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.

The best ways to invite grownups to participate on your PBIS team.

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

Note: I use “grownup” for “parents” because children have a variety of amazing adults in their lives, and all should be included in our PBIS implementation.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support functions best when grownups participate. Without grownups’ active involvement, teams can’t know if the systems, data, and practices meant to support students match their school community’s values, expectations, and cultural/racial identities. However, finding grownups who can participate in PBIS meetings can be difficult. Here are some other opportunities for grownups to participate:

1. Focus Groups

Instead of asking grownups to attend weekly or biweekly PBIS Team meetings, consider asking them to participate in focus groups scheduled periodically throughout the year. These focus groups might be about your PBIS values, how the school manages unexpected behavior, or how to improve your recognition system. In addition, having fewer, more targeted times for families to participate in PBIS elevates family engagement.

2. Surveys

Used sparingly, surveys can be an outstanding way of discovering how grownups experience PBIS at your school. For example, you might ask families how often their children receive positive feedback or to what extent the school PBIS values and expectations match their own values and expectations. This data is invaluable to your PBIS team and might be easier to collect through a school-wide survey than a meeting.

3. “Visiting” Grownup Groups

If your school has an established PTO, site council, or another gathering where your students’ grownups meet, sending a member of your PBIS team to those meetings can be an effective and efficient way of engaging families. Let families know what your PBIS team is working on, and ask for specific, concrete support.

Grownup engagement is crucial to PBIS implementation, but finding grownups who can participate in weekly meetings is challenging and unnecessary. Consider these alternative avenues for grownup participation on your PBIS Team.

Click here to talk more about how your school can increase grownups’ involvement in PBIS or all other aspects of your school community.

Introducing TGS-Transform, Grow, Succeed.

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

I’m excited to announce that TGS Educational Consulting is launching a Youtube Channel featuring interviews with exemplary leaders from schools and nonprofits. Check out the first few shows here:

Adultism in Caring Organizations

In this episode, Victoria-Anne Tullercash shares their work as Youth Engagement Specialist and as a member of the Youth Action Council. When we centralize the voices of those we claim to serve, we carry out our missions with greater respect and efficacy.

It’s the Principal of the Thing

Dr. Chandra Sledge-Mathias, founder of “Wouldn’t It Be Cool If?” (www.wouldntitbecoolif.org), and expert in professional development shares what she believes must happen to elevate professional learning for school principals.

Building Community

Community matters. In fact, our community is the answer. How can schools build meaningful partnerships with their communities? To speak about it, Tim welcomes friend Jansen Azarias-Suzumoto to the show. Jansen is the CEO and co-founder of Higher Ground, a non-profit resource center that works to inspire youth and families to be part of lasting community contribution. Listen in as they talk about how what part communities can play in making our students and educators more successful in schools that may lack funding or resources. As Jansen notes, “It’s not about building something new. It’s about building on the resiliency of the community.”

What’s on your mind and on your heart?

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

Self-awareness is, according to CASEL, the ability to “understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.” Last week, I worked with a group of twelve teachers, counselors, and school leaders at Davis Bilingual Magnet Elementary School. Davis is a K-8 school in Tucson Unified School District and serves both Spanish-dominant and English-dominant emerging bilingual students. Our goal was to create something to help students understand and regulate emotions. What impressed me more, however, was how powerful our work became for teachers themselves.

We began each session with a simple prompt. I asked the group, “As you are right now, what is on your mind and heart?” Participants could answer this question silently to themselves or could share it out loud if they wished. Over the following days, I noticed the group’s skill and comfort grow, with people sharing positive and negative emotions. As they talked about why they felt these emotions, many participants saw how acknowledging what they felt tended to improve their overall mood.

At the end of our third day, teachers decided that they wanted to begin all staff meetings with this simple check-in. One teacher shared, “Even if I don’t share out loud, at least I have time to think about what I’m feeling and explore why.” Another said, “Just taking time to listen to each other, without needing to fix anything, feels good.”

While teaching students to be self-aware is important, self-awareness begins with school adults. You’ll see photos of self-awareness strategies teachers built as part of our learning. Each tool represents something they practiced themselves and honors their prior self-awareness skills. Fundamentally, each strategy helps people name what they are feeling and think through how their emotions drive their actions. