Support youth in becoming who they want to be, not how we want them to behave.

by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

The most successful behavioral supports in schools typically involve 1) frequent doses of positive feedback & prompting, and 2) strong relationships with a trusted mentor. Check-in, Check-out (CICO) is a common framework for behavioral support, and when it works, students of any age know that someone they respect both wants them to succeed and will be explicit about how to do it.

Where CICO (or any behavioral support) can go wrong is when the adults structure the system / conversations in ways that bring more attention to what adults want for youth rather than what youth want for themselves. I’ve used one of my favorite strategies, paired texts, to illustrate the difference using examples from real-life:

Team-centered support

We noticed that you’ve a history of eating snacks right before bed, and that you’re not eating nearly enough fresh fruits and vegetables. From now on, your coach will review your progress with you every morning and will also rate your compliance after every snack and meal by viewing the mandatory food diary.

A team comprised of your doctor, your boss at work, and random family members (by the way, they also think this is a good idea) will review your progress at a twice monthly meeting, and will let you know in 6-8 weeks if you’re done or it. But, it’ll probably take longer that. We’re not sure exactly how much longer….but longer.

Human-centered support

I hear you’ve decided that you want to be the kind of person that eats healthy food at the right times for you. Many people find that setting aside time for menu planning and then tracking their meals in a food diary can help them reach their goals. If you’d like, I’ll text you in the morning and in the evening to see how things are going.

Is there anyone else you think would also be supportive of you making this change? Great! They can be part of your team too! We’ll meet twice a months (you’ll be there too) for 10 minutes to see how you’re doing and suggest other strategies if you need it. Usually something happens in about 6-8 weeks, and we can do this for as long as it takes or for as long as it helps.

Team-centered support

To be honest, you’ve dated a lot of people who weren’t great people. All of us found most of your exes to be annoying people. We want to help, so we’ve decided to hack your dating profile. We’ll review swipes as they happen and give you real time feedback on whether you made the right choices.

Human-centered support

You often say that you attract the wrong kind of people. Honestly, while we love you, we don’t disagree most of the time! I have a weird idea, but maybe we can think about the kind of person you’d really like to meet. Then, if you’re open to it, we take a look at your dating profile and see how we can let those kinds of people know you’re looking? 

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve had moments in my life where having someone tell me what to eat (or who to date) would have been helpful in the short-term. However, even in the short term, behavior supports that match what the person is ready and has a desire to do generally are more effective. And, the human-centered approach both only tends to align better with our values as caring professionals but also generates lasting change.

Check-in, Check-out is a common intervention in which students who have generated enough visits to the office to warrant extra support are assigned a coach who meets with them at the beginning and the end of every day. During the day, students get feedback on their behavior, usually in the form of points that get tracked from day to day in a spreadsheet or via While the intervention should always be about the conversation and not the points, CICO can be team-centered in harmful ways-even when executed well.

Team-centered aspects of CICO:

  1. The goal of implementation is typically to reduce disciplinary incidents and increase compliance with school / team expectations. Student voice and choice generally doesn’t alter the intervention.
  2. The team supporting participating students usually makes decisions about who the coach will be and who reviews their data.
  3. The students participating in CICO use the same point-card and are rated on school-wide expectations that they had little voice in creating.

Here are opportunities to make CICO human-centered:

  1. Ask the child / youth “Would you be interested in figuring out ways to be in less trouble at school?” If the answer is “No,” say, “I understand, and I’ll be here if you want. In the meantime, we need to deal with what happened in…”
  2. Involve students / families in the plan early on, and invite them to choose their coach and who reviews their data.
  3. Help children and youth achieve their goals. Would they like higher grades? Less conflict with one of their teachers? All their teachers? Maybe they’d just like to understand what’s going on in math class. Conversation is a great way to find out what each student’s goals might be, and these goals can nearly always be connected with the goals of the wider school community.

For an example of an organization that helps children and youth be the hero of their own lives each and every day, check out Higher Ground, A Resource Center.

I am confident that schools implementing CICO have found many more opportunities for creating a human-centered system, and I’m eager to learn more about what your team is doing. Leave a reply or send me an email!

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