Incorporating SEL into your MTSS/RTI Structures

Planning to incorporate SEL into your district in a meaningful way is easier said than done. In order to make progress with SEL, a clear plan, including ways to implement and measure data must be in place. Over the next few weeks, we will be focusing on ways to plan to incorporate SEL into your school for the next year. 

The summer has now passed! Hopefully, most administrators and educators were able to relax and take a much-needed break from working. However, many of us within K-12 school districts know that the summer was also a great time to plan. Especially when there is still so much planning to be done for the 2021-2022 school year. Planning for a full in-person return to schools leaves many things to consider, including how to support students’ social-emotional learning (SEL).

When thinking about the school year, district and school leaders have made one thing clear regarding SEL: there needs to be a clear connection to the overarching goals for your district, data to track, and interventions to implement.  Incorporating SEL practices, and interventions into a school can be challenging. There are staff members to train, shared understandings to create, and interventions and curriculum to plan. A good place to start for many districts is to incorporate SEL support into already existing systems. This will allow for the SEL instruction to fit into the existing structures and become a more authentic part of the school. This way, SEL support won’t be “one more thing,” or an isolated block of learning during the day. When thinking about this, most schools already have existing Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) or Response to Intervention (RTI) in place. Below, you will find three ways to assist you in planning to incorporate SEL into these current systems.

1. Think macro 


First, think globally about your school with SEL in order to connect it to existing guiding documents. Some documents you might reference when thinking about which SEL competencies to focus on are:

  • School mission and vision statement
  • District S.M.A.R.T. goals 
  • Vision of a graduate statement 
  • State planning guides 
  • K-12 curriculum documents 
  • Accreditation reports 
  • State evaluations or improvement plans

The above documents can be used when you’re first making a plan for how to connect SEL into the day-to-day workings of your district or school. By looking at any available guiding documents that already exist, it will allow you to identify trends, or cross over phrases that can inform what you decide to focus on in terms of SEL. It will also assist you in creating a shared vision underneath the current values system in your district. Being able to “zoom out” before “zooming in” will assure the specific competencies you want to focus on as a school aligns with other district values and goals. For example, if the district has a “Vision of a Graduate” document that prioritizes empathy across diverse contexts, and the school has a Mission Statement that prioritizes empathy as well, that might lead you to select the CASEL Competency of Social Awareness as a focus for the upcoming school year. Aligning your SEL priorities with already established work done in the district assures that there won’t be competing priorities within your MTSS/RTI.

Being strategic and specific with how to work SEL into your MTSS/RTI is key to having success with your school’s goals.

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2. Decide on how you will gather and analyze data

Once you’ve decided on what SEL competencies you want to focus on in your district or school, it’s important to have a plan for gathering and analyzing data on both student and staff SEL skills in order to know if you are making progress towards your goals. Systematically gathering and analyzing your data also allows for you to utilize your MTSS/RTI in a more meaningful way. You will be able to clearly see where your students are at in terms of their SEL competencies, as well as what type of intervention they need. Decide on the system you will use to collect data about how students are making progress regarding the CASEL competencies being focused on. This might be in one of the following formats: 

  • Teacher classroom observations (creating a standardized checklist or rubric)
  • Category in your LMS 
  • A platform like Satchel Pulse that tracks student SEL data aligned to CASEL competencies 

After deciding how you will gather the data, knowing what to do with it is just as important. Being able to not only gather data but also interpret it is what will set your school district apart from others. Some ways you can use your data that will also help you utilize your MTSS are: 

  • Disaggregate amongst grade levels, program codes (special education, English language learner, etc.) 
  • Identify trends in the results based on the time of school year, or around specific events in the community or world 
  • Separate students who have made progress, and those who are still working on achieving satisfactory scores on specific competencies

Systematically gathering and analyzing your data also allows for you to utilize your MTSS/RTI in a more meaningful way.

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3. Plan for interventions

Perhaps one of the most important parts of incorporating SEL into your MTSS/RTI is being able to plan specific interventions that work in conjunction with the MTSS/RTI you have in your district or school. Being strategic and specific with how to work SEL into your MTSS/RTI is key to having success with your school’s goals. Some things to think about when planning your interventions might include:

  • Creating small groups of students who all need additional support on a specific CASEL competency or subskill 
  • Planning a timeline for intervention length, and how students will be assessed 
  • When creating small groups, consider matching staff members with students who they know have a good relationship with to get the most out of learning 
  • Are there universal tier 1 interventions you can utilize in a smaller context?

A lack of planning in terms of connecting your SEL work to larger district values, making a plan for how to gather and analyze data, as well as planning the literal interventions themselves so that your SEL interventions can work in conjunction with your MTSS/RTI will lead to less than ideal outcomes. The lack of combining those things together will make any additional SEL work feel like an additional burden on staff. A Student Services Team, Teacher Leadership Team or Guidance department can be asked to utilize their expertise to help make sure that the planning and implementation process goes smoothly and takes into account any concerns or questions that might arise.

Incorporating SEL into your district in a meaningful way is crucial in achieving any larger SEL goals or benchmarks the district has. Using your current MTSS/RTI system as a starting point for integration can be a meaningful first step towards building SEL competencies in your district.

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