Teams implement MTSS in stages to build organizational commitment, capacity, and systems so students benefit from evidence-based practices and improved outcomes are sustained. The National Implementation Research Network (2013) identified four implementation stages to describe the implementation process: Exploration, Installation, Initial Implementation, and Full Implementation. Implementation stages (Active Implementation Hub's Implementation Stages) identify specific activities, outcomes and unique challenges associated with the implementation process. These stages help in the planning, communication, resource allocation, and evaluation of district-wide MTSS.
During the Exploration stage, implementation leadership teams take time to review their resources and system needs and make informed decisions. When considering the adoption of new programs or practices, teams reflect on the evidence, usability, and supports necessary to implement as well as the need for the program or practice, how well it fits with existing priorities and efforts, and their capacity to implement as intended.
Upon determining intent to adopt new practices or programs, teams begin setting up the infrastructure that will be necessary to implement as intended. This Installation stage includes developing and securing the necessary support, creating feedback loops, ensuring data systems are in place to allow for data-based decision making, and ensuring financial and human resources are in place. The Exploration and Installation stages of implementation are often referred to as readiness to implement. Implementation is likely to take longer, face greater opposition, or fail altogether when teams skip over the exploration or installation stages and try to move directly into implementation.
Initial Implementation is when the practice is beginning to be put into place, but it is not yet a comfortable or fluent practice. During this stage, challenges emerge and sites may consider abandoning the new practice, particularly since it is too early to realize the benefit to students. During initial implementation, it is important to leverage data systems and feedback loops to engage in continuous improvement cycles and communicate swiftly to celebrate successes and address barriers.
As sites reach Full Implementation, practices are now integrated into the environment in a manner that is a new way of operating. Full implementation is often the point at which the practices have been implemented well and long enough to begin showing student benefit (National Implementation Research Network, 2013). Sustainability is an essential focus of implementation. While student outcomes are being realized during full implementation, it’s critical that teams continue to maintain their focus and attention on ensuring sustainability. Changes in resources, staff turnover, and changing needs of students and staff need to be attended to, ensuring systems are flexible and responsive enough to meet the needs of every student.