Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are There So Many Terms for MTSS for Behavior?

The reason for variations in the terms used for multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) is because MTSS for behavior is not a “cookbook” or canned approach that is replicated the same way in each state, district, or school. Instead, MTSS for behavior is a framework for implementing prevention-based strategies that emphasizes a systems approach. One of the most common terms for MTSS for behavior is positive behavior support or school-wide positive behavior support. Click here for a full overview of MTSS.

Nationally, the term response to intervention or response to instruction (RtI) is commonly used to describe the MTSS model for both academics and behavior. School-wide positive behavior support, effective behavior support, positive behavior support, and positive behavioral interventions and supports are all examples of terms you will see within this website and in other website links in

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What is PBS and How Did it Evolve Over Time?

Positive behavior support (PBS) is a set of strategies that are used to support a student in reaching important social, academic, and quality of life goals while decreasing the occurrence and future likelihood of problem behaviors. The initial PBS research studies focused on individual students with disabilities who engaged in severe problem behaviors. Over time, the research on PBS began to expand to different types of students who engaged in problem behavior including general education and special education students.

Problem behaviors often occur because a student is seeking a social outcome. By engaging in problem behavior, a student may be trying to get attention from peers or from an adult, or may be trying to escape from a nonpreferred task or activity. For example, in some cases, sending a student who misbehaves to the office may actually be the result that the student is seeking if he or she no longer wants to complete an in-class assignment. The student is more likely to misbehave in the future to escape from other nonpreferred tasks.

A major emphasis of the PBS planning process is to teach students the appropriate communication and social skills needed to replace a problem behavior with more socially acceptable alternatives that will still meet the students’ needs. One type of intervention involves teaching the student to ask for assistance on a difficult task or to request a break when s/he is feeling frustrated or upset.

PBS tools and processes are used not only to teach individuals how to communicate what they want and need, these tools and processes also are used to better understand how every day routines and environmental settings may contribute to problem behavior. Modifications to theses routines and settings are made to prevent problem behavior while increasing positive social interactions among individuals within those settings.

At the individual student level, PBS strategies are used by a team of individuals who live with, work and support the student in seeking an improved and higher quality of life and academic success. There are many single subject research studies now demonstrating the effectiveness of PBS interventions with a wide variety of students. Click here to see peer- reviewed research studies, books describing PBS, and school-wide positive behavior support implementation research.

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What is School-wide PBS?

PBS implementation efforts are now used within a systems change model for entire schools and organizations. An important part of PBS has always been the emphasis placed on changing systems that may be related to an individual student’s behavior. To really change a student’s behavior, the individuals supporting the student must consider a variety of systems issues including the values and skills of the people who will be implementing the interventions, the way in which classrooms are managed and supervised, school policies and procedures, and the resources available for implementing interventions. School-wide positive behavior support is a process that helps school faculty work together to put interventions in place intended for all students within the school. A consistent approach by all faculty in teaching social skills and responding to problem behavior sets the stage for a positive and predictable school climate.

SWPBS includes: (a) investment in creating a culture within the whole school that will serve as a foundation for both social and academic success, (b) emphasis on prevention of problem behavior, (c) reliance on directly teaching appropriate skills to all students, as well as rearrangement of the events that trigger problem behavior and the issues that ensure problem behaviors will occur, (d) use of a three-tiered continuum of behavior support practices to facilitate prevention of problem behavior, and (e) active collection and use of data for decision-making.

SWPBS is based on a three-tiered model used in public health and community mental health settings. At Tier 1 or Primary Prevention, all students receive social and academic interventions that are intended to ensure student success. Data-based, decision-making systems are employed by school teams to provide ongoing progress monitoring and to intervene early with any academic and social difficulties a student may experience. Tier 2 or Secondary Prevention is intended to identify and support students who have learning, behavior, or life histories that put them at risk of engaging in more serious problem behavior. Tier 3 or Tertiary Prevention focuses on individualized and intensive PBS plans designed for a smaller number of students who need more support than interventions implemented at primary and secondary prevention levels.

