VIDEO: MTSS conference welcomes 2,500 educators to Orange County to learn academic, behavioral and social-emotional strategies

Every student is unique, with their own abilities, challenges and learning styles that set them apart.

Seeking to take in strategies and interventions to support the academic, behavioral and social-emotional success of all learners, more than 2,500 educators from throughout the state have gathered in Orange County for the fifth annual California MTSS 2022 Professional Learning Institute, or PLI for short. 

The three-day conference, which takes place through July 14 at the Anaheim Convention Center, is welcoming teachers, administrators, counselors and other school-based professionals with a lens on promoting excellence, equity and access. This year’s theme is “Hear Us, Together We Rise.”

“After previous years of using the theme ‘Know My Name, Face and Story,’ we really focused on hearing and listening to the voices of students, staff and educators,” said Dr. Christine Olmstead, OCDE’s associate superintendent of Educational Services and interim chief academic officer. “What we really want people to walk away with at this conference is to know not just each name, face and story but to listen to my story, hear my story, understand my story, understand that it’s part of who I am, whether I’m an adult or a child. We want to create systems that support people first, and then we do the academic piece.”

Multi-Tiered System of Support

Hosted by OCDE, the Butte County Office of Education and the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools, the PLI conference aims to inspire and uplift educators with an array of keynote speakers, presentations and interactive breakout sessions tied to California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support, commonly known as MTSS.

MTSS is a comprehensive framework that aligns academic, behavioral, social-emotional and mental health supports while offering differentiated interventions to meet each student’s needs. The core concept is that some students experience more barriers that require additional support to achieve personal and educational goals. That means support for one student can look different than it looks for another.

In 2016, the Orange County Department of Education was selected as the lead agency to help scale up MTSS statewide through trainings and technical assistance. Olmstead, who leads OCDE’s Educational Services division, uses the example of a typical family to illustrate how schools are leveraging MTSS to meet the needs of each student.

In this analogy, each member of a family must have a baseline of support to get by — essentials like food, water, shelter and recreation. But within a household, she said, some may need access to additional interventions, like tutoring or counseling. And there may be instances where highly specialized assistance is necessary, such as a family member undergoing treatment for cancer.

“I think if you just look at your own family and the types of supports that you differentiate amongst your family, you can just apply that concept to the education system,” Olmstead said. 

MTSS must be embraced as a school-wide commitment, and a key cornerstone of the framework is an approach known as the Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, which recognizes that there are variations not just in the abilities of students but also in how they learn.

UDL underscores the need to consider those variations and to offer flexibility and choice in how students work toward their learning goals — all while keeping expectations high. One conference speaker likened this approach to presenting a buffet instead of a limited menu with few options for diners with dietary restrictions.  

“A multi-tiered system of support is what builds levels of access to different kinds of services and supports,” Olmstead said, “but universal design for learning is your planning piece. As you’re planning and designing lessons, you’re thinking about every learner in front of you.” 

What educators can expect

Conference participants will engage in three days of professional learning designed to improve access and equity, deepen knowledge of the MTSS framework, and create positive school conditions and climates. 

Educators are free to roam the convention center and sit in on the sessions that pique their interest. Led by renowned experts in the field, the sessions also encourage attendees to engage in discussions with one another. 

This year’s conference has lined up more than 200 presenters, including keynote speakers Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Adolph Brown, III. Here’s a little more about them: 

Dr. Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen is a physician, adult and child psychiatrist, and founder of Amen Clinics. His mission is to end mental illness by creating a revolution in brain health. He’s also the founder of BrainMD, a science-based nutraceutical company, and Amen University, which has trained thousands of medical and mental health professionals. Dr. Amen has produced 16 national public television shows about the brain, and his online videos on brain and mental health have been viewed more than 300 million times. A 12-time New York Times bestselling author, he’s written such books as “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” “The End of Mental Illness” and “Healing ADD.” His latest book, “You, Happier,” was published in March 2022. 

Dr. Adolph Brown, III

Dr. Brown is a career educator and mental health professional known for relevant, relatable and entertaining presentations. As a former at-promise student who “had one foot in gifted education and the other in alternative education,” he reinforces the idea that the whole student deserves a whole education. Raised by a single mother in housing projects, Brown experienced many adverse childhood experiences, including the murder of his only brother when he was 11 years old. Yet he says many of his greatest life lessons occurred while spending summers in rural Virginia on his grandparents’ farm. In his presentations, he addresses best practices in the classroom and beyond using the latest research and his vast experience as a veteran educator.

Finally, the last day of the conference will offer a panel presentation called “The Other Side of the Smiley Sticker: The Science of Social Emotional Learning.” Moderated by Mark Sparvell, Microsoft’s director of education marketing, the panel will feature: Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl, a renowned expert on social and emotional learning research related to children and adolescents; Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, an accomplished educator, author, board member at MindUP: The Goldie Hawn Foundation and founder and CEO of the nonprofit Why Not? Incubator; and Andy Du Ross, superintendent of the largest elementary school district in Illinois who in 2017 introduced the positive psychology principles of Harvard Researcher Shawn Achor.

Attendees share their experiences

There has been a steady stream of social media posts published by those attending the first day of the conference. OCDE has been tracking the posts through the hashtag MTSS.

Here are a few:

How to learn more

For more information on the conference, including schedules, accommodation options, registration links and frequently asked questions, visit the event website at