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    Teachers are reporting an increase in the amount and the intensity of behavioral challeges in schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 84% of schools report a negative impact on student behavioral development due to the pandemic, and 87% report a negative impact on students’ socio-emotional development (NCES, 2022). It is imperative that schools find ways to support all students in developing positive behavior skills, and implement additional supports for students who are struggling. A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) provides the framework necessary to build a community of support that can collaborate, problem-solve, and intentionally intervene as student needs are identified.

    However, building this system of support for behavior takes some expertise not just in student behavior but in the logistics of running campus-wide programs, communication, data analysis, professional development, and more. With the right background knowledge and tools, there are step-by-step actions that school teams can take to develop their expertise and implement behavioral support programs that are effective and sustainable.

    This guide provides an overview of Tier 2 behavior intervention, specifically how Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and strategic behavior support fit within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Next, we describe the characteristics and needs of students with mild to moderate behavioral challenges along with intervention options for supporting these needs. Finally, the guide includes directions for initiating, sustaining, and continually improving Tier 2 behavior intervention practices.

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    A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for Behavior: PBIS

    The Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework is a nationally recognized, evidence-based framework for effectively integrating academic and behavioral interventions. This involves: 

    Improving student achievement
    Targeting learning loss recovery
    Monitoring student progress
    Improving teacher effectiveness and efficiency

    The MTSS framework helps schools organize and leverage their resources to meet the needs of all students, including behavioral needs. 


    The MTSS framework, when applied to behavior, is called “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports” or PBIS. PBIS schools organize a system of universal, targeted, and intensive behavior interventions to meet the needs of all students. This framework and its continuous improvement cycle enables schools to be preventative and to respond to student needs as they change. 

    • Clear school-wide behavior expectations and procedures

    • Positive school climate 

    • Effective classroom management training and coaching

    • Universal screening

    • A continuum of interventions for students in need of additional support

    • Regular progress monitoring 

    • Data-driven decision-making

    MTSS Cycle

    All students deserve accessible, differentiated, and effective Tier I behavior and social-emotional support. These universal practices are particularly important for students who struggle with behavior challenges, because tiered behavioral interventions are always “layered” onto this foundation. When Tier 1 is strong, school climate is positive, and behavior expectations are clear, this provides a level of structure that prevents many behavior problems in the first place and allows for easier identification of students who truly need additional support. The Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions will then build additional layers of instruction, feedback, and reinforcement around these expectations.

    Tier 2 Strategic Behavior Support 

    Students Who Need Tier 2 Support - Common Characteristics

    Students who exhibit a missing skill or repeated mild-to-moderate misbehavior will be identified as needing additional support through a campus screening process and decision rules. These students tend to be impulsive and disorganized, may have trouble making friends, and very often, they have academic deficits, perhaps because of their behavior or as a driver of their behavior. 


    Some common behaviors of students who benefit from Tier 2 support are:

    • Habitual minor classroom disruptions

    • Disregarding instructions 

    • Using inappropriate language

    • Acting out with friends

    • Frequently off-task 

    • Poor attendance

    Typically, these behaviors lead to students showing up in data trends for referrals, suspensions, attendance, and staff requests for assistance. Think of the average student with behavior problems…several teachers on campus know who they are and that they are struggling with their behavior inside or outside the classroom. However, if behaviors have become extremely disruptive or dangerous, strategic intervention will not be sufficient — those students need more intensive and individualized Tier 3 intervention.

    Features of Effective Strategic Behavior Support

    Tier 2 behavior supports provide critical features for students

    In addition to these critical features, Tier 2 intervention programs are most successful when they:

    • Are consistently and uniformly implemented 

    • Allow students to have rapid access to the intervention (within 72 hours)

    • Use progress monitoring of student behavior or outcomes for decision making

    • Are low effort in referral and participation by teachers 

    • Layer on top of Tier 1 supports. School-wide expectations must still be accessible and taught to the students receiving Tier 2 supports (students can still participate in Tier 1 features such as receiving acknowledgments and rewards)

    • Are based on student needs and behavior assessment. For example, a withdrawn student might not benefit from a CICO, which provides teacher attention that the student shies away from. Using a guide to choose an available intervention matched to student needs is more likely to succeed. Targeted Intervention Reference Guide (PBIS.org)

    • Encourage student voice and ownership

    Tier 2 Behavior Intervention Programs

    Because there are a variety of needs and skill deficits underlying student behavior, a menu of readily-available intervention programs are needed. We’ve included some of the most common and effective interventions here. Each link will take you to a summary that describes the what, why, who, and how of each intervention option. Many of these interventions have possible modifications to better meet the needs of the students in the intervention. For example, Breaks are Better is an evidence-based modification of Check-In/Check-Out and is included below.

