Digital Check-in / Check-out is coming back on 24 Sept 2020 at 3:30pm PT.

Check-in / Check-out (CICO) is a simple framework for social, emotional, and academic support, and it’s typically easy for schools and youth-serving programs to implement

Basically, CICO works because the intervention is about strengthening relationships with students and communicating with young people effectively. And, while many schools have done CICO well with in-person learning, CICO for digital learning spaces can be equally effective.

Join us for our next free upcoming Digital Check-in / Check-out webinar! It’ll be 90 minutes long, and will focus primarily on implementing Check-in / Check-out in digital learning spaces.


Build classroom community with digital buddy boards

Relationships first

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

In April of 2016, I was principal of an elementary school that tragically lost an amazing kindergarten teacher. Maria would check in on me each Monday and ask about my family and how I was doing. She’d make sure to have a kind word and a smile as I began my week, and I’m certain that her kindness rippled into every classroom I visited.

Free Webina: 26 and 27 August, 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 3:00pm to 4:30pm MST

At the first staff meeting after the death of a teacher who had been helping our littlest learners grow since the school was built, I discovered that there were teachers who had been serving at the school nearly as long as Maria, yet never had a conversation with her. The two minutes that Maria spent with me on Monday mornings were two minutes I would have wanted any staff member to experience, and I decided that we would be as purposeful about connecting with each other as Maria had been with me.

Our solution was to create a staff Buddy Board. The idea is simple: 

  • Print your staff roster.
  • Assign each staff member a buddy.
  • Do something with your buddy at the staff meeting.

We used name tags that attached to a foam board with magnetic tape, and we pulled buddy activities from our Sanford Harmony box. If you don’t have Sanford Harmony, you can create your own 2-3 minute activity list as a team, or just search the web for ideas. The goal, however, was simple—every staff member would have at least two meaningful opportunities to connect with everyone else by the end of each year.

I realized that if a group of teachers could come together for a Wednesday staff meeting for decades without necessarily having spoken to everyone they work with, then to assume that a classroom of students would build connections with each other on their own seemed unwise. If love and belonging are prerequisite to learning, then we needed to be intentional about creating opportunities for our students to connect.

Digital Buddy Boards are a powerful framework for supporting connections between students in your classroom, school, or system.

Buddy Boards are a great school-wide strategy that can easily adapt to digital learning spaces. You could implement them in a classroom, throughout a school, and between grade levels. You can (and should) involve staff in your Buddy Boards, especially staff that are generally left on the margins of our school community (think teaching assistants, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and crossing guards).

If only because you’ll know that every student in your digital classroom will have meaningful opportunities to experience love and belonging, creating a digital buddy board is a great thing to do right now. And, your buddy board can help engage students in important dialogue when:

  • Students return from a screen break, you’re waiting for everyone to log on.
  • You’re providing 1:1 or small group support in a breakout room, and the rest of the students are done with their work.
  • It’s the start or the end of a class period or day.

And, while Digital Buddy Boards are not typically part of traditional Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports training, they fit perfectly into Tier 1 PBIS practices. Anything we can do to provide students frequent and meaningful opportunities to connect with each other in low-risk, high-warmth situations increases the likelihood of them learning how to manage conflict on their own when necessary. Plus, it’s fun!

I hope you’ll join us for one of the free 90 minute webinars coming up on 26 and 27 August, 2020. Webinars are at 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 3:00pm to 4:30pm both days, and you can sign up here.


The importance of clarity.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

The importance of clarity.

What does it mean to say that we are doing something? It means that:

  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do.
  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) is equipped to do it.

We’ll get to the second condition in the next article. This week article is about the importance of knowing what you are doing and about helping you and your team get clear on your work and what you hope to achieve.

Before you read too far, I want you to know that there are more important questions for me to answer. Questions like: 

I’ve linked articles from colleagues with skills and knowledge to help answer these questions, and I encourage you to read those articles too. After all, if you’re reading my blog, it’s probably because you are a leader of some kind in a caring profession, and you want to do the work the right way.

For now, what I want to do is to provide a framework for thinking about something important that you are already working on. Using this framework will help you and your team get clear about your goals, increase the efficacy of your strategy, and elevate the success of your work.

If we can’t explain it, can we really be doing it?

Everyone who’s supposed to do it knows what it is, who it is for, and what it is supposed to do.

Whether your school has been a Project Based Learning school for years or if your agency just started a staff wellness initiative, everyone who is supposed to be doing the thing must know what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to do. 

Here is a simple exercise to take action towards clarity:

  • Name the thing you’re doing.
  • Name who the thing you’re doing is supposed to help.
  • Describe what the thing you’re doing is supposed to achieve.

If you’d like, here’s a print version of this exercise in print form:

Or, click here to check out this digital version of the same exercise.

The people for whom we are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do.

For reasons encoded deep into the DNA of how culture influences schools, agencies, and organizations, the people for whom we are doing something are typically the last to know about something we are doing on their behalf. It is essential that the people for whom you are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Here are two reasons why your project will fail unless the people your project is about are involved from the beginning:

It’s immoral.

“Nothing about us without us” is a phrase used in a wide variety of activist circles to dismantle systems where those in power make decisions on behalf of groups without power and without their involvement or consent. Examples of this that occur frequently are when:

  • Schools make major changes in how students learn without explaining to families why they’re making a change and what’s supposed to happen as a result.
  • Law enforcement agencies increase their visibility without explaining to their community what they’re doing and what their goals are.
  • Nonprofit agencies ask youth to speak on panels without compensating them for their time or equipping them to participate as partners.

It makes your work harder than it needs to be.

While all of the above examples are morally suspect, they also make your work harder than it needs to be. Think about how all of the above examples change when the people for whom we are doing something know what it is and what it is supposed to do:

  • The school changing how students learn involves families at the first planning meeting. They provide the context for the change and opportunities to be trained in what will happen in their children’s classrooms. As a result, families not only understand the work but also help the work get done.
  • Law enforcement agencies seek out and create opportunities to be invited into communities. As a result, officers learn to view communities as the answer to problems rather than as the problem to solve with the tools of policing.
  • Nonprofits explain what the purpose of the panel is going to be. Resources are provided to help youth frame their message in the context of their own lived experience, and youth are compensated (in cash) for their time. As a result, the nonprofit has a cadre of highly trained youth who can support the work as peers.

