Looking for strong Tier 3? We have to start at Tier 1!
by Lorna Hepburn
I count myself fortunate to help lead the implementation of PBIS across schools in the state of Queensland, Australia. I was first introduced to PBIS back in 2005 when I was working in schools as a behavior support teacher. PBIS immediately made sense to me as I had been struggling to provide effective interventions to students in the absence of school-wide systems. I loved that PBIS is a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework, providing a continuum of support and intervention that is available to all students.
It’s All About Prevention
How do we prevent academic and behavioral problems from developing in the first place? Tier 1 provides the conditions for student success and also enhances the effectiveness of Tier 2 and 3 interventions for those students requiring more support. Think of Tier 1 as being the foundation for a house. If there are any weaknesses in the foundations then Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports are likely to be shaky.
It can be helpful to imagine a plant growing in a pot that is too small, with poor soil, or lacking sufficient water. The best way to help the plant is to place it in a bigger pot and ensure adequate fertilization and nutrition. In the same way, a strong Tier 1 nurtures student engagement, wellbeing, and achievement.
How Strong Are Your Foundations?
Here are some simple questions we ask schools to consider their Tier 1 PBIS implementation before making decisions about whether Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions are the best places to start:
1. To what extent are positive relationships established and maintained across the school?
2. Are we systematically teaching and acknowledging expected behaviors?
3. Are our responses to problem behaviors respectful and instructional?
4. To what extent are we implementing effective instruction and proactive classroom management?
When we invest time to build positive relationships we give a message that all students are valued and welcome in our school. Simple strategies like positively greeting and actively listening to students go a long way to making students feel part of the school community. By explicitly teaching expectations, providing positive acknowledgment when expectations are met, and providing correction respectfully we create a positive school environment where the majority of students will experience success. When we observe classrooms and see students engaged in learning, teachers enjoying teaching and everyone constantly striving to improve then we know that Tier 1 is successfully in place.
What I’ve learned over the years working with a multitude of school teams is that it’s easy to mistakenly think that students require Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions when in reality Tier 1 needs to be strengthened.
As a behavior support teacher, I was often invited into classrooms to observe a student and provide advice around individualized support. What I found on many occasions was that some of the basic features of effective instructional or classroom management were missing. For example, some classrooms had a very negative tone in which positive comments were far outweighed by statements of disapproval.
In other classrooms, the environment was somewhat chaotic with little evidence of any routines for meeting classroom expectations. In these scenarios there was little point in providing individualized interventions for one student – in fact, at times it was hard for me to pick out the student of concern because so many others were disengaged or disruptive. Instead, I was able to work with teachers on proactive strategies such as increasing opportunities to respond or providing behavior-specific praise. By doing so, teachers were able to build a more positive classroom environment, increase student engagement in learning, and reduce behavioral disruptions.
Most times, once these supports were in place, the need for individualized interventions miraculously disappeared!
Always remember that Tier 1 is never done – it takes continued commitment with ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure that Tier 1 foundations remain solid!