    These interventions can be used in combination with each other and in conjunction with Tier I opportunities like leadership clubs, structured student social opportunities, and community service. For example, a student may benefit from both CICO and a social skills group. This student may need daily accountability checks to improve their behavior while having the opportunity to learn a specific social skill in a group with their peers. 

    Another example would be a student who is working to build friendship-making skills. This student may be placed in structured mentoring and encouraged to join a school leadership club. The adult mentor can discuss goals and the application of positive social skills and the mentee and try the strategies with the leadership club group members.

    Initiate, Sustain, and Continuously Improve Tier 2 Strategic Behavior Supports 

    As you develop your team and procedures for Tier 2 strategic behavior support, capture the work in a handbook that is easily accessible and can be updated as needed. We’ve included a simple template here: 


    Tier 2 Behavior Handbook

    The Tier 2 Behavior Intervention Team

    The Campus Tier 2 Behavior Intervention Team oversees standard intervention programs that are readily available to students in need of additional structure, feedback, reinforcement, skills instruction, relationship-building, and/or school connection. The team tracks the progress of students receiving targeted supports, identifies students in need of additional supports, and coordinates problem-solving meetings. 

    • Team Leader

      • The lead must be knowledgeable about PBIS and supporting teachers and interventionists. They are trained in the Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) or other system assessment models to lead the team in checking fidelity of practice and action planning. 

    • Administrator

      • A principal, vice principal, or dean of students will lead this work and assist with policy and protocol decision-making. This person can also act as a liaison between the campus leadership team/PBIS Team and the Tier 2 Behavior Intervention Team. 

    • Individuals with applied behavioral expertise

      • A school counselor, social worker, behavior specialist, or school psychologist can be on the team to help assess student behavior needs more effectively.

    • Targeted Intervention Program Coordinators

      • Oversee specific strategic supports on your campus, such as Check In Check Outs, Social Skills Instruction, Mentorship, etc. 

    Screening for Behavior and SEL Needs

    Screening is conducted to identify or predict students who might benefit from additional behavior and/or SEL support. Universal screening assessments are typically brief and conducted by the school leadership/PBIS team. The results of these universal screeners and the need for more in-depth screening for identified students are communicated to the Tier 2 Team, along with requests for assistance from teachers or parents. Behavior incident data, attendance, and academic needs can also be considered. 


    Options for SEL screeners:

    • Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA)

      • DESSA assesses eight social and emotional competencies and is intended to help educators plan instruction, document students' strengths and areas of need, inform progress monitoring, and evaluate program outcomes.

      • Teacher-facing K-8, Student-facing 9-12

    • Social Emotional-Learning Skills Assessment (SECA)

      • The SECA is a student-facing survey for grades 5-12 

    • Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS)

      • Grades Kindergarten through 12th Grade

      • Teacher and student facing depending on the grade level

    Decision Rubrics

    The Tier 2 team creates a decision-making rubric that includes cut scores and at-risk factors. This allows the team to determine tier placement and decide about intensifying, fading, or graduating students from support. An MTSS software platform, such as Branching Minds, allows for the assessments, universal screeners, and behavior incidents to be visualized all in one place for bulk tiering and decision-making.



    Data Based-Decision Making

     A regular cycle of data collection, analysis, and action planning is critical in responding to individual student needs and ensuring the fidelity of overall intervention implementation. 

    Goal Setting and Progress Monitoring

    At the Tier 2 level, goal setting for students is typically tied to school-wide expectations, such as safe, respectful, and responsible behavior. Specific skills and goals can be targeted to help the student meet those expectations. Goals should be measurable and reasonable.  

    The progress monitoring criteria created by the team are made with these measurable goals in mind. Student data is examined at each meeting to identify students needing intensified or faded supports. Tracking students in various interventions and recommending them to the problem-solving team in order to adapt intervention plans is a major role of the Tier 2 Team.


    Checking Fidelity of Implementation

    There are two main ways a team can assess its Tier 2 practice:

    First, assess the strategic behavior intervention system as a whole. The team can use the Tier 2 section of the SWPBIS Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) or other system assessment models to determine if the implementation level is adequate to positively affect student success. This assessment can be completed 2 to 3 times per year to allow for action planning and adjustments to meet the needs of the educators, parents, and, ultimately, the students in the specific context. Again a framework will continuously be adapted to improve practice over time.

    Second, assess the implementation fidelity of each behavior intervention program through direct observation of practice and examining outcome data of the intervention programs as a whole, separate from specific student data. This Tier 2 and 3 Behavior Intervention Tracker is a resource for examining the outcomes of the intervention programs.