Why it matters

Leaders who can explain what their team is doing and also provide those that they serve with meaningful and frequent opportunities to be participate are better able to elevate the success of their team and their organization. Regardless of what your organization is doing, or for how long an initiative has been going on, leaders who can explain what they’re doing, who it benefits, and what’s going to happen when the project succeeds are equipped with everything the need to plan, execute, and succeed.

Author’s note: Helping leaders, teams, and organizations achieve clarity in their work is an essential element of my work. The next time you’re writing a newsletter or explaining to your team a directive you’ve received, consider scheduling a call and seeing how I can help.


Eight Dimensions of Wellness

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury–it’s required.

Dr. Cornel West famously said “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As a person believes that education is a means to achieve social justice, Dr. West’s words remind me that my work to create just, equitable, antiracist, and inclusive schools begins not in the classroom, school, or park district, but rather within my own self. To be a person working for justice means that paying attention to my wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury—it’s required.

Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization in Tucson that runs a student wellness center for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Like other after school programs, students can work on homework and participate in a variety of activities including: basketball, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. What makes Higher Ground unique, however, is that each program participant has their own wellness plan organized around the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Even more powerful, however, is how the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help Higher Ground staff to take care of themselves so that they are equipped to care for others. Arthur Rodgers, Higher Ground’s Executive Director explains that “the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me create a balanced life for myself and keep me focused on the whole person when serving others. Thecia Rodgers, Community Schools Director, agrees, saying “The Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me personally to be aware of my own health and wellness lifestyle, and to identify where my own wellness could be stronger. This helps me consider each person I serve as a whole person.”

As you read through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, notice which aspects of wellness you currently practice. It might also be helpful to note something you can do today to support a dimension of wellness that you might not practice as frequently.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness 


Physical wellness is about caring for our bodies. We attend to our physical wellness when we eat well, drink enough water, and get regular exercise. Making sure to get enough sleep and scheduling necessary medical, dental, and vision appointments are also essential aspects of physical wellness. Finally, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is important to our physical wellness.


Learning new skills and developing new understandings supports intellectual wellness. Choose something that interests you and make a plan to learn more about it. This might be reading a book, doing something creative, or purposefully engaging in new ideas or perspectives.


Naming our feelings and paying attention to how we manage both positive and negative emotions supports emotional wellness. Managing stress, building resiliency, and developing a positive outlook are all key components of emotional wellness. Sometimes, the work of emotional wellness happens best with spending some time alone, and other times, connecting to our support networks is better.


Having purpose and meaning is crucial to wellness. Pay attention to values and sense of purpose. If necessary, uncover, discover, or recover what matters most to you. Some people find support in participating in communities with shared values. Others find it helpful to reflect on values and purpose privately. Most important, work to make sure that your actions align with your values and purpose.


One key aspect of environmental wellness is finding ways of living that respect the environment. Recycling, driving less, and planting trees are three ways that we might support our environmental wellness. Another aspect of environmental wellness connects to building comfortable places to live and work. Cleaning up the kitchen at home and clearing off our desks at work are examples of practicing environmental wellness.


The basic level of financial wellness is working to make sure that we have enough income to feed ourselves, our families, and to pay the bills. Taking stock of our income and expenses is a powerful way to practice financial wellness. More than earning money and making budgets, however, financial wellness is about understanding our personal relationship with money. By reflecting on what money means to us, we gain a better sense of what might be influencing our spending and saving, and whether those influences are helpful.

What love looks like in public

Dr. West asks us “Never to forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As we seek to be educators who create just classrooms, dismantle oppression, and help children and youth become successful learners and good human beings, the implications of Dr. West’s words are tremendous. If justice is what love looks like in public, then our capacity to build a just world depends both on the level of love we show ourselves and how skillfully we care for ourselves across all Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Of course Eight Dimensions of Wellness is not the only framework for practicing self-care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time researching wellness and to pay attention to resources that connect with them. However, what I’ve seen at Higher Ground makes me think that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are a good place to start. I’ve summarized definitions and examples from the University of Maryland’s wellness information site, and you can learn more by clicking here.


Love + Content + Time.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah

I believe that the heart of effective teaching and learning is love + content + time, and that all three are necessary to build and sustain effective districts, schools, and classrooms. Here is why:

The inspiration from this post came from my work with Higher Ground. Click here and learn more about them.


Love is the starting point of effective teaching and learning. And, while good teachers recognize that love is the center of their practice, teachers are often afraid that this love could be misunderstood. After all, when I say “I love my spouse,” I mean something different than way I say “I love popcorn.” 

But let’s get real for a moment—Teaching is a profession that expects an intelligent person with at least one (and typically several) college degrees to help a room full of other people’s children become successful learners and good human beings. In between “I love my spouse” and “I love popcorn” is a type of love that effective teachers understand is at the center of their practice.  

“You look upset. Are you ok?”“I need you to focus on your work.”
“It’s good to see you! You’re running late again. We can make a plan together when you’re ready to talk about it.”“You’re late again, and now you’re behind the rest of the class.”
“Come back to me tomorrow, and in one piece!”“Pages 4-5 are due tomorrow.”
“I want to make sure my students are represented in their learning. That’s why I’m doing so much reading on culturally sustaining pedagogy this summer.”“I don’t see color.”
Love is essential.

Loving our students and expressing that love in our practice ought to be an explicit part of every educator’s job description and professional preparation program. Nothing-not one thing-happens in a classroom or in a school until students know that they are safe, loved, and cared for.


Content represents precisely what we mean by social, emotional, and academic achievement. The most engaging activity in the world and the most informative text ever written are only useful if the schools and teachers using them understand what students are supposed to learn as a result.

