What to Know About Multi-Tiered System of Supports as a High School Counselor with Dr. Jake Olsen and Dr. Peg Donohue [Replay] [Episode 104]


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 in identifying and supporting kids who need academic, social, emotional, or college and career development support.
Today, we are re-airing one of the most popular episodes from this year, where I had Dr. Jake Olsen and Dr. Peg Donohue join me on the show to talk about MTSS in high school counseling. They have extensive experience consulting high schools through the MTSS process and tiered support.
During our conversation, Dr. Olsen and Dr. Donohue shared what MTSS is and how to implement it in high school settings, the three different tiers of intervention, the specific challenges that come when implementing at the high school level, and how to create a MTSS task force and successfully implement MTSS in high schools.

Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • What is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, and how it’s different in the high school setting vs. elementary or middle school
  • A breakdown of the three tiers of intervention
  • The specific challenges of implementing MTSS in high schools
  • Tips for successfully implementing MTSS in high school
  • How to create a MTSS task force with a variety of voices
  • Where to find 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:

Lauren 0:02
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Lauren 0:20
What makes it different from other AI generators? This one is programmed specifically with high school counselors in mind and knows the questions to ask you to get the right voice, the desired length of the recommendation letter and the perfect personal touches to match your writing style. And the best part, it’s free. I promise you’re going to love experimenting with the way you write letters of recommendation from here on out. Head over to counselorclique.com/collegevine to get started with this free tool today.

Lauren 0:52
In my opinion, December is a great time for re-airing a popular episode from this past year. At the time that I’m recording this there are some episodes from last year that are still crowd favorites. But I wanted to reshare a standout favorite from this year, from 2023.

Lauren 1:09
Back in episode 77, I had Dr. Jake Olson and Dr. Peg Donohue join me on the show to talk about multi tiered systems of support in high school counseling. That’s a mouthful, right? There are authors and they spend a lot of time doing research, consulting high schools and speaking about MTSS and tiered support.

Lauren 1:28
MTSS feels more like a buzzword to me at least in elementary setting. So I wanted to hear their perspective as it pertained to high school counselors. And boy did I get what I was looking for. I think we all left super energized thinking about how implementing MTS s in our buildings wasn’t just one more thing. Rather, it is the thing to help us be more intentional and more efficient high school counselors. This conversation was so fruitful and valuable that I had to share it again. I think a lot of you must have agreed with me because this episode was so popular. So without further ado, let’s listen to 2023 most listened to High School Counseling Conversations episode

Lauren 2:17
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.

Lauren 2:50
Welcome Dr. Jake Olson and Dr. Peg Donohue to the show. Were 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 it’s hard to find people to talk about high school things.

Lauren 3:17
You know, we get an elementary school expert in to kind of relate it to high school, but y’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.

Peg 3:36
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 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.

Lauren 4:28
Awesome, Jake, tell us about you.

Jake 4:30
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, I just kind of hit the lottery and I was in a great district, outside the Seattle, Highline public schools and they were doing 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.

Jake 5:00
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 of scaling up K12. And then just kind of took that on as they 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, and now in Long Beach, California, Cal State Long Beach.

Jake 5:25
And really my research is, wouldn’t say 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. That’s what I write, train and think most about.

Lauren 5:51
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?

Peg 6:19
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 college and career development support.

Peg 6:42
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 this is data systems and practices.

Peg 7:16
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?

Peg 7:45
And then what kind of systems have they set up to, you know, design and implement their tier one for all students and identifying the kids who need the tier two intervention? 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?

Jake 8:15
No, I think that’s so well said. I think the two things that I would just add that 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 know that, like Peg said, It’s a framework. So it’s an approach to providing supports and doing prevention work, right.

Jake 8:36
So we’re often looking 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, a tier two kid, a 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.

Jake 9:01
Then the tiers of intervention are different levels of intensity of support. And so I’ll hear all the time to your tier two kid or tier 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 at along with tier.

Lauren 9:19
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.

