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Initiating change: MTSS coaches are setting students up for success

Published on Thursday, May 5, 2022

lauren canfield talking to student in office
BCSD photos / Monica Kreber

MTSS coaches are new to Berkeley County School District this year.

It is a sort of interventionist position, and two coaches are shedding light on their new jobs and what they love about it – as well as why it is a much-needed position in high schools, especially after the pandemic.

MTSS stands for “Multi-tiered System of Support”, and an MTSS coach’s job is to make sure no student falls behind in his or her work because of reasons like excessive absences, or because of something happening at home that is affecting them socially or emotionally, or because of missing content.

The coaches work with the Division of Academics and Innovation as well as their school leadership team to improve their school's MTSS plan and provide support for identified at-risk students. The high school MTSS coaches support and provide ongoing professional development and model effective instructional and intervention strategies.

These coaches plan, implement and resource student-focused MTSS activities to ensure a positive learning experience for all students.

BCSD video by Dan Michener

State legislation made MTSS positions possible through ESSER funding. Qualifications for the position are a Master’s Degree and an administration certificate. Berkeley County School District has MTSS coaches at Philip Simmons High, Timberland High, Hanahan High, Stratford High and Goose Creek High.

Lauren Canfield is the MTSS coach at Goose Creek High, and she said the role of MTSS coaches became particularly important after the pandemic.

“Students needed to be reminded of what school was like,” she said. “They’ve been at home, doing all of this stuff by themselves or with the help of their parents, and MTSS gives us an opportunity to kind of fill the gap that’s been created by the pandemic and the loss of instruction.”

Canfield added that the role allows the school to sort of “push” students who are on the cusp of passing a class.

“With MTSS, we’re able to help them be successful,” she said.

Canfield is in her fourth year at Goose Creek High and has been in the district about 14 years. She previously served as a theatre teacher at Goose Creek High but transitioned into the school’s MTSS coach because her ultimate professional goal is to one day be an administrator.

“I was working with Gifted and Talented students,” she said. “This position gives me an opportunity to work with students who are not necessarily (in) Gifted and Talented, from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different ability levels – so I’m able to have a different impact on students from this perspective.”

Revan is in her eighth year in BCSD and her fifth year at Stratford High, where she previously taught economics before becoming an MTSS coach for the school.

Revan has always had an interest in building support systems for her students as far as interventions and resources go; she recalled being one of the first teachers to jump on board with the use of Chromebooks and Google Classroom because she likes to find ways to get her students motivated to get their work done.

When she found out about MTSS, Revan said she thought it fit with what she was already trying to do in the classroom.

“Every day is a new challenge, but it’s exciting whenever you get to see the interventions you put into place (actually) work,” Revan said.

Both Canfield said they have learned a lot this year, not only about what can be done for students, but also about what students go through outside of school.

“Our students have incredible backgrounds and experiences that teachers don’t necessarily get to see, and through this position I get to talk to them about those things, and support them in any way they need,” Canfield said.

Revan said she has observed a lot of “behind the scenes” stuff in terms of how the school operates. 

“As a teacher you don’t really get to see a lot of what goes on once you refer a student somewhere – you never get to see what happens past that, you just hope that something’s getting done for them,” she said. “It’s nice to be on the other side of that so I can see exactly what we’re doing, what our strategies are to help that student improve in whatever the area is.”

MTSS programs may look different from school to school. Canfield has a set of Tier 3 intervention students that she checks in with once every two weeks. For this group, Canfield covers grades, socio-emotional needs they may have, as well as their attendance. Canfield will also field Tier 2 interventions, which can be a student who is struggling with academics or getting to school on time; Canfield works with an MTSS leadership team of teacher mentors who also check in with these students. Canfield supports Tier 1 students by supporting teachers with resources for children who do not necessarily need individual intervention, but could work with a larger group setting.

Canfield said there are several students who may need interventions, but cannot get them because they do not meet the specific qualifications for special education. Before MTSS, it was basically up to the teachers to catch those students and provide those interventions.

“With MTSS, my whole job is catching that,” she said.

At Stratford High, Revan described Tier 1 as universal instruction at the classroom level. Tier 2 is the system that involves grade level teams, and students get referred to teams based on their attendance, behavior or grades. Each team not only works with teachers who volunteer to help, but peer mentors as well. Tier 3 is more intensified interventions – Revan said it takes a lot for students to get to that tier as the school tries to help as best it can at Tiers 1 and 2.

“Right now we have 67 students on our MTSS Tier 2 Team, so I get a chance to work with those kids one-on-one, see what’s working and what’s not working, so we can make sure they’re successful in the classroom,” Revan said.

In addition to working with teachers, MTSS coaches work with guidance counselors, social workers, assistant principals, behaviorists and attendance clerks; both Canfield and Revan said it “takes a village” to help students be successful.

“I feel like it’s really important for high school because the students always…need extra support,” Revan said. “It just depends on where that area is.”

Canfield and Revan have already witnessed success stories in their new roles. Canfield said she has one student who came in as a ninth-grader in the fall, and the student struggled with adjusting to high school classes because the last time he had been inside a school was seventh grade (because of the pandemic). Seventh-grade standards, content and expectations are completely different than those at the high-school level, so Canfield met with him once every two weeks to work on organizational strategies, study strategies and more.

The student passed all of his classes last semester and is expected to pass them this semester as well.

Canfield said she enjoys building relationships with her students and supporting them through their success.

“A lot of these kids haven’t had an accountability system like this,” she said. “Some of them, that’s all they need – they just need to know someone’s watching, and cares.” hands of students tutoring

Revan started a lunch tutoring program at the school, and has students who come into her office to get tutored by their peers. Revan has one student in particular who comes in every Tuesday and Thursday, gets paired up with a tutor and has managed to raise his math grade significantly.

“Just trying to get peer tutoring done seems to be pretty successful,” Revan said.

Revan said it is a very rewarding role to serve; she said she likes being the person who helps initiate change.

“I really enjoy that part of it – collecting the data, going through what’s helping the student and what’s not helping the student, and how can we best serve the student,” she said. “Everything to me is all student-centered and student-focused, so it’s very rewarding…when you have that student who comes to you, you have the one-on-one time with them, and they tell you what they need, and then they’re successful at the end.”

Canfield considers herself to be a “doer” who loves working with students.

“High school is such an impressionable age, that you really can help make or break that student’s future, depending on the relationship that you build with them,” she said.

The ultimate goal is for students to not only pass their classes, but to show up every day feeling motivated and enjoying school.

Also, the goal is to show that MTSS is working – and very much needed.

“Being able to have that change with students is very rewarding,” Revan said, adding, “It’s a lot of fun, and hopefully I’ll be in the position for a while.”

Monica Kreber