MTSS and Family Engagement: A Perfect Pair for Students

Family Matters: Boosting MTSS Impact with Parental Involvement

Discover how ParentPowered supports leveraging MTSS and family engagement together in our recent blog post.

By Megan Okrand, contributing writer

Have you ever wondered what makes some school strategies succeed spectacularly while others barely make a dent in improving student outcomes? The secret ingredient might just be closer to home than you think…

Yes, it’s family engagement in schools — a cornerstone that we at ParentPowered hold near and dear to our hearts. 

Research consistently shows that when families are involved, students have higher grades, better attendance, and a smoother path to graduation. Engaging families early and often not only enriches the learning experience but also catalyzes the success of school-wide strategies, paving the way for remarkable improvements in student outcomes. 

But how can schools systematically nurture family-school partnerships?

A young mother holds her preschool age daughter in her lap as she sits across a table from her daughter's new teacher for a meeting.

Enter the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), a proactive framework that addresses academic needs and encompasses behavioral and social-emotional learning. This comprehensive approach ensures that every student benefits from the right level of support. MTSS and family engagement ensures supports are tailored to meet the unique needs of each child. 

Additionally, the principles of the MTSS framework can be effectively applied to enhance caregiver and parental engagement itself, making it an integral part of both student-centric and family-focused support systems. Integrating MTSS into family and community engagement creates a powerful alliance that significantly enhances educational outcomes for students and fosters meaningful partnerships among the adults around every student.

Understanding the MTSS framework

What is MTSS anyway? Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a holistic approach to education that aims to meet every student’s needs, recognizing that there are many different, unique pathways to student success. 

It’s a versatile, all-encompassing method designed to ensure that no student slips through the cracks. A multi-tiered approach combines academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports into a cohesive framework tailored to meet students’ needs at various levels. It’s about giving every student a fair shot at success, in whatever form that may take.

With that in mind, any approach to family engagement can also be tailored to meet every family’s unique needs just as school strategies support the individual student.

Breaking down the three tiers of MTSS

MTSS organizes support into three distinct tiers, each designed to accommodate different levels of student needs:

Tier 1: Universal Support

This is the groundwork, the universal supports that touch every student. These strategies are proactive and preventive, incorporating general teaching methods and interventions that are designed to enhance learning outcomes across the entire student body. Universal supports also extend to families, ensuring there are opportunities for families to access resources and information that help them engage in their children’s education.

Tier 2: Targeted Support  

Some students need a bit more to thrive. That’s where Tier 2 comes in, offering targeted support like group tutoring or behavioral workshops for those who need a boost in specific areas but without the intensity of one-on-one attention. At this level, schools may provide more focused support for families, too, such as small group meetings to address specific academic or behavioral challenges their children may be facing.

Tier 3: Individualized Support 

For students who need a great deal more help, Tier 3 offers highly personalized support. This could be anything from one-on-one tutoring sessions to specialized therapeutic interventions, all designed to address specific challenges. Families too can receive individualized assistance tailored to their child’s unique needs, ensuring they are equipped with the strategies and resources necessary to support their child’s intensive interventions.

Why use a multi-tiered approach?

Because it allows schools to be dynamic and responsive. The strength of MTSS lies in its adaptability and inclusivity. It’s about creating a tailored educational experience that acknowledges the diversity of needs among students and involving everyone from families to teachers to make education not just effective, but personal.

Image - 5 habits of highly effective family engagement webinar

Enhancing MTSS outcomes through active family engagement

An effective family engagement strategy is not just a benefit to the educational process — it’s a crucial component of MTSS. By integrating family-school partnerships, schools empower caregivers to become proactive participants in their children’s education, particularly when students require additional support. These partnerships are especially vital in the upper tiers of MTSS, where the focus often shifts to learners who need more targeted interventions.

Active family engagement significantly boosts student learning and enriches the overall educational experience. In Tier 1, universal family involvement in reinforcing learning at home ensures that all families and students receive the support they need to thrive, potentially preventing the need for more intensive interventions.

For Tier 2 and Tier 3 students, families become integral to the intervention teams, providing unique insights and support that can tailor strategies to the student’s specific needs. Schools can also support these families by connecting them to community resources, offering English language workshops to newcomer families, and providing access to services that support their engagement in student learning. ParentPowered’s trauma-informed curriculum offers a unique combination of protective factors-aligned messages and connections to concrete supports in times of need, further empowering families to actively participate in their child’s education.

Not to mention family engagement also leads to better social-emotional skills and fewer behavioral issues — talk about a win-win!

Building strong relationships with families

Let’s explore how schools can begin engaging families effectively

First off, communication. Effective two-way communication is foundational in a multi-tiered approach and should be adaptive and responsive to needs at each level.