Here are some examples and non-examples of ensuring that all students have access to important content:

There is a written curriculum, and everyone knows where to find it.There is no written curriculum, so everyone develops their own materials.
“Hey, this fun activity I found on the internet matches where my class is at right now in their science curriculum!”“Well, this quarter is supposed to be about life cycles, but I really like this activity about fossils. Let’s do it!”
“This math lesson is supposed to be hard. We’re learning not only how to use statistics for modeling, but also how to manage stress when things feel overwhelming.”“Ok, now that math is done, let’s do this lesson on stress I found.”
“Ok, team, we’ve got [x] learning targets to master this semester. Do we have materials for all of them?”“Uh oh…we’ve got three weeks left in the semester, and we only taught half the learning targets. Let’s do a jigsaw for the last three chapters of the textbook.”
“Let’s check to make sure that our reading lists are inclusive of authors of color.”People of color are invisible in the curriculum.
Please do not neglect the last row.

Please do not neglect the last row in the table. Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement means ensuring that our students are represented in the content we teach. Otherwise, we risk creating schools in which, as Dr. Jamila Lyiscott warns, “The content of the curriculum ignore[s] the cultures of their communities” (Lyiscott, 2019).

To become successful learners and good human beings requires that students leave our classrooms each day equipped with knowledge, understanding, and skills that they didn’t have before. While it’s possible (and typically dangerous) to teach students something on accident, students achieve more when everyone involved is intentional about what the point of each lesson, unit, and course is about.


The level of learning that happens in our schools and classrooms depends on the level of love our students experience, the level of clarity regarding the content they are to learn, and finally, the way we view time as a resource for learning.

Time is more than just a thing we all feel we need more of. Yes, we need time to collaborate, plan, teach, and reflect. All the grading, assessment, and stuff our principal or superintendent needs us to do takes time. However, when the only thing that matters in a school is what happens in this period, this semester, or this academic year, time will never feel like an ally.

I know this is a bit meta, but when we think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement, time isn’t really about the minutes in a period we have to teach today’s content. Rather, time is the medium through which growth happens.

Think of it this way—If students were like a packet of sunflower seeds, we could predict how fast each seed ought to grow, what kind of light they need, and how much to water them. Truthfully, our students are more like a packet of assorted seeds from apple, orange, and peach trees, with a few acorns tossed in just because. We don’t expect a peach pit to turn into a mature tree by the end of a semester or even an academic year. To do the same for our students just makes everyone frustrated.

When we expand our timeframe for our work, we can see ourselves as part of a system meant to help students learn and grow over a lifetime. We also see that our role in supporting our students’ growth changes depending on where they are at in their learning. Whether we are building better schools by becoming trauma informed, enhancing our curriculum, or learning to use a new computer intervention, time is always on our side. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone has a right to waste a minute in the life of a child. Time is precious. What I am saying, though, is that if we see our students as trees rather than sunflowers, we can also understand that the time frame for our work is far bigger then a single lesson or even a school year.

Sometimes, students respond to our love and our content with indifference. Sometimes they struggle with concepts far more than we wish. All too often, brilliant students are told that they are not that brilliant because of a  yearly test score that can’t (or won’t) see them as anything other than a number that’s not high enough yet. But we can learn to view time differently, and if we can help our students to do the same, we can also learn that what we do today matters even when we can’t see the change right away.

I’d like for you to check out Higher Ground, an organization that has always understood that all children are worthy of love, all children deserve to be taught how to be a person of character, and that all children have a right to their own time.

I’d also invite you to read Dr. Lyiscott’s book, Black Appetite. White Food.  Lyiscott, Jamila. (2019). Black appetite. White food. Routledge.



We don’t have time to think about values…we’re just trying to finish the year and reopen school somehow.”

In a breath, educators across the United States completely transformed the way they connect with students and their families. Boundaries between work and home, always blurry for educators, have dissolved completely as we connect with learners online, via text, and curbside house calls. Thinking about our own values and vision right now feels goofy—and perhaps a little selfish—given what our work demands of us if we want to do right by our students

Frankly, I’d be suspicious of anyone who knows what the ‘best’ way to teach, run a school, or do our jobs well right now. As I stand, in this moment, I am both proud of my colleagues and aware that we don’t really know yet what we’re doing. The risk, though, of not pausing to uncover, discover, and recover our values is to continue a drastic re-imaging of schooling without considering the values that form the ethical core of our profession. More acute, though, is that by not examining the values guiding who we are and what we do, we increase the risk of moral injury.

Moral injury is the harm that occurs when a person is forced to act in ways that violate their values. Values are windows through which we see who we aspire to be and mirrors that reflect how well who we currently are matches our aspirations. Generally, values are effective because they tend to be automatic and implicit filters that guide day-to-day decisions without too much pondering. A quick glance through the values window reminds us that we are loving, caring, and expert professionals, and brief look in the values mirror reveals the kind words and time spent honing our craft each day that let us know we’re doing our best, and that our best is pretty good.

As the context of our work shifts, our values might need to shift as well.

However, when the entire context for our work shifts to something we would never want for ourselves or our students, values that used to support our work can feel impossible to live up to. While each person’s resilience, support, and capacity to practice self-care and healing is unique, many educators are struggling line up how replacing math instruction with Kahn Academy, reading instruction with audiobooks, and classroom instruction for online class meetings (where some students own three laptops and an iPad and others borrow their parent’s cell phone to text answers to their teacher) lines up with what the values at the core of their work. 

If you feel like your students deserve better, you are right. And knowing that this is not your fault doesn’t make it easier.

Take a moment and answer this question: “To be a professional that effectively supports children and youth to become successful learners and good human beings, it is important that I am [insert one word answer].”

In January, I would have said my most important answers were:

  • Reflective
  • Kind
  • Competent

Now, as I listen to my daughter communicate her grief over lost friends communicated in elaborate refusals to do the Beethoven book report, I recognize that patience, kindness, and competence won’t cut it.

Right now, I’m coming to understand that to do this work it is essential that I am:

  • Healthy
  • Present
  • Compassionate

It is important that I am healthy, and that means I schedule time to exercise. I must be present so that I focus on the issue in front of me and am available to those who need me. Finally, compassion for myself and for others helps me move beyond judgement and into action.