Lauren 9:48
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, we’re like, we’re responding to things. We’re making sure everybody has the education that they need to find success. And then we’re triaging it out so that we can help the kids who need it who have the highest needs right now, you know, just on that pyramid.

Peg 10:12

Lauren 10:13
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 counselor. 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.

Jake 10:28
Yeah, I can start it in. Yeah. And I agree. You know, oftentimes, it’s, you know, an implementation happens in the district or state, it is K12. And it starts with K and scales up and I think a couple of reasons. Number one is, you know, in high school, obviously, especially big comprehensive ones, 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, 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.

Jake 11:15
And so I think with high school, 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 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.

Jake 11:48
And so I think the other thing, just really quick, too, is, you know, obviously, the development is different. And we know that, but I think in my experience, the adults in the building in high school tend to be different in terms of their philosophy of being in high school, right? They 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 us to be able to, or need to kind of teach them skills, like social emotional skills and stuff.

Jake 12:20
So I think developmental levels, obviously there, but I think the silver lining that though is we can really engage high school kids, that’s a big difference that I’ve seen is really engage them in the work of MTSS. So what are these schoolwide preventative expectation supports events, that they want and need to be healthy, to be productive learners. And then 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.

Lauren 12:55
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 like 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, hopefully they have some skills that we can build on.

Lauren 13:16
But we do have kind of one last shot, to give them the skills, they need to be functioning adults with healthy coping skills, to be able to form healthy relationships 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.

Peg 13:42
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 at schools filled by students, paraprofessionals, community members, caregivers. We we do better work when we have a chorus of voices that you know, will be impacted by the work.

Peg 14:22
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 K12 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.

Peg 15:17
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 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.

Peg 15:51
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 Vetters on just, you know, when we first started working together, she said, you know, aligning our school counseling with MTSS, just makes sense,

Lauren 16:30

Peg 16:31
Puts us at the right table and helps us to be part of school improvement. So those were my thoughts.

Lauren 16:37
Yeah, that’s so interesting to think about, just from the loss of skills almost 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.

Lauren 16:51
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 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 students who looked different, who we knew had different socio economic backgrounds.

Lauren 17:23
But also someone who went to the Fine Art Center, someone who went to the Career Center, someone who was 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, and 12th. And we knew them enough that we could say, hey, they’re gonna have some valuable input and this is kind of their background. Is 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?

Peg 17:55
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 in half a second, if you’re not being authentic.

Peg 18:14
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?

Peg 18:56
Because schools are dynamic changing, you know, environments, and what worked last year might not work this year. And so 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 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 is, you know, collaborating together and sharing voices.

Peg 19:37
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 our seniors as they walk out the door. They’ve got a lot to say.

Lauren 20:00
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 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.

Lauren 20:34
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.

Peg 21:05
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, they were more fractured than ever, and they had an extensive leadership change.

Peg 21:32
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. 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 with support I think.

Lauren 22:09
And that’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.

Peg 22:16
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 work toward things and we need to prioritize.

Peg 22:50
So we did a prioritizing activity, we, you know, identified 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.

Peg 23:31
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 do 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.

Peg 24:03
So I think that 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, right. 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.

Peg 24:42
What they then piloted the second year after we were done was a structured study hall for kids who were struggling and they were a little nervous about that. And I came back in the fall and helped him out, but they’ve done a beautiful job with that which is going to be part of their implementation. So I think those things 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.

Peg 25:27
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 right now. So it’s a very contextual implementation, and a very, it’s a complex process, but you break it down into phases.

Peg 26:05
You know, for them, phase one was a referral form, and connecting to the portrait of 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 of looking at examples. So Jay 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 fabulous job.

Lauren 26:36
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, but 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 that if we don’t have those initial things set up, like we’re not going to get there.

Lauren 27:06
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.

Lauren 27:35
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 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?

Jake 27:59
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, 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 as 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.

Peg 28:40
I think 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.

Peg 29:26
And you know, I think if we measure it in schools that matters so we can measure our success, they’re using the referral form 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.