For Tier 1 communication, this means regular updates to families about classroom and school activities, keeping everyone in the loop. At Tier 2, schools can provide detailed updates on interventions, monitor student progress, and involve caregivers in decision-making.

An African-American mother and her teen daughter give each other high-fives as they smile at home.

Further, it’s not just about what schools communicate, but how. Schools should ask, “How can we make every family feel part of their child’s education?” The answer lies in culturally responsive practices. Embracing cultural diversity and equity means that family and community engagement strategies are respectful and inclusive. This could mean providing documents in multiple languages, holding parent meetings in familiar community centers, or tailoring interventions to fit cultural contexts.

Understanding families’ past experiences through needs assessments and forums also allows schools to create sensitive and effective strategies. By nurturing strong, culturally responsive family-school partnerships, educators build a foundation for a supportive and inclusive community where every student can thrive.

Let’s take a look at how to nurture relationships with families in each tier. 

Tier 1: Universal strategies for welcoming every family

At the core of the MTSS framework is Tier 1, which serves as the universal layer intended for all students and their families. This level aims to create a welcoming and supportive school climate that encourages active family participation from the outset.

Here are some key Tier 1 interventions that promote engagement and success for all learners:

  • Keeping Everyone in the Loop: Regular updates via email, school newsletters, or a parent portal help keep all families informed and engaged with their child’s education and school activities. These updates help keep the school-to-home connection alive and well! For instance, a school might implement a monthly feedback loop where parents can respond to newsletters or portal updates with questions or comments, ensuring that communication is two-way and interactive. Data on family engagement rates can be collected to assess the effectiveness of communication methods.
  • Come One, Come All Events: From vibrant cultural fairs to interactive ‘Meet the Teacher’ nights, schools craft events where every family can participate and feel a sense of belonging. These events can be scheduled at various times and locations to accommodate different family schedules and should always aim to celebrate the cultural diversity of the school community. 
  • Tech-Savvy Engagement: Integrating a program like ParentPowered allows schools to send targeted educational tips and encouragement directly to parents’ phones. This low-effort, high-impact strategy ensures that every family receives a baseline level of support, which is crucial for building engagement in schools. Tier 1 data and family feedback can help identify families who might benefit from additional support in utilizing these technologies. 
  • Progress Monitoring for Tier 1 Effectiveness: Monitoring the effectiveness of Tier 1 interventions ensures they are meeting the needs of families and students. Schools can track family participation and engagement through surveys or event attendance data. This data can then be used to refine Tier 1 strategies and ensure they are fostering a strong home-school connection.

To enhance communication accessibility, it’s important for schools to use a mix of digital and traditional communication methods to reach families. This could include digital platforms for those who are tech-savvy and printed materials sent home for those who prefer physical copies.

Schools can also help break down barriers with clear, jargon-free communication accessible in the primary languages of the community. It’s about ensuring that every family not only receives information but also fully understands and feels part of the conversation.

A Black elementary school student mom's arm for reassurance as she touches his shoulder and smiles in front of a school.

Tier 2: Crafting tailored family engagement

While Tier 1 of MTSS provides a strong foundation for all families, it alone might not address the specific needs of families with students in Tier 2. This is where tailored family engagement strategies — ones that don’t just provide support but the right support — become essential. 

Oftentimes, students and families in Tier 2 need that extra nudge, whether in academics, behavior, or engagement. When schools build relationships with parents and caregivers in meaningful ways, families see real progress. With that in mind, let’s talk engagement strategies:

  • Focused Group Workshops: Schools can conduct workshops on topics directly related to Tier 2 needs (such as advanced study techniques or behavioral strategies) and offer them in various languages, times, and locations (including online) to ensure all families can participate.

Family-specific topics might include effective communication with teachers, understanding student progress reports, and strategies to create a supportive home learning environment. For a low-lift, high-impact resource, schools can utilize ParentPowered’s family workshop videos

  • Precision in Communication: In Tier 2, communication is personalized, focusing on the child’s specific progress and needs. Families receive clear, actionable reports that highlight achievements, areas for growth, and tailored recommendations.
  • Integrative Home-School Activities: Schools can extend classroom strategies into the home, equipping parents with the tools they need to reinforce what’s being taught in school. For Tier 2 supports, this might involve providing parents with specialized activities and detailed guidance on supporting their child’s specific learning needs. For example, if a student is struggling with reading comprehension, the school can offer targeted comprehension strategies and at-home exercises, bridging the gap between home and classroom.
  • Personal Touch with Family Check Ins: One-on-ones with families aren’t just meetings; they’re collaborations. For instance, newcomer families might benefit from an additional parent-teacher conference specifically designed to address their questions about the school, classroom, and overall educational experience. These sessions, which can include virtual meetings, are tailored to fit cultural backgrounds and personal schedules, making every family feel like a valued partner. 