I am not claiming that these three values are all that are important to me, nor that anyone else needs to share my list. What I am suggesting is we might be able to look through a clearer window and more reflective mirror. Organizing resources to support social, emotional, and academic achievement begins with our values, and we get to choose what we value. Choose values that help—that’s what our values are supposed to do.

Unpacking PBIS: An exploded view of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support

-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a common framework for supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic success. However, few district leaders, school principals, or teachers ever have an opportunity to learn what fully-implemented PBIS’ looks like.’

This article is like the exploded view of this office chair: Once we build the chair, we usually just sit in it. Ideally, the chair was built when we got here. But should we suddenly need to know how the chair works (or discover that we are in charge of building chairs), the exploded view helps us understand how everything goes together.

Level 1 PBIS: School-wide

The best place to start implementing PBIS is school-wide. Generally, schools that effectively implement school-wide PBIS have low disciplinary referrals, with 80%-90% of students never interacting with their school’s discipline systems. Imagine a reading or math curriculum that guaranteed 80%-90% success.

Level 1 Systems

School-wide PBIS ought to vary school by school because each school team must approach their school’s systems and practices from a culturally sustaining perspective. However, all schools implementing PBIS will have the following systems in place in some form school-wide:

  • Teaching
  • Recognition
  • Accountability
  • Intervention


Teaching systems ensure that every student, teacher, and staff member knows 1) school values and 2) how to live values out loud. Schools with active teaching systems will have their values and expectations posted throughout the school. Also, teachers will lead specific instruction for how to live values out loud at least twice a year for every student in every area of the school. This means writing lesson plans and creating a teaching schedule.

Teaching systems include ongoing professional learning for school adults as well.


Recognition systems are how schools provide in-the-moment positive feedback when students live a school value out loud. For example, if a student is compassionate by including others during playtime, a school adult might say, “Thank you for being compassionate by including new friends in your game!” Often, schools pair this recognition with a ticket or an electronic point. The essential component of your school’s recognition system is genuine and generous feedback when we see students living values out loud.


Often, people believe that PBIS doesn’t allow consequences for unexpected behaviors. This is untrue. When students act contrary to school values, accountability systems ensure that school adults know how to respond. Moreover, accountability systems help students find the other side of their mistakes, repair harm, and take personal responsibility for their actions.


School-wide PBIS is also about responding in real-time to unexpected behavior patterns. Using referral data (SWIS through PBISApps is an outstanding resource), schools create precise problem statements and develop interventions to prevent unexpected behavior, reteach expectations, recognize students when they get it right, and—when necessary—address unexpected behavior with a practical corrective consequence. Your school’s intervention system is where PBIS ‘sings’ and begins to make a difference for your students.

Level 2 PBIS: “A little extra.”

Level 2 PBIS builds on effective School-wide systems. When I work with schools, I have them think about the 5% -10 % of students who may need extra love and support to be their best in school. 

Level 2 Systems:

Below are standard systems I see at schools effectively implementing Level 2 PBIS:

  • Check-in/Check-out (CICO)
  • Breaks are Better (BrB)
  • Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO)
  • Social/Academic Instructional Group (SAIG)

Check-in/Check-out (CICO)

Check-in/Check-out (CICO) is one of the most commonly used Level 2 PBIS Interventions. Students participating in CICO meet with a coach at the beginning of their day. The coach helps students visualize having a successful day and sends them to class with positive, encouraging words. 

Throughout the day, the student’s teacher (or teachers) provides positive, values-centered, brief feedback. Often, teachers document this feedback on a daily point card. However, when CICO works, everyone involved is far more focused on the quality of conversations than on the point card. The goal is that warm, supportive, and positive interactions with students happen more frequently than corrective interactions.

Breaks are Better (BrB)

Breaks are Better (BrB) is a form of CICO that provides students with structured breaks within the classroom. Sometimes, students don’t respond well to extra adult attention. When they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, taking a brief break in the classroom can be a better choice.

The key to BrB is to train students and staff how to ask for a break, what the break will be, and what to do when the break time is over. Common approaches are to allow the student to put their head down on a desk, sit in a quiet corner, or doodle for 3-5 minutes. Then, when the break is over, students are often better able to engage in classroom tasks.

Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO)

Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO) is a form of CICO that specifically supports academic and organizational skills. Sometimes, students can struggle in class without being disruptive.

Academic CICO aligns school values to specific academic habits that students can work on to improve academic success. Even better, ACICO provides teachers with scheduled opportunities to make sure their student always leaves class equipped to complete assignments and be successful. Coaches support ACICO by ensuring students arrive to class prepared in the morning and, if necessary, run back to class to get what they need before leaving. Students with ADHD, in particular, have the most to gain from ACICO.

Social/Academic Instructional Groups (SAIG)

Social/Academic Instructional Groups (SAIG) is another example of an ordinary Level 2 PBIS system. SAIG groups are brief and time-limited groups that focus on a specific skill. Common SAIG topics are:

  • Accepting a consequence
  • How to advocate for yourself and others when treated unfairly
  • Avoiding fights
  • Getting started with work right away
  • Organizing backpacks and assignment notebooks

A SAIG group aims to teach students a skill that will support social, emotional, and academic success in the classroom and throughout the skill. I recommend not keeping students in a SAIG group indefinitely. Ideally, students would participate for 20 minutes a day for no more than 5-10 school days. Then, teachers can reinforce the skills students learn in groups with the school’s recognition system.

Level 3 PBIS: Always on your mind & heart.

Level 3 PBIS systems support the children and youth who are likely always on your mind and your heart. Sometimes, student needs emerge and intensify gradually. For example, perhaps a student participates in Level 2 PBIS for a few months and isn’t making the progress they need to succeed. More commonly, however, a student enrolls and communicates their need for support quickly. Schools that address both situations effectively build systems in advance.

