At the American International School of Lagos (AISL), our commitment to being an inclusive international school led us to examine our systems and actively address barriers to learning for diverse groups of students. During a learning audit, we recognized the need for a proactive framework that would embed inclusivity into the school's DNA rather than treating it as an afterthought. The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework emerged as a powerful solution, designed to both prevent learning struggles and address individual needs. While the prospect of implementing MTSS seemed daunting, we embraced the challenge with determination, aligning our actions with our commitment to genuine inclusivity.
Implementing MTSS is a journey, and we embarked on ours armed with insights from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). NIRN's resources illuminated potential pitfalls in the implementation process, offering guidance on how to navigate them effectively. The Wyoming MTSS implementation rubric became our roadmap, uniting our team around the necessary steps and the magnitude of the task at hand. This calibration provided a baseline and enabled us to craft a multi-year action plan to move forward on our journey toward inclusion. Our initial step involved introducing a Tier 2 program, offering targeted support to students just below grade level expectations, with the goal of providing a boost to accelerate their progress.
Disrupting the Status Quo
For MTSS to succeed, dedicated time allocation was imperative. We opted for four 30-minute blocks per week, ensuring that the timetable accommodated all grade-level teachers. Defining the roles for each tier was the next logistical puzzle. We worked to define and assign roles, then we meticulously planned room allocations and logistical arrangements based on the number of students. The next step involved distributing the four days based on data insights and dedicating time to areas requiring the most attention, such as math and reading.
In the middle and high school levels, we faced additional logistical challenges. Adding a 30-minute block of time to the school day prompted questions about what to do with other students. Inspired by the American International School of Abuja, we introduced SOAR time. An acronym for Success, Opportunity, Achievement, and Resilience, SOAR is a dedicated period for students to receive comprehensive academic and holistic support. This 30-minute block occurs four days a week, fostering an environment where students can enhance their educational experiences and address various aspects of their well-being.
During SOAR time, students may participate in Tier 2 learning labs, providing targeted academic assistance. Additionally, advisory sessions offer a platform for collaborative learning and emotional development. The inclusion of WINN time (What I Need Now) is a particularly valuable component, allowing students to proactively seek extra support from teachers, tailoring their learning experience to their specific needs. This multifaceted approach aims to not only bolster academic achievements but also nurture social and emotional resilience among students.
At AISL, we consider parents to be essential partners in our MTSS journey. We maintained open and transparent communication channels, sharing the outcomes of goal setting, progress monitoring, and providing feedback. We also offered resources and training to empower parents in understanding MTSS and supporting their children at home. Parents were made aware of the adoption of MTSS during an open house, and brochures were sent home making sure they understood the process and goals. The parents of every student who needed extra support were informed, and parents were made aware of decisions at each step of the process.
What We Got Right
Our MTSS framework revolutionized our approach to decision-making. Data became the cornerstone, enabling us to target areas of learning needs, identify curriculum gaps, and monitor student progress. This shift towards data-driven decisions replaced subjective observations, ensuring informed choices benefiting student learning. We now pinpoint specific areas requiring targeted interventions and measure intervention effectiveness. Improved student outcomes and personalized learning experiences stand as a testament to the success of our MTSS framework.
What We Needed to Adjust
Throughout our implementation journey, we encountered a predictable learning curve. We grappled with progress-monitoring protocols, adjusted data-based decision processes, and learned how to triangulate data, particularly for early grades. We realized the need to bolster Tier 1 practices early on. While the research suggests allocating 80 percent of efforts and resources to Tier 1, our data showed room for improvement. As we move forward, we plan to strengthen Tier 1 support and are excited to receive guidance from MTSS expert Dr. Terry Scott in the upcoming school year.
Time to Celebrate
As the school year came to a close, we took the opportunity to celebrate the milestones and successes achieved through our MTSS implementation. Our end-of-year party was not only a time for joy but also a platform for sharing our progress and plans for the future. We conducted an end-of-year survey to gather valuable feedback from all stakeholders, ensuring that their voices were heard. We were delighted to share the survey results which provided insights into our strengths and areas for improvement. Additionally, we shared heartwarming emails from parents expressing their gratitude for the extra support, reminding us of the profound impact of our collective efforts. This celebration and feedback-sharing session reinforced our commitment to the MTSS journey and the spirit of inclusivity that drives us forward.
We know we have made significant strides along this road to inclusion from our end-of-year review using the Wyoming MTSS rubric - we are now at 60 percent, an increase from our baseline at 45 percent - but we still have a long way to go to say that we are truly inclusive. The Wyoming MTSS rubric also helps us identify areas where we can have the most impact based on data. Consequently, we plan to implement a social-emotional learning program for all students and introduce options for support for highly able students as well.
In conclusion, our key takeaways are:
- The hard work of MTSS implementation is worth it to meet each student's needs.
- Specific success criteria, like the Wyoming MTSS rubric, are essential for measuring progress.
- Start small, focusing on areas identified by data as needing the most growth.
- Strong, committed leadership is vital; inclusivity should be a school-wide priority.
- Be flexible and adaptable, recognizing that plans will evolve as you progress but remain steadfast in your commitment.
- Our journey with MTSS continues, guided by the vision of inclusivity that brought us here in the first place.
John Powell, with a background in teaching and administration in the United States of America, Indonesia, and Nigeria, served as the Grade 6-12 principal at the American International School of Lagos at the time of this article; currently, he is an elementary school principal in Ellington, Connecticut, actively implementing MTSS and supporting the success of all learners.
Shanewaz Ahmed was the Elementary Principal at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria, and is presently the Schools Improvement Coordinator at International Schools Group (ISG), bringing nearly 20 years of diverse educational experience, including roles as a teacher, Elementary Principal, Vice Principal, Assistant Director, and Interim Director of school, with a Master of Business Administration in International Education.
Emma Ahmed was the middle and high school Learning Coach and Interim Assistant Principal at the American International School, Lagos and is presently studying for a further Master of Arts in International Education and Development, enhancing almost two decades of United Kingdom and international education experience with a focus on self-directed learning, coaching, and developing pedagogical theory within a social frame.
Chris Frost, with a rich background in teaching and leadership roles across North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including positions as a teacher, coordinator, Principal, and Deputy Head of School, currently serves as the Director of Learning at the American School of Lagos, Nigeria.
Dr. Stacy Shipman, the Student Support Director at the American International School of Lagos, leverages over two decades of education experience, guiding the MTSS Implementation Team and showcasing her dedication to advancing education through roles as a classroom teacher, professional development grant project manager, university professor, and frequent conference presenter.