Peg 30:04
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 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 in the military, or my trade school, 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?

Peg 30:48
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, or in conflict. And, you know, I asked 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 positive change and improving the environment for the kids and for the adults, definitely.

Lauren 31:38
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 going to thrive in that setting, too. It’s like putting the right people, in the right seat on the bus, right.

Lauren 31:59
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 that has 14 high school counselors working at it. I’m like, that’s a big team that 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 of the graduate, if we’re all over the place and doing our own thing, we have to have the same goals and be moving in the same direction.

Peg 32:37
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 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.

Peg 33:11
But a lot of this becoming process for school counselors, the first 5 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. 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.

Peg 33:51
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 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 that education field to continue to grow and learn.

Peg 34:26
So, you know, I think there’s an important reference point when we’re trying to convince the team or cheerlead, 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.

Lauren 34:57
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.

Lauren 35:31
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 gonna get more of that, and you’re going to be able to keep moving forward, because you’re gonna be encouraged by the growth of your students.

Lauren 35:58
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?

Jake 36:14
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, folks, what expertise, what resources do we have in our school amongst our staff, right, and then going out from there. I can remember, a special ed teacher, a fellow school counselor, or 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, associations and folks that are in higher ed that are doing this work.

Jake 36:55
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 and we got out in higher ed, and we kind of looked around the nation and said, 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 coming out of my PhD. And we’ve added other collaborators.

Jake 37:27
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 does it matter? Why is important? And can we, you know, have a website where stuff is up there? Can we 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 know, website is, is how can we get stuff out there, that’s free. And then Jen has done an awesome job with social media that’s, as you know, are a great way to get out information and stuff that’s accessible, bite sized.

Jake 38:09
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 an icing on the cake.

Peg 38:57
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 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.

Peg 39:34
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, K12 districts throughout the country who had been implementing with some success and ask 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.

Peg 40:10
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 success and aligned with, you know, culturally sustaining practices and aligned with the aska national model. But I think a good starting place for anybody who’s thinking about broaching the subject is, you know, ASCA 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.

Peg 40:56
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.

Peg 41:37
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.

Peg 42:05
And so when we teach about MTSS, in our classes, you know, I assigned 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 emerge, 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 in school counseling.

Peg 42:47
We’ve been invited to do pre conference training at State Association conferences. So, you know, 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 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.

Peg 43:22
And we hope that the resources we’ve created through our textbook and through our ASCA publication, and through our website are helping people find this to be user friendly, you know, more accessible, and there’s folks 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.

Lauren 43:54
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 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.

Lauren 44:27
So like dig into reading some of the things that 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 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 ASCA that making data work one and I think your sounds 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 and the book.

Lauren 44:57
Like I say, wow, they I did that, okay, I can tweak it this way and do it at my school because the students are different, the admin is different, just the population, the parent input is different. So everywhere, but when you hear somebody else’s idea, 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.

Lauren 45:27
And I think counselors are really good at being adaptable and flexible, like, if someone’s going to make some changes in 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 make our school more effective and efficient for the students.

Peg 45:47
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. Y’all are super heroes in my book.

Peg 46:17
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 breed 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.

Peg 47:02
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 a grant. And 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.

Jake 47:42
Yeah, it’s such it’s such a good point. This is well said.

Lauren 47:46
Jake, will you share with listeners where they can connect with you all, or find some of the 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?

Jake 47:58
Yeah, I think schoolcounselorsformtss.com, the website, I think, is a good landing page. And again, that’s the purpose of it in terms of background, what it is, you can find each of our contact. And so that’s, that’s a good a good hub for that.

Lauren 48:14
That’s awesome. And like I said, I’ll link all the things that you mentioned in the shownotes, 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.

Peg 48:48
You’re welcome. Thanks for having us.

Jake 48:50
Yeah, thanks, Lauren. That’s fun. And thank you for for doing this for high school folks especially. I know a lot of fun.

Lauren 48:57
Of course.

Lauren 49:00
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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