Level 3 Systems

Below are systems critical to Level 3 PBIS:

  • Functional Behavioral Assessment
  • Behavior Support Plan
  • Family-Led Support

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

Functional Behavioral Assessment within a PBIS framework looks similar to the more comprehensive process a school psychologist might undertake. However, an FBA within a Level 3 PBIS framework is meant to move quickly from data to action. The main components of a PBIS FBA are a structured interview with family, staff, and the student, as well as a review of disciplinary data. If necessary, a Level 3 PBIS team member might complete a confirmatory observation in class. In practice, however, classroom observations yield skewed data (the youth always seem to know why we’re hanging out that day…). In my experience, schools that have accurate referral data and train teachers to document perceived motivations for behavior already have the ‘observation’ data complete in that the observations for the unexpected behavior happened right then.

Behavior Support Plan

If you google “Behavior Support Plan Template,” you’ll find hundreds of handy examples, including mine. However, the goal of a behavior support plan should never be to complete the template. If skipping portions of the template allows your team to focus on strategies you can 1) realistically implement and 2) are likely to work, then less truly is more.

Regardless of your template, behavior support plans fail when any of the following occurs:

  • We focus only on behavior and not the child’s/youth’s overall wellness.
  • Our strategies are impossible to implement.
  • The youth and family don’t participate in developing the plan.
  • No one is really in charge.
  • We expect dramatic change in a short time.
  • We ignore the emotional toll of addressing significant behavioral challenges.

With anything in PBIS, and especially at Level 3, it’s people, not paper. Your team’s behavior support plan comes alive when caring people choose love, patience, and professionalism to support students with the most to gain.

Family-Led Support

In traditional PBIS frameworks, family-led support is known as Wraparound Support. TGS Educational Consulting uses family-led support instead to communicate the point better: Schools don’t “wrap” services around families. Rather, families share their needs, ideas, and goals with schools, and we work together to build a long-term support plan with the family at the center.

Often, family-led support requires community partners that we may still need to meet. Outside behavioral health services, rent/food assistance, glasses, and dental care are common resources in family-led support plans.

While family-led support plans are highly tailored to what emerges from the dialogue between family and school personnel, there are common processes that help to build trust and support implementation. Done well, family-led support plans can be a beautiful way to build relationships in challenging situations.

Putting it all together

Like looking at a set of instructions for the first time, the “exploded view” of PBIS can feel daunting. There truly is a lot more to PBIS than tickets, incentives, and stores, and most of what schools need to build focuses on support systems that might not exist yet.

If you are in charge of PBIS for your district or school, read this article as many times as you need, and look around our blog for other articles that explain some of these systems in detail. Also, consider giving yourself the gift of time and join us 19-23 June 2023 for a week-long knowledge-building session guaranteed to expand your expertise. You can learn more by clicking here. 

Save the date: PBIS Multi-Tiered System of Support Training, 19-23 June 2023 in Tucson, AZ

-by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

Before we get too far into the article, I want to share that this is not a Trainer of Trainers workshop. TGS Educational Consulting does not offer Trainer of Trainers workshops because they do not work.

However, if you’ve been told that you are in charge of PBIS for your school or district, and the last time you had a training was a) never or b) more than ten years ago, you will be able to lead professional learning at your site based on your site’s unique context.

Or, if you’re on your school’s PBIS team, and you’re wondering if there is more to PBIS than tickets and posters, you will have a comprehensive knowledge base to support the rest of PBIS at your site.

A man, Dr. Tim Grivois, seating on concrete steps. Tim is wearing khaki pants, a blue shirt, and a blue tie.
Join Dr. Tim and friends for a powerful week of learning. This training is the perfect opportunity to expand your expertise in Positive Behavior Interventions and Support at all levels of implementation.

You’ve probably heard that PBIS has multiple levels, and you’re pretty sure your school stopped at Tier 1. Attending this training will help you build connections between levels of PBIS implementation and start your action planning process effectively.

Here is what you can expect:

  1. Overview of PBIS: A comprehensive understanding of PBIS, how it works, and what outcomes you can expect when done well.
  2. The Three Tiers of PBIS: An overview of the three tiers of PBIS and the strategies that are typically used at each tier.
  3. Tier 1: Universal prevention strategies that are implemented school-wide. This includes proactive strategies such as teaching social skills, setting clear expectations, and creating a positive school climate.
  4. Tier 2: Targeted interventions for students who need additional support. This may include small group interventions and individual behavior plans.
  5. Tier 3: Intensive interventions for students who require individualized support. This may include individual behavior plans, counseling, and other specialized services.
  6. Data-Based Decision Making: Strategies for using data to inform PBIS practices, including how to collect and analyze data, and how to use data to make informed decisions about interventions and supports. Specifically, we will explore free data tools available within PBISApps and how you can use them to elevate your systems and practices.
  7. Implementation Strategies: Strategies for implementing PBIS effectively, including how to engage stakeholders, build a team, and sustain the program over time.

Essentially, you’ll leave knowing what PBIS looks like from the inside out. And, you won’t see any triangles or color-coded tiers. Best of all, you’ll leave equipped to support your students’ social, emotional, and academic success, no matter what role you have in your organization.

While this training is open to any caring professional interested in deepening their expertise in Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, those leading PBIS implementation will get the most out of our time together.

If you’re interested in more information or want to be the first to know when registration opens, click here so we can keep in touch.

Tier 3 Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS)

-by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

Tier 3 Positive Behavior Interventions and Support is social, emotional, and academic support designed and implemented as a team—youth included. The goal of Tier 3 PBIS is to increase a student’s social, emotional, and academic success by eliminating barriers to learning.

When I visit schools that implement Tier 3 PBIS well, I notice well-defined protocols and examples of individualized support:

  • Practical Functional Behavioral Analysis
  • (Realistic) Fidelity and Outcome Data
  • Quality of Life Indicators
  • “Classroom/Home/School Possible” behavior support strategies
  • Three to six-month time frame
  • Support plans tied to the rest of the school community

However, many schools building Tier 3 PBIS systems often struggle (at least at first):

  • Conflating T3 PBIS with 504/IEP processes
  • “Did you try a sticker chart?” Strategies instead of Quality of Life Indicators
  • “Classroom/Home/School IMpossible” behavior support strategies
  • Unrealistically short time frames
  • Plans that separate students from the school community

If your team is beginning to build T3 supports, you already know that a lot needs to be done right to be successful. The best way to create effective systems at this level is to learn as much as possible about how T3 teams function…..and get started as soon as possible.

