practices, and SEL and, you know, the academic supports we’re putting in place in our college and career readiness efforts. If we can braid them all together and think about, you know, how do we orchestrate or combine these efforts so that we’re creating the best possible environment for our students to learn and for our faculty to teach in.

And I think whenever we can create a learning environment for our colleagues, as educators, that investment deepens, despite all of the challenges and difficulties. I think people feel like they’re growing, they’ll stick it out, they’ll put the time in. It’s complex work, but it’s really rewarding.

Jake’s doing some work out in the west coast, you know, throughout a year, you know, with with a grant and it’s, it’s just amazing to see, even amidst the challenges everybody’s confronting that there’s an investment in that effort. They want to row in the same direction, don’t they Jake?

Yeah, it’s it’s such a good point. Yeah, this is well said.

Jake, will you share with the listeners where they can connect with you all or find some of the school counselor school counselors for MTSS resources if you know they enjoy this. They want to go deeper and hear more of the work that you all are doing.

Yeah, I think schoolcounselorsformtss.com, the website, I think is a good landing page. And again, that’s that’s the purpose of it in terms of background, what it is, you can find each of us contact. And so that’s, that’s a good, good help for that.

That’s awesome. And like I said, I’ll link all the things that you mentioned in the show notes along with School Counselors for MTSS, their website and social. And I hope that this conversation gets people’s wheels turning about just some changes that they could make in their school, even if it’s small, tiny little steps with the end in mind of how to change the larger system of their high school.

And I really thank you all for your time, because I think it was really energizing and positive thinking of what can happen in a school. It’s encouraging to me, and I hope that it’s encouraging to listeners as well. So thank you all for being here.

You’re welcome. Thanks for having us.

Yeah, thanks Lauren. That’s fun. And thank you for for doing this for high school folks. Especially. I know, a lot of fun.

Of course.

As we come to a close in this week’s episode, I want to mention to you to get on the waitlist for the Clique Collaborative. The Clique Collaborative is my high school counseling membership that fosters community and growth and learning all in a place just for high school counselors. So to get on that waitlist, go to cliquecollab.com

Doors have been twice a year in August and in January. So we’re coming up to that August doors opening date. I want you to be the first one to know when we’ve got that date solidified. We’re going to be opening those doors so that you can learn more about this high school counseling community that I would love for you to be a part of. So go to cliquecollab.com to get on that waitlist and I will see you here same time, same place next week.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode of high school counseling conversations. All the links I talked about today can be found in the show notes and also at counselorclique.com/podcast. Be sure to hit follow wherever you listen to your podcast so that you never miss a new episode. Connect with me over on Instagram. Feel free to send me a DM @counselorclique. That’s CLIQUE. I’ll see you next week.

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