    Tier 2 & 3 Intervention Tracker (editable Google sheet version)

    Staff Professional Development

    In addition to being trained in school-wide behavior practices, all staff who encounter students with Tier 2 behavioral intervention plans need to be trained in their responsibilities. A formal process for teaching and coaching staff on all aspects of intervention delivery must be created to ensure up-to-date professional development of all staff who come to campus, including new staff. This includes:

    • How to request assistance for a particular student or group of students

    • Teacher responsibilities for each intervention

    • How to monitor student progress towards the goal

    • How to deliver supportive positive and corrective feedback to the student

    For example, if a campus will be using Check-In/Check-Out (CICO), teachers and mentors must be trained in the interaction protocol and be reminded that the daily progress monitoring is linked to the student's goal. A one-pager might be created for teachers to have in their substitute teacher folders in case a student is in the CICO intervention and the teacher is absent. 

    For continued buy-in, teachers need to be provided updates on when students enter and exit interventions, as well as usage and outcome levels of the site's implemented intervention. Keeping staff informed of progress, successes, and changes in the Tier 2 behavioral intervention program is an outward recognition that this is a team effort and that everyone has an important role to play in student success. 


    When building a system for Tier 2 behavior intervention, it is important to integrate all of the components in a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. This includes universal behavior support for all students, and attention to each component needed for success:

    • An understanding of student behavioral needs

    • Research-based interventions that address those needs

    • A team approach 

    • Universal screening and decision rubrics

    • Progress Monitoring

    • Data Based-Decision Making

    • Fidelity of implementation

    • Staff professional development and coaching

    With a solid foundation, the Tier 2 behavior intervention practice on your campus can continue to improve and adapt. You will be able to provide additional interventions to meet a wider range of needs, improve problem-solving with colleagues and stakeholders, and expand the capabilities of teachers and mentors to support students with behavior challenges. It is hard work, but worthy work. Students with behavior challenges can and do thrive when they get the strategic behavior support they need!


    About the Author

    Morgan Goering is an MTSS Education Consultant for Branching Minds. As a former middle school math teacher, climate and culture coach, and assistant director of student support services, she has over 10 years of experience working with students, teachers, staff members, and administrators. Her passion for PBIS and MTSS implementation have allowed her to support the creation of student support systems in various schools across the country. She holds a Bachelor’s in Mathematics, a Master’s degree in Instruction and Curriculum Development, and a Specialist Degree and Licensure in K-12 Principal Leadership. Her desire to be a lifelong learner is evident as she pursues her Doctorate in Teaching and Learning. She is a passionate educator seeking a platform for creating positive change in education.

    About The Branching Minds Platform

    The Branching Minds platform provides the infrastructure, data, and practice needed to equitably improve student academic, behavioral, and SEL outcomes in a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework.  

    🌟 We leverage advancements in the learning sciences and technology to identify students at risk, improve academic outcomes, enhance wellness, and reduce equity gaps.
    🌟 We offer a holistic view of each student in a classroom, and trends across classrooms, grades, schools, or demographics so that instruction is individuated and equitable.
    🌟 We enable teachers to understand who needs support, with what, and why, as well as what support to provide and how to know if it’s working — data-driven differentiated instruction.
    🌟 We connect the dots and provide actionable insights based on data and recommend curated interventions.
    🌟 We improve collaboration and communication among all stakeholders — administrators, teachers, specialists, and families. 
    🌟 We provide transparency and accountability to school and district administrators to ensure the work is done with high fidelity. 
    🌟 We bring all the work into one system, and streamline the workflows to make MTSS more efficient and effective, saving teachers time and effort.

    Interested in learning more?

    With the Branching Minds partnership, we are gaining both a thought partner who will help us enhance all of our MTSS practices, structures and approach, and a platform that will help make the work easier and more efficient for all of our educators at CMS - from classroom teachers and support staff to school and district administrators.
    — Dr. Frank Barnes Chief Accountability Officer at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, NC

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    Algozzine, B., Barrett, S., Eber, L., George, H., Horner, R., Lewis, T., Putnam, B., Swain-Bradway, J., McIntosh, K., & Sugai, G (2019). School-wide PBIS Tiered Fidelity Inventory. OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. www.pbis.org

    Center on PBIS (2020). References for the Evidence Base of PBIS. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon. Retrieved from https://www.pbis.org/resource/references-for-the-evidence-base-of-pbis 

    NCES. More than 80 Percent of U.S. Public Schools Report Pandemic Has Negatively Impacted Student Behavior and Socio-Emotional Development. National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/07_06_2022.asp