One good way to start is to read. The Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Support has every resource you’d receive at an expensive training available for free. If you and your team have a “DIY” mindset, read this article first. You’ll likely end up with a list of the next steps.

An even better way to begin (once you’ve read the article) is to get trained. A qualified trainer knows what Tier 3 PBIS looks like and has led T3 PBIS at the site or district level. They’ll also incorporate hands-on training where you will learn how to build successful Behavior Support Plans by teaching you how to complete each step and coaching you through the process at your site in between sessions.

If you’ve built solid Tier 1 and Tier 2 PBIS supports, you already know that some of your students need even more. However you choose to get started is the right way, so long as the result is a school better able to meet the needs of all learners—without exception.

Learn more about building effective T3 PBIS systems! Email me at tim@tgseducationalconsulting.com to get started.

Classroom-possible strategies to support students with ADHD

by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director 

Students with ADHD can be highly successful in school, especially when they learn in schools ready to understand them. Below are three classroom-possible strategies for supporting students with ADHD.

Play-based learning through curated sensory toys.

I love sensory boxes. They are full of novel opportunities to engage the senses and capture attention.

Typical sensory boxes, however, can be too cluttered for students with ADHD to use. Frequently, too many choices can lead to poor decisions. Another problem is that students with ADHD are often motivated by novelty and can get bored with even the largest box of sensory toys over time. Therefore, instead of presenting students with ADHD with a box full of toys, create a smaller box with no more than two sensory toys. Then, when the toys in the small box lose their novelty, you can replace them with new toys.

The ‘gold-medal’ level of sensory toys is designing instruction incorporating sensory toys. Some examples that I’ve seen are:

  • Math manipulatives 
  • Creating felt puppets based on stories
  • Collecting data using paper airplanes, spinning fidgets, or pop-up bubble toys
  • SEL / PBIS lessons using stretchy, sticky, or slimy toys
  • Writing prompts involving scents (i.e., Choose an essential oil that brings back a memory. Write about it.)

Physical movement / “Heavy” work

Recess is one of the most effective non-medicinal interventions for students with ADHD….and typically doesn’t happen until a few hours into the school day. Consider scheduling morning recess right after attendance and see if you notice a change in engagement.

Another great option is heavy work. This might involve moving books or desks. Older students might have access to a weight training class or bodyweight exercises during physical education. Obviously, movement is never a punishment, and we’ll want to tailor the task carefully to each student’s readiness. Nevertheless, improving physical wellness often enhances focus.

Body doubling

Sometimes, schools provide students with ADHD solitary places to work to reduce distraction. However, “body doubling” can often work better for students with ADHD. Body doubling is when a student with ADHD works on potentially tedious tasks alongside another person. The body double doesn’t need to engage with the person with ADHD…just work quietly.

People with ADHD (including me) report that having a body double calms anxiety and reduces negative feelings about tasks. While body doubling doesn’t yet have the same level of research as other strategies, a growing body of voices from the ADHD community has convinced me that body doubling is a strategy worth exploring in schools. 

Make the most out of this article by putting one of these strategies into practice. Set up a zoom or email me to get started.

Use scripts to deescalate defiant behavior.

-by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

Supporting students who exhibit defiant behavior can be challenging for teachers and school leaders. Defiant behavior can range from non-compliance with classroom rules to outright verbal and physical aggression. One effective way to de-escalate this type of behavior is by using scripted responses. Scripted responses provide a consistent and predictable approach to responding to defiant behavior. 

Pre-planned responses allow teachers to maintain their composure and avoid being drawn into a power struggle with the student. Additionally, scripted responses provide a clear message to the student about what is expected of them and the consequences of their behavior. Ultimately, the use of scripted responses can help de-escalate defiant behavior and create a more positive learning environment for all students.

Unfortunately, without a script, defiant behavior often leads to power struggles.

Teacher: I need you to open your book to page 35 and start on the first few problems.

Student: No, thank you. I’m good.

Teacher: It’s not a choice. It’s time for work, and you’ll need to begin.

Student: (Raises voice) I said I won’t do this.

Teacher: And I said you’ll need to do this. If you choose not to, then…

In this situation, no one wins. While asking a student to work on their assignment is entirely reasonable, engaging in a power struggle rarely results in learning. Instead, teachers can save time and frustration by deciding in advance how to hold students accountable for their work without participating in an argument. Here is one example from Dobson Academy’s PBIS Team that tends to work:

Teacher: I need you to open your book to page 35 and start on the first few problems.

Student: No thank you. I’m good.

Teacher: Got it. Is it because you don’t want to do it or because you’re unsure how to get started?

Student: This doesn’t make any sense, and it looks boring.

Teacher: Well, I can’t help with the boring, but I can help with the ‘making sense’ part. Do you want me to hang out and work on the first couple of problems with you?

Student: No. I just don’t want to do this.

Teacher: Been there, too! I don’t always want to get started on stuff I don’t get. Well, I need to help some other students. Can you at least sit quietly while I work with them?

Student: I guess.

Teacher: Good, because if not, you may need to finish the period somewhere else. But if you change your mind and want to get some of this done, let me know, and I’ll come by when I can.

Usually, students either accept help the first time or at least change their minds when sitting quietly becomes more tiresome than the work. And in the above script, the teacher maintains control of the situation while still validating and supporting the student. Most importantly, the teacher is available to the rest of the class as quickly as possible.

Another benefit of using scripts to address defiance is that symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and neglect can often present as defiant behavior. With a script, we may discover where the “no” is coming from, reduce classroom outbursts, and support better outcomes for all students.

If you’d like to work together on a script for your team, let’s schedule a zoom or email me. Then, we can set up a free initial working session to explore whether this kind of intervention makes sense for you. 

