A Leader’s Guide to School-Based Mental Health Support

by The EmpowerU Team on May 16, 2022

Education leaders shine brightest when their teams bring varied experience, skills and perspectives to the decision making table. Resilience-building curriculum is no exception. Student services, MTSS and counseling leaders are the most likely roles to offer leadership and expertise on supporting student social and emotional health.

School-based mental health services have been shown to create the most equitable access for learners most in need of help. And there are five things any leader — regardless of training or background — should know when it’s time to make a decision about student success programs that can create these resources in a school system:

The skills are fundamental

Resilience. Conflict resolution. Motivation. Responsible decision making. Accountability. Respect. Safety. Self-worth. These are among the critical self-regulation skills students must build to achieve personal and academic success.

From birth through adolescence and beyond, a person’s life and school experience is filled with relationships and emotions. And the ability to manage these in healthy ways, even when the road gets bumpy, plays a significant role in creating a fulfilling and happy life.

Resilience is essential to navigate and thrive in school, college, career and life. Resilience-based skills, such as problem-solving, managing emotions, communication and teamwork, also improve a student's academic learning, attendance and test scores. 

Foundational to MTSS and PBIS Success

Resilience-building instruction can create positive change and improve student wellbeing when working inside of a school’s multi-tiered system of supports, or MTSS, framework. It is also integral to a positive behavior supports, or PBIS, approach to learning and classroom management.

“It’s not just important to teach self-regulation strategies within a bigger framework, it’s critical,” Dorn said. “MTSS and PBIS can’t reach their full potential without a foundation of evidence-based curriculum and support. But when a school takes an integrated approach, personalized student success programs have the power to drive the impact of MTSS and PBIS in lasting ways.”


These skills form the foundation of success
in school and in life. And they support all other
outcomes, both academic and behavioral. 


In the language of MTSS, Tier 1 is a universal curriculum, taught to all students. Tier 2 interventions are targeted to support individuals or small groups in need of more focused, specific skill building. And Tier 3 is customized to evaluate and support students with highest needs. The goal of Tier 2 and Tier 3 is to provide extra support for skill building to help students eventually succeed in a lower Tier, including universal Tier 1. A successful solution should help a school reduce costly testing and implementation of IEP and 504 Plans, as students gain the skills to succeed as learners without intense individualized support.

Data matters

Schools invest significant time and resources to understand the growth of students, both as individuals and as cohort groups. And it should be no different for your behavioral supports.

“If you can’t measure student growth,” Dorn said, “what’s the point? I’ve never met a school leader who has time or money to waste. No leader should settle for a student success program that lacks the ability to monitor progress and measure results.” 

Dorn recommends working with any provider to understand the approach to outcomes and data. Ask about integration and support for screener tools and other progress monitoring systems that are used in your school. And request samples of the reporting that you can expect to receive, whether real-time or at specified points throughout the year.

The EmpowerU approach to measurement uses the Transtheoretical Change Model, based on the long-respected research of James O. Prochaska, Ph.D. and Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D. 


Fidelity of implementation is key

Whether reading, science, or resilience, the success of any learning program is only as strong as the person teaching it. Many times, schools rely on their teaching staff or education support professionals to help deliver Tier 1 & Tier 2 interventions. Given the ratio of counselors to students, this approach makes a lot of sense. But long-term results will suffer without an approach focused on fidelity.

To gain real benefits, fidelity of implementation goes far beyond an evidence-based curriculum or intervention. Most schools cannot possibly rely on counselors to consistently meet the growing Tier 2 behavior needs of students — much less the universal needs taught to all students through a curriculum. 

Whether Tier 1 or Tier 2, Dorn recommends looking for a turnkey approach to delivery to improve accuracy of implementation. When it comes to technology solutions, she stresses that it must be intentionally designed to enhance school-based relationships to be worth considering.

“At its very heart, student-mental health support is meaningful relationships,” Dorn said. “Technology has the power to connect more kids and teenagers to the highly-trained support they need. But technology on its own doesn’t solve the problem. What our world needs right now is a way to help more students, quickly — without sacrificing relationships or results.”






EmpowerU’s highly personalized, data-driven Tier 1 and Tier 2 solutions equip students to be resilient, self-directed learners and reach their goals — without additional hires or a heavy lift from schools. The program provides each student with interactive lessons and personalized coaching, pairing technology with brain research in a unique way that supports students, empowers their growth and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. Multi-year data makes it clear: nobody understands Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and approaches resilience-building curriculum the way EmpowerU does.

Topics: social emotional learning programs