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Can a School Team Implement MTSS for Behavior Without Support from School Administrators?

The implementation of MTSS for behavior requires everyone in the school setting to change his or her behavior. The SWPBS planning team works closely with school faculty to identify the ways in which social skills will be taught and how all adults in the building will respond when problem behaviors occur. Because this is a team-based approach, administrators must be involved in the decision-making process and be an active member of the team. The ways in which office discipline referrals are managed both within classrooms and at the office are assessed to make sure student problem behavior is addressed consistently. As teams progress in the implementation process, school administrators may change budgets by reallocating resources, modify staff positions to reflect different job expectations, and work with district administration to improve the way in which individual students at Tiers 2 and 3 receive support. For these reasons, schools will not be able to implement SWPBS effectively without active administrator leadership and involvement.

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Does Reinforcement Mean We Are Bribing Students to Behave Appropriately?

Many schools have developed “ticket” systems to reward students who are behaving well socially and academically, and some individuals object to this type of approach because they believe students will expect to be paid for their appropriate behavior. For these individuals, delivering tickets for good behavior is the same as bribing students to behave.

Reinforcement is a scientific term that simply means that behavior increases in the presence of certain tasks, activities, and people. MTSS for behavior is a set of strategies that uses the principles of behavior described in the research literature, including reinforcement, to change the school climate. There are many different ways in which the principle of reinforcement can be used. A ticket system is only example of an intervention approach.

Students who are actively engaged in academic learning tasks and experience a lot of success are intrinsically reinforced by the act of learning. These students are more likely to actively attend and participate in class when they experience high levels of academic success. As teachers or administrators, we tend to talk more to other peers or to students who provide us with a lot of positive feedback (eye contact, smiling, pleasant comments). The ways in which a school implements interventions based on reinforcement can be unique to each school culture and the key to successful MTSS for behavior implementation is the consensus-building approaches that are used to identify what types of strategies will be used.

Some schools have used innovative strategies to prompt teachers and administrators to reinforce students and these strategies do not involve tickets. For instance, in one school, the administrator provided an auditory cue for teachers through an intercom system. When teachers heard the cue, they delivered verbal reinforcement to students in their room who were engaging in positive social behaviors. This cue was a prompt that reminded the school faculty to deliver positive feedback to students.

The key to MTSS for behavior is to establish learning environments that include four positive statements for every demand or corrective statement given to a student. When the reinforcement ratio changes within a school setting, a positive climate is created which, in turn, naturally decreases the likelihood problem behaviors will be triggered.

However, changing the ratio of positive statements in school environments can be challenging. Ticket systems were created to be a prompt for adults to deliver positive feedback to students. Schools naturally include a high rate of directive statements that students are expected to follow. Students need to attend classes on time, bring their materials, be prepared, and answer questions in class. The ticket system provides adults with a cue to remember to deliver positive feedback in addition to the demands that are naturally part of the school environment.

Click here for a list of research studies on reinforcement

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How Can My School Get Started Implementing MTSS for Behavior?

Many schools interested in MTSS for behavior get started by learning more about how to prevent problem behavior. The best way to begin this process is to form a planning team that represents all of the key individuals within the school. Planning teams often include representatives from each grade level, general and special education teachers, counselors, administrators, school psychologists, family members, students, paraprofessionals, and/or anyone your school believes should be present. In high schools, students often take a more active leadership role in the MTSS for behavior process.

The role of the planning team is to gather information that will be brought back to the school faculty during inservices or staff meetings. Professional learning communities can be another format where information is shared systematically about MTSS for behavior. Reading materials, website links, and other resources can be organized and presented to the school faculty with an organized discussion about the information being learned.

Some schools send teams to other schools to observe effective MTSS for behavior implementation. This provides the team with information about what the process really looks like and team members can bring questions prepared in advance by school faculty. Asking school personnel and administrators who have experience with MTSS for behavior about the process is a direct way to learn about the process. School administrators may invite a person with a background in MTSS for behavior to present to all school faculty, or a group of school representatives may be sent to local, regional, or national events to bring information back to share.