Why “Off-the-shelf” solutions fail.

“Off-the-shelf” solutions are often why schools end up working with me. An “off-the-shelf” solution claims to be aligned with a problem schools are trying to solve. For example, hundreds of boxed Social and Emotional Learning curriculums exist, and you can buy most of them on Amazon. If your school is interested in Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), just go online and find a digital points program with its own digital store and be done with PBIS in a day. School leaders can even outsource their curriculum and data analysis. “Off-the-shelf” solutions exist for almost every problem my clients face, and typically, clients call me when they’ve purchased several, and none of them worked.

Off-the-shelf solutions fail because they:

  1. Lack local context.
  2. Misrepresent/underestimate how much time is required.
  3. Solve the wrong problem.

Lack local context.

Off-the-shelf solutions often fail because they lack local context. Digital platforms for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, for example, do their best to make common PBIS systems function well. However, when I work with schools to uncover what matters most to their school communities, they often discover that monetizing kind words with points will not help them achieve their goals. Another example is vendors selling Professional Learning Community kits to schools that lack personnel to create common planning time. 

(Hint: Before I send you a quote, I’ll ensure I understand how your school/district works and what you aspire to lead. You’ll often get enough information from my quote to solve your problem independently.)

Misrepresent/underestimate how much time is required.

Most schools that I work with have 60-90 a week to accomplish all necessary school business and learning. No educator believes that they can thoroughly train staff to use a new tool, platform, or strategy in 60-90 minutes. Furthermore, most off-the-rack solutions require teachers and school leaders to generate work that staff frequently need to revisit. Professional Learning Community (PLC) training is an excellent example of a solution that claims to transform schools…..if you’re willing to sacrifice every last minute of teacher time, reinvent master schedules to create more PLC time, and create external structures for formative assessment and data analysis. 

(Hint: I work with teachers to sort index cards into piles and create their own in-class interventions instead).

Solve the wrong problem.

The main reason “off-the-shelf’ solutions fail is that they solve the wrong problem. Often, a grant appears for something. Someone like Solution Tree, Character Strong, or Sanford Harmony develops an offering that matches the grant. Then, a school or district leader sees the grant, finds a vendor’s google ad, purchases something that seems like an overall harmless resource, and schedules a whole-school or whole-district PD on whatever the grant just bought.

For example, character education programs are about developing a vocabulary for character traits, teaching students what those traits are, and helping students live those traits out loud. This is important, and I recommend that schools prioritize character education. However, character education programs generally don’t examine equity in discipline data or create systems to solve school-wide behavior issues in real-time. You need at least an entry-level framework for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support to do this.

To be clear, Solution Tree, Character Strong, and Sanford Harmony are great vendors, and I’ve previously recommended their products to schools. However, too often, schools purchase solutions to the wrong problem.

(Hint: Before building anything, when I work with teams, we spend our first few sessions identifying problems with precision.)

Shelve “off-the-shelf.” Embrace DIY/DIT.

“Off-the-shelf” solutions are someone else’s idea to your problem. I recommend “Do-it-yourself / Do-it-together” instead. 

“Do it yourself” is the best idea when you and your team know what to do. Spend some time framing the problem, brainstorming solutions, and then picking the easiest and most effective solution to try first. Notice what happens, and if it works, keep it up.

“Do-it-together” is how I work with schools/organizations. “Do-it-together” means that I bring tools and protocols that help teams get unstuck. Sometimes, we build new systems, but more often, we adjust already existing good practices in ways that lead to better results. A good example was an attendance intervention at Compass High School. Instead of creating an attendance committee, they just called absent students and let them know they missed them. It worked superbly.

If you are considering an “off-the-shelf” solution, unpack whatever you picked up off the shelf. Look at everything inside the box, click every link on the website, and get a clear sense of what the product does and does not do. Make sure you’ve taken ample time to frame the problem clearly so that you can assess what pieces of the product you need. 

Once you’ve evaluated the “off-the-shelf” option, consider whether a DIY/DIT option might be the most cost-effective, long-term solution. Solving a problem once and for all is better than continuing to apply to wrong solutions year after year (and paying for them too).

Click the button below to schedule a free one-hour ‘figure-it-out’ time consultation, and find out why DIY/DIT usually works best.

So you want to start a GSA…

by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

The 40/50 reason

A  2017 University of Chicago study estimates that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQIA+. The 2021 National Survey on LGBTW Youth Mental Health finds that homeless queer youth are two to four times as likely to suffer depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

A 2008 study from British Colombia found that if a school had a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), suicide risk for LGBTQ+ youth was 50% lower—and 50% lower for heterosexual boys as well.

Forming a GSA is an act of suicide prevention. 

What is a GSA?

GSA stands for Gender-Sexuality Alliance. GSAs are student-run clubs that exist to unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth. Some GSAs focus on community-building activities within the club and the broader school community. Others are more activism-focused, bringing youth together to change systems, structures, and policies within the school. While most GSAs are high school and middle school clubs, some elementary schools also sponsor GSAs.

GSA membership is open to everyone, and there is no presumption of gender / sexual identity. Most importantly, a GSA is a student-run club. Therefore, the first step to building a successful GSA is to equip youth with the knowledge and skills to organize themselves.

What do GSAs do?

Some GSAs are mostly about building community, and others are mostly about activism. The type of GSA you and your students might build depends mostly on the youth you serve and what they want to do. Here are some examples of typical activities in both GSAs:

Watch a movieAttend or host a local LGBTQIA+ Youth Conference
Take a social trip to a coffee shopParticipate in activities to examine privilege and power
Go on a group hikeHost a Day of Silence during LGBTQ History Month
Host a drag show or open-mic nightWrite LGBTQIA+ opinion pieces for school newspaper
Board gamesGo to school board meetings and advocate for policies that protect LGBTQ students

Whatever your students choose to make their GSA about, your role as a faculty advisor is to listen to what they want to do and support them with skills and training to accomplish their goals. Sometimes, adults start GSAs wanting to help youth but forget that the youth themselves are the experts of their own lives. GSAs begin with youth, and the best GSA advisors help youth stay in the middle of their conversation.

