5 Simple Hacks for a Successful MTSS School Counseling Program

As school counselors, we align our program with MTSS (multi tiered systems of support) by providing direct and indirect student support services. Just so we're all on the same page, according to the ASCA website, 'MTSS is a culturally sustaining, evidence-based framework implemented in preK-12 schools using data-based problem-solving to integrate academic and behavioral instruction and intervention at tiered intensities to improve learning and social/emotional functioning of all students.'

And if you're unsure of how to plan a comprehensive MTSS school counseling program, here's what you need to keep in mind:

1. Be Prepared

Now that we have a better understanding of what MTSS counseling involves, it helps to be prepared to work with students across all three tiers. At the start of the year, you might not have all your class lessons pinned down to the last detail, or know the groups you may have to run, or even have a spreadsheet of kiddos you will need to meet individually. However, if you've been in the field for a bit, chances are you essentially know what constitutes your core curriculum.

I would suggest you first think of the school-wide lessons you would think are important to teach to all students. The ones I do year after year include a Meet the Counselor Game Show and guidance lessons on Self-Regulation, Bullying Prevention, Growth Mindset, and Focus and Attention, among others. You could then move on to planning your grade-specific lessons based on teachers' responses to your Needs Assessment Form.

When it comes to group counseling, every year, like clockwork (based on support needs) I find myself running a New Students Group, a Self Regulation Group, a Study Skills Group, and a Friendship Group.

Don’t forget to take into account seasons and holidays and plan lessons/activities in alignment for the different tiers. The kiddos I see individually really enjoy my Easter Positive Affirmations, the Lucky Leprechauns Discussion Cards, the Size of the Problem Flip Book, and the Countdown to Winter Break Game.

2. Take It Outdoors

When it comes to Tier 1 interventions, we almost always think of preventative class lessons, which is great! But don't forget to switch things up a bit. Your school-wide lessons can move out of the classrooms and turn into school-wide initiatives. In October, why not organize a Bullying Prevention Run? Do you have student ambassadors? Allow them to plan events like this. You could even organize a flash mob to raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, set up a Career Fair for your High School students, or even raise money through a garage sale of sorts for a neighborhood charity around Christmastime.

3. Mix Things Up

Most of us have either returned to on-campus learning or are in the blended/hybrid format. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us in terms of lesson improv, it is to be able to use print and digital resources with equal amounts of ease. That said, despite being back in the physical school building, my kiddos still love using Boom Cards in my group and individual sessions, in particular.

Games in my sessions have taken on a new life! Of course, we play the traditional ones, but my Board Games are being used more extensively. Since there are different board games covering a plethora of different topics, I tend to save time planning activities for my lessons.

From charades and Discussion Cards to Guided Meditations, Craft Activities,, and Journal Writing, there are tons of ways to ensure your sessions/lessons are engaging, meaningful, and are suited for ALL your students!

4. Use Data to Guide You

One of the key aspects of MTSS school counseling is that it is an evidence-based framework that utilizes data-based interventions of support. Your Needs Assessment Form, Referral Forms, Self Assessment Forms, Behavior Surveys, and an End of the Year Report are all going to be extremely valuable when it comes to identifying the needs of your students across all tiers as well as to reflect and statistically identify the success rate of the counseling program you have implemented. Data is constantly changing and evolving so one year's data is not forgotten about when the academic year is over. It would be wise to use this data to guide you in the following year by tweaking your program accordingly, if necessary. Hard data also helps you advocate for your role at school!

5. Build Relationships

Tier 3 MTSS interventions include consulting and collaborating with school personnel, families, and community stakeholders. This essentially means you don’t need to fly solo. There is a good chance one of your kiddos might need to be referred outside of school for counseling. Perhaps the parents and the child require family therapy, which is not in the scope of your job description. This is when you would need to make a referral outside of school. Therefore, be sure to create and maintain a database of people and places that can help support your student when you are limited. 

It is of utmost importance to stay connected with parents. Be it organizing a PTA barbecue on a Saturday afternoon, hosting a Back to School Night for them where you can educate them about the services you provide, or sending out newsletters regularly about themes/lessons that you’ve been teaching that month, there is so much you can do as a school counselor to collaborate with parents.  Read this blog post for more ideas on how to collaborate with parents.

Then, of course, it makes sense to be in touch with people and organizations that can fortify the support you extend to students. It’s not a bad idea to jot down their contact information.

Where do I go from here?

I’ve tried my best to ensure these hacks I shared are easily digestible. However, if you still feel overwhelmed because you’re a new counselor who is not sure of what you need to get started, a veteran counselor who needs new ideas to keep students engaged, a school counselor who needs more time to plan small groups and lessons, or a counselor who is looking for a support system and community to engage with, or if you simply want to press the easy button, I have good news for you.

My school counselor membership, IMPACT, will give you the monthly curriculum plans, resources (including the ones mentioned in this blog post), support, and community you need so you can take the guesswork out of planning and make the biggest impact possible at your school. Click here to enroll NOW!

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