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Tier 1: Classroom Strategies That Work

Tier 1: Classroom Strategies That Work

My name is Marjorie Colindres Metcalf and I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  I have been working in K-12 schools in the Chicagoland area since 2012.  As a professional in the field of school social work, I have had the pleasure to collaborate with many educators.  More specifically, when I was an Elementary School Social Worker, I had the opportunity to work with Jill Forkel who is an exceptional educator.  Jill has been a classroom teacher since 2012, and presently teaches 2nd Grade at Roy Elementary School in Northlake, IL.  Because of our positive experience working together, we decided to write this blog to share practical strategies and interventions that we discovered to be helpful, and she said the following:

It all started when I was a classroom teacher in a co-taught classroom. My co-teacher and I were struggling with several students with a number of behavioral concerns. We were overwhelmed with the behaviors and needed a starting point. We were able to work with Marjorie to determine strategies and interventions to use within the classroom. Through brainstorming we realized many of the strategies we were coming up with would benefit all of the students in the classroom. Collaborating with Marjorie helped to prioritize the number of behaviors and set realistic goals. Working together helped to ensure there was carry over from what Marjorie was teaching in small group to implementation in the classroom. Because there was teamwork between the teacher and the social worker, the students were able to benefit and grow.

Thus, developing a positive relationship between teachers and school social workers is crucial in order to ensure that students are growing socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.  Jill and I will share strategies and interventions at the Tier 1 level that can improve a classroom atmosphere.

Flexible Seating

Jill has shared many positive benefits of using flexible seating within the classroom. She reported that students become more independent because they get to choose which seat works best for them; students have to consider where they want to do their best learning in order to complete the task at hand. Students take ownership for their learning by choosing a workspace that allows them to be the most productive. Jill also noted that flexible seating is great in order to meet the needs of various learners. It is difficult to ask students to sit in the same hard seat for seven hours a day. Having the flexibility to move around the classroom and choose comfortable seats allowed students to be engaged for longer periods of time. Jill expressed how flexible seating helped students with problem solving skills. Using rock, paper, scissors or a timer allowed students to compromise and take turns while using the chairs.

High School Classroom Using Flexible Seating

Second Step

Second Step is an intervention that teaches students (Pre-K- 8th Grade) expected behaviors (e.g., Skills for Learning, Empathy, Emotion Management, Problem Solving Skills, and Conflict Resolution with Peers).  This evidence-based intervention is clearly broken down into units, and every lesson gives teachers objectives and it teaches them how the lesson can be delivered.  Children and teens enjoy this program because they are provided with real-life scenarios and they are engaging through the use of music, videos, and games.  Mannheim District 83 uses Second Step as a Tier 1 Social and Emotional Intervention across the district to ensure that all students have a common language, so they can further develop their emotional intelligence.  The implementation process of this intervention was broken down into a 3 year roll out plan.  When the intervention first started, I introduced it and I went to the classrooms to teach it to students and teachers.  By the end of the roll-out year, teachers had their own Second Step kit and they were teaching it in their classrooms.  Thus, teaching students expected behaviors can decrease the number of social work referrals and office discipline referrals over time.

Brain Breaks

Brain Breaks are short, energizing bursts of activity that send oxygen to the brain and help kids retain information. It can be as simple as jogging in place, stretching, or playing Simon Says. Jill uses Brain Breaks frequently throughout the day to give students a break from learning. While she often leads the Brain Break, a website called GoNoddle is her go to for movement breaks. GoNoodle, has short videos that students can follow along to, along with popular songs, different channels, and many activities to help keep students engaged while giving them a break from academics.  The brain breaks available on GoNoodle are age appropriate for students.

Calm Classroom

As a school social worker, I have used Calm Classroom in elementary school and high school classrooms, groups, and individual sessions.  Calm Classroom utilizes mindfulness to teach inner focus, relaxation, and emotion management.  From my experiences, students oftentimes experience stress due to family, peer, and/or school issues.  In my experience, the majority of students enjoyed being exposed to Calm Classroom because it allowed them to decompress. When I was a social worker in a high school setting, I noticed that many students were experiencing many challenging stressors.  Many adolescents were working, participating in extra-curricular activities, balancing school work, and experiencing peer and family conflict.  Therefore, emotional intelligence needed to be developed, so teens could become high functioning young adults.

Applying the Information

Jill and I will share a specific story about a student in her classroom who I will call Ann.  She was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and she had difficulties paying attention.  In the classroom, Jill and her co-teacher taught her expected behaviors by using the Second Step Curriculum.  Then in the small group, she was re-taught those skills and further discussed the Second Step topics.  Ann also had a behavior chart and when she followed directions and practiced expected social skills, then she earned points.  Because there was active communication between teachers and I, we were able to ensure that the student continued to grow behaviorally, socially, and emotionally.  Many of Ann’s peers also had difficulties with paying attention, then there were many built in breaks.  The breaks were a combination of mindfulness and exercise movements while using GoNoodle.  At first teachers used GoNoodle after every subject to help students to follow directions and stay focused.  Over time, the movement breaks were not needed after every subject area.  By end of the year, Ann could pay attention for a longer period of time, kept her voice quiet when teachers/peers were talking, and learned expectations within various locations in the school (e.g., hallway, bathroom, library, etc.).   Jill and I noticed that in the beginning of the school year, there were more scheduled meetings to talk about Ann and other students, then the meetings decreased as the behaviors improved.


Overall, these strategies and interventions can be beneficial to ensure that students’ are making growth in all facets (academically, behaviorally, and emotionally).  Jill and I have also created a Google Slide to breakdown the information.  If you have any questions regarding the blog or Google Slide, please feel free to contact us via Twitter @MetcalfMarjorie and @JillForkel.

More on Jill:   She has taught elementary school and middle school with a wide variety of students and behaviors.  Her Bachelor’s degree is in Elementary Education from Augustana College.  Additionally, she has her Master’s Degree in Reading and has her English as a Second Language Endorsement from Lewis University.  Now she is obtaining her second Master’s Degree in School Leadership from Concordia University. 

About The Author

Marjorie Colindres

I am a Bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working within school settings since 2012 with K-12 grade students in the Chicagoland area. Additionally, I work in a private practice setting with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and seniors. I also work part-time as an adjunct instructor at Loyola University Chicago and I teach School Social Work Practice and Policy. This year, 2019, I have assisted in coordinating the IASSW conference for professionals in the field of school social work. My Bachelor's degrees are in Spanish Literature and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, Master’s degree in Social Work with a School Social Work Type 73 Professional Educator License from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Type 75 Professional Educator License with a General School Administrator Endorsement from Lewis University. As a school social worker, I personally enjoy being able to develop a positive relationship and empower my students to overcome challenging situations by identifying their strengths. My therapeutic style depends on the need of students as I use an eclectic approach (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Task-Centered Practice, and Play Therapy).

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