To keep these Tier 2 strategies effective, schools can keep an eye on how families engage with these strategies and how it affects student progress. Additionally, teachers, school counselors, and other school personnel can regularly review what’s working and what’s not. It’s all about adapting and improving. Finally, schools can adjust and refine family engagement planning based again on caregiver feedback to remain responsive to the evolving needs of families and effectively support Tier 2 students.

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Tier 3: Maximizing family engagement for enhanced learning outcomes

Tier 3 of the MTSS framework provides intensive, personalized support for families with students who require highly individualized interventions to achieve success in their academic, behavioral, or social development. 

This level of support focuses on unique needs that go beyond universal strategies in Tier 1 or even more targeted supports in Tier 2. Here are Tier 3 strategies that bring families into the heart of the student learning process:

  • Joint Goal Setting: At this tier, the collaboration among school staff, families, and other specialists is intensified to develop highly customized learning plans with specialized supports. These plans focus sharply on the student’s needs, outlining clear goals and the strategies to achieve them. This isn’t about imposing pre-set targets but crafting them collaboratively with the family, ensuring that the goals resonate with the student’s real needs and the family’s aspirations for their child.
  • Regular, Meaningful Meetings: Regularly scheduled meetings with families, such as IEP meetings or home visits, are a cornerstone of Tier 3. As collaborative discussions — where families can share insights, express concerns, and actively participate in shaping the intervention strategies — these meetings emphasize true family-school partnerships.
  • Empowering Families with Resources: Schools can empower caregivers by providing them with the tools and knowledge they need through targeted resources. These resources can cover the specific interventions their child is receiving and offer practical tips on how they can extend this support at home. It’s one thing to know what needs to be done; it’s another to understand how to do it effectively in the home environment.
  • Supportive Family Discussions: Sometimes, the key to a student’s struggles lies within the family dynamics or social-emotional challenges. In such cases, schools can incorporate family discussions with the school counselor as part of Tier 3. Partnering with community organizations specializing in SEL and mental health can allow the whole family to support each other while ensuring educators are not overwhelmed. These sessions help uncover and address deeper issues, offering a space for the whole family to heal which in turn impacts the student’s learning at school.
  • Collaborative Family-School Teams: Imagine a team where parents, teachers, counselors, and social workers all come together with a common purpose: supporting a student’s journey. These family-school support teams are a cornerstone of Tier 3, ensuring a seamless flow of communication and concerted efforts. They work collaboratively to develop and monitor the intervention plan, making adjustments as needed to best support the student’s evolving needs.

In Tier 3, the role of school personnel cannot be overstated. They serve as bridge builders, resource linkers, and emotional supporters.

Counselors, social workers, and outside supports act as crucial connectors between the educational system and families. They ensure that the communication is not just frequent but also effective, addressing the family’s needs and concerns as partners in the educational process.

A teenage Aboriginal student smiles and speaks with her teacher outdoors in the sun in Australia.

Beyond academics, school personnel also support the emotional and social facets of student life, providing both the student and their family with necessary emotional guidance and support. When families can collaborate with school personnel, the results can be transformative!  

Tier 3 of MTSS is where the most personalized and intensive interventions happen, and it’s where targeted family engagement can truly shine. By actively involving families through personalized plans, continuous detailed communication, and strategic engagement, Tier 3 not only supports the student academically but also builds a comprehensive support system around them, paving the way for significant educational achievements and well-rounded development.

MTSS and family engagement: Partnering for success

Implementing MTSS equips schools with a comprehensive framework to support every student’s academic and behavioral needs effectively. This approach ensures every student receives the attention and interventions needed at just the right time.

But the impact doesn’t stop there. Engaging families in this multi-tiered system approach ensures no one is left out. This strategy embraces the diverse needs and backgrounds of each family, fostering an environment of inclusivity. Such openness not only breaks down barriers but also builds trust and enriches the educational experience for everyone involved.

So, what’s the next step? It’s time for a thoughtful reflection within our educational communities. Are our current family engagement efforts effective? Are we truly connecting with all families in a meaningful way?

Now is an ideal time to embrace new, innovative strategies like ParentPowered that catalyze the benefits of family engagement. Our accessible and do-able curriculum helps empower parents to actively support their children’s education, enhancing collaboration between home and school from birth through high school. 

Join an upcoming info session or take a self-paced tour of our programs to learn more. 

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About the author

Megan Okrand is a former High School History teacher turned writer taking her passion for education outside of the classroom and into the World Wide Web. Megan holds a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from the University of Southern California as well as a master’s degree in art history, criticism, and conservation from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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