If your school is interested in MTSS for behavior, a first step is to meet with district personnel to ask about how to get started with the district’s support. Schools implementing MTSS for behavior without district support often are unable to achieve full implementation. District-level leadership helps ensure that policies and procedures support the school’s efforts, provides additional supports for data based decision making, and builds a context for sustainability.

Click here for an introduction to MTSS for behavior
Click here for the Blueprint for implementation

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How Can My District Get Started Implementing MTSS for Behavior?

MTSS for behavior is best implemented as a district-wide model and the first step in getting started is to form a district leadership team. The district leadership team should include key stakeholders representing:

  • Safe and Drug Free Schools,
  • Instruction and Curriculum,
  • Special Education,
  • School Psychology and Counseling,
  • Title or Other Related Initiatives,
  • Student Health,
  • School-Wide Discipline,
  • Dropout Prevention,
  • Character Education,
  • Alternative Programming,
  • Data or Information Management, and
  • Multiculturalism and Affirmative Action.

In addition, effective district teams may include additional representation in a variety of ways such as:

  • Family Members,
  • Students,
  • Mental Health Professionals,
  • Child Welfare,
  • Developmental Disability Professionals, and
  • Regional Higher Education Professionals.

The role of the district leadership team is to build the capacity to support schools in implementing MTSS for behavior in a sustainable manner. The first step may involve asking a smaller workgroup to gather information to share with school administrators and the district leadership team. Some districts choose to hire a person with expertise to present on MTSS for behavior to school administrators as another first step. In other cases, the district team also includes presentations to all school faculty during an inservice training day with a time for discussion and action planning included to give individuals time to discuss MTSS.

Some districts send a team of administrators, professional development specialists, teachers, family members, and students to other schools implementing MTSS for behavior. This provides the team with information about what the process really looks like and team members can bring questions prepared in advance by school faculty. Asking school personnel and administrators who have experience with MTSS for behavior is a direct way to learn about the process. The district may also send a small team to local, regional, or national events and ask them to bring information back to systematically share what they have learned.

An important outcome in these first steps will be to make sure that all faculty are aware of the essential elements of MTSS for behavior. Many districts decide not to make MTSS for behavior mandatory. Instead, the district invites schools to participate in the training and technical assistance efforts. All schools are expected to provide plans for school improvement. How they choose to increase academic achievement and decrease problem behavior is they own choice as a school.

MTSS for behavior is a consensus-based approach which requires all school faculty to be actively involved. It will be easier to build consensus within a school if faculty members feel they are able to make a choice about how to proceed.

In addition, all districts have elements of MTSS for behavior already in place and the role of the district leadership team to conduct an assessment of the strengths and needs of the district. A three-year plan is then created that will provide a blueprint for the district to systematically build the capacity to support schools in implementing all three tiers of MTSS for behavior in an effective and sustainable manner.

Click here for an introduction to MTSS for behavior
Click here for the MTSS for the Behavior District Implementation Module
Click here for a blueprint that includes the tools and guidelines for getting started at the district level
Click here for an example of a district action plan

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What Kinds of Training are Needed to Implement MTSS for Behavior?

It is important to find the right person or persons to provide training and technical assistance for MTSS for behavior. Furthermore, the training and support needed cannot be achieved by scheduling a one or two day workshop, or even several workshops. In fact, research suggests that the average workshop training is not an effective way to ensure systems change. Districts and schools implementing MTSS for behavior can seek out trainers who use different types of systems change approaches. The key is to make sure that the training provided includes the key features outlined in this blueprint.

While the elements of Tier 1 implementation are fairly straightforward, school teams often have difficulties in implementing Tiers 2 and 3 without ongoing support from professionals with a strong background in positive behavior support and/or applied behavior analysis, and with systems change efforts such as school-wide positive behavior support.

Research in school-wide positive behavior support literature suggests that district teams may be more effective when a district coordinator is identified to oversee the implementation efforts across schools. The key to supporting MTSS for behavior at the district level is to establish a coaching system that will create a communication and support system for schools. In smaller districts, the district coordinator may attend each of the school team meetings on a regular basis to provide support and gather data. Larger districts need external coaches to assist the district coordinator in supporting school teams. The job of an external coach is to attend school team meetings, assist in problem solving, gather data, and share information about progress with the district coordinator.

The district coordinator and external coaches also meet with one person from each school who has been identified as an “internal coach.” The role of the internal coach is to facilitate meetings, meet with the district coordinator and/or external coaches, and to ensure data are being gathered and summarized. Another helpful strategy is to regularly schedule coaches meetings so internal coaches can share ideas, problem solve, and receive guidance as schools are implementing MTSS for behavior.

The MTSS for behavior infrastructure described above provides a network for communication and creates internal leadership within the school and district. School-wide positive behavior support is a systems approach that requires a number of different types of training within the school and district. These training experiences are summarized below:

  • School Team Training
    MTSS for behavior training should be organized in ways that provide school planning teams the opportunity to learn, discuss issues, and create plans for bringing information to their faculty. Often two days are scheduled for school teams in the summer with additional follow-up training days in the fall and spring.

    Coach Training
    Training a smaller number of internal coaches to facilitate the school team process is one way to decrease the number of times the school team must meeting and therefore, decrease the number of substitutes needed throughout the year. Coaches can receive additional training and support that they then bring back to their school teams to share. Coach trainings are often scheduled right before or after the school team trainings and often include three or more training days.

    District Trainers Preparation
    The district coordinator, external coaches, and other personnel are identified within the district to become leaders in MTSS for behavior. The goal is identify trainers outside the district who will train district leaders so that within two years MTSS for behavior trainings are provided within the district without any outside expertise involved. It usually takes two to three years for district trainers to take over the training process.

    There are two types of trainers needed for MTSS for behavior. One type professional provides training and technical assistance to school teams and coaches. Even if all the school teams are implementing within the district, administrator turnover, coaches, and school teams members are constantly changing. To ensure sustainability, the district must continue providing training to teams and coaches.

    The second type of district trainer often specializes in tiers two and three. School psychologists, counselors, or other professionals are identified within the district as having expertise in individualized interventions for students. It is important for districts to invest in training individuals who will provide behavioral expertise within the district. This district trainer (or trainers) will be responsible for training student improvement teams, providing inservice trainings on tier three intervention processes, and will support the district’s tier three system for supporting students with severe and chronic problem behaviors.

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How Can My School/District Find Training?

Currently, a district-wide training model for implementing school-wide positive behavior support is available through the KU KIPBS group. Click here to read more about the readiness requirements for this district-wide training.

There are also a number of consultants who implement MTSS for behavior although these professionals may use different types of terms to describe what they do (e.g. school-wide positive behavior support, school-wide discipline, or specific titles for training systems), and sometimes these approaches focus on only one of the three tiers of the triangle. When the district or school team seeks out a possible trainer, be sure to ask the person(s) to describe:

  • The way in which training is provided to schools,
  • How the training fits within the three-tier prevention model,
  • How the district will be building capacity and sustainability,
  • The types of data-based decision making systems that are expected,
  • What systems change elements are included in this training,
  • The trainer’s experience and background in applied behavior analysis, positive behavior support, and broader systems change implementation, and
  • Whether there are other districts/schools that can be contacted as a reference.

Districts and schools implementing MTSS for behavior can seek out trainers who use different types of systems change approaches. The key is to make sure that the training provided includes the key features outlined in this blueprint. In addition, make sure in advance that the district will be able to use the trainer’s curriculum after the consultant is no longer supporting the district or whether there are additional charges necessary to continue training within the district using that particular curriculum.

There are many different ways in which to implement MTSS for behavior. Implementation research studies indicate that there are essential features of effective implementation efforts that will increase the likelihood that systems change will be successful. The following link provides a research synthesis that can be helpful when evaluating whether a training approach for MTSS for behavior is designed for sustainability. Click here for more information.

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