Also, notice that neither community-focused or activism-focused GSAs are about sex. Instead, faculty advisors for GSAs follow the same professional boundaries around conversations around relationships and sexual health as they would for any students at their school.

How do we start a GSA?

The short answer: the same way we’d start a chess club or a drama club. In the United States, students wanting to start a GSA have the same rights and protections as any other student-led group. School administrators can’t prevent students from forming a GSA simply because of what the club might be about. The best practice would be to find out your school’s procedure for creating a club and follow that process diligently.

Also, note that most GSAs begin informally. For example, teachers, counselors, social workers, or paraprofessionals might create informal, safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth and friends to come together. Sometimes, students will decide to make a formal club, and sometimes, they receive all the support they need from these informal gatherings.

Whether through a formal club or an informal safe space, forming a Gender-Sexuality Alliance is an outstanding way to support LGBTQIA+ youth. To learn more, contact us. And, if your school has a GSA, tell us about it in the comments below.

Stop treading water.

by Dr. Tim Grivois and Tiffany Emerson

PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support. PBIS is a schoolwide system for increasing the good we see in our students, reducing unexpected behaviors and helping everyone live our values out loud. Specifically, schools implementing PBIS build systems that make school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood. Most importantly, their PBIS practices operate at the right depth for every student.

Imagine that your school was a swimming pool, your students were swimmers, and you were the lifeguard. Having different depths of water for differently skilled swimmers makes your job as a lifeguard much simpler. There might be an eight-foot area where most of our strong swimmers can visit, a four-foot section for swimmers who need a little support under their feet from time to time, and a shallow one-foot area full of life jackets for swimmers who aren’t ready to swim independently. Everyone swims, and everyone has the support they need to be successful.

Most schools, however, approach PBIS as though the entire swimming pool were 12 feet deep, with everyone swimming or treading water for the whole of the 6.5 hour school day. The lifeguard only responds when noticing a problem. It is time to stop treading water, friends! 

Instead of treading water, build a pool (create a system) where all students get what they need. If your school were a swimming pool, Tier 1 PBIS would be swimming lessons and adult supervision. In your actual school, the heart of Tier 1 PBIS is a matrix that makes school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood.

Tier 2 PBIS supports students who need a little extra love to be their best. Usually, this involves Check-in / Check-out, a system for delivering frequent doses of positive adult connection and micro-lessons in critical social skills.

Tier 3 PBIS gathers a team of adults, many of whom the youth chooses. The goal is to take a comprehensive look at why a behavior is happening and what needs the youth is meeting with their behavior. From there, the team can create a realistic support plan.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support is 1) a schoolwide system for making school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood, and 2) a system that operates at the proper depth for each student. While PBIS ultimately is about student outcomes, effective PBIS systems and practices support everyone–swimmers and lifeguards–in spending as much time as possible on the work of teaching and learning.

Get in touch if you feel like you’re treading water–with or without PBIS. It’s free to talk! 

Normalizing Joy

by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

I recently sat down with Ms. Jamie Bradley, Principal of Dobson Academy in Chandler, Arizona, to talk about three beautiful strategies to strengthen positive relationships among staff. The video is below, and here they are in a blog.

Sticky Notes

Everyone at Dobson Academy has a pack of sticky notes that they can use to write positive messages to each other. Notes show up all the time on teachers’ doors and mailboxes. A small investment in time gives everyone a fun surprise when they come to their door and see a kind word from a colleague.

Walk-up Wednesday

While Jamie watched her son play baseball, she noticed how each player had a ‘walk-up’ song that played when they came up to bat. So Jamie transformed the idea of a walk-up song into a fun weekly game that engages staff personally. Before her Wednesday email, Jamie asks a staff member to choose their ‘walk-up’ song. Then, Jamie finds a clip of the song, emails it to the staff, and asks everyone to reply-all and guess whose song it is. 

Fan Club Friday

Every week, Jamie chooses a staff member for Fan Club Friday. On Friday, she sends an all-staff email sharing something she loves about them. Then, everyone clicks reply-all to share what they love about that person. All day, everyone receives a positive email about a colleague full of beautiful new connections that they may never have made. And staff members get to see their full impact on their work community. 

These strategies are free except for the cost of a pack of sticky notes. Even better, making them a routine normalizes joy and coaches the team to look for the best in each other. Teaching is hard work, and taking time to celebrate each other is an important way for the entire teaching community to model and practice self-care.

If you like or plan to try one of these strategies, leave a comment!

Positive reinforcement system: the vehicle for powerful words.

By Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

Schools implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Support have a positive reinforcement system. Whether the system involves tickets, marbles in a jar, or digital certificates, each school’s positive reinforcement system is a vehicle for powerful words that support students in building healthy habits. Effective positive reinforcement systems have three key attributes: immediate, genuine & generous, and take three seconds or less.


The best time to let students know they’re doing something good is as soon as you see them do it. Effective recognition systems equip school adults to reinforce positive behavior in the moment.

Genuine and generous

The words we use for positive reinforcement must be genuine and generousGenuine positive support is values-centered, meaning the words we use connect to established school values. For example, a teacher might say, “When you came to school on time and ready to learn, you demonstrated respect for your learning and your classmate’s learning.”

We also want positive feedback to be generous. Ideally, aim for a ratio of four to five positive interactions to every corrective interaction. And, a quick-to-use recognition system makes generous positive reinforcement ‘ classroom possible.’

Take three seconds or less.

Finally, positive reinforcement is most effective when we are brief. “Thank you for being safe by walking!” is all we need. Whether your school uses a ticket, marbles in a jar, or digital points, remember that these tools are simply vehicles for the words. We can keep our words brief when the system is easy to use. Brief words are easy to understand and effortless to say. Pair those words with a protocol that takes three seconds or less to build a durable, sustainable positive reinforcement system for your school.

Join us on 9 November 2022 from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm (Arizona Time) for a free webinar on recognition systems and PBIS. You can register by clicking here: