Creating Safe Schools with T-MTSS and Behavioral Threat Assessment

It seems that everyone has an opinion on the best way to keep schools safe. From arming teachers and creating secure entrances, keeping students safe has become a priority in our country. If you work in a school you have probably been trained on your crisis plan, practiced lockdown drills, had discussions with students on how to evacuate, stopped visitors in the hall and worried about a drawing or essay one of your students submitted. Some creative ideas that schools have implemented, such as a bucket of river rocks for each classroom and mini-bats for each teacher, border on ridiculous. Despite all the energy put into these activities, I am more concerned than ever about the safety of our students. I can’t help but wonder if we are missing the most important aspect of creating safety in schools – comprehensive, multi-tiered systems for identifying and supporting students with social, emotional and behavioral concerns.

The case of Nikolas Cruz and the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018 is especially sobering for me, because I think a similar situation could play out at most schools across the United States. Nikolas was adopted as an infant, identified as needing special education services at the age of 3, received special education services for 15 years, his father died at a young age and his mother died just 4 months before the fatal shooting on Valentine’s Day. He has a history of hurting animals, a fascination with weapons, reports hearing voices and a history of suicide attempts. If you have worked in schools, you likely have known a student with a similar history to Nikolas. The student may scare you, may scare the students around him and interactions with him are likely uncomfortable. We may quietly be relieved when the student is no longer is in our classrooms and may even urge administration that the student is too dangerous to be in school.

But we have to stop thinking that we create safety in schools by removing or excluding students that make us uncomfortable, have a trauma history more extensive than we want to consider, and threaten our sense of security. We must be willing to lean in and continue to seek connections with the students that we are most concerned about. We create safety by identifying, providing support and helping students get access to the resources that they need. The Secret Service, in a new report released in July 2018, recommends that “the threshold for intervention should be relatively low so that schools can identify students in distress before their behavior escalates to the level of eliciting concerns about safety.” We must create systems in our school that are comprehensive and delivered with fidelity.

The Trauma-informed Multi-tiered Systems of Support (T-MTSS) framework, partnered with a multi-disciplinary threat assessment process, is a model that can be adopted by schools to promote school safety and better outcomes for students. This graphic, developed by Continua Consulting, depicts the crucial elements of comprehensive Tier 1 supports for students. By incorporating universal screening for social-emotional concerns and using data to drive our practice in the area of behavior and social-emotional well-being, similar to best practice with academic instruction, we can better meet the needs of students. Using data allows us to  efficiently identify and align resources for students that need higher levels of support and intervention.

Tier 1.jpg

T-MTSS is a model that can be implemented with the staff you already have in your building. Yes, it does mean that those staff may have to stop doing some things that they have previously have done to align their work based on student-level data that the school collects about student needs. It also means that schools have to be better about monitoring and implementing interventions that are effective in reaching the desired outcomes. It means having staff engage in high-leverage activities that build protective factors in students. It may require a shift in practice, but doesn’t necessarily require more staff.

If you want to learn more about the Trauma-Informed Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model (T-MTSS), please consider attending the Trauma-Informed Schools Institute being held on November 1st-2nd in Rochester, Minnesota. Courtney Daikos, Heather Wixom-Sweeney and Chris Cronas will be providing in-depth training on how this model can be implemented in an actionable and practical way.

Can’t wait and want to learn more now….Chris and Courtney Daikos have a podcast episode on Principal Center Radio that overviews the T-MTSS model and a webinar on the role of a Trauma-Informed Leadership Team. Both are great resources to start your learning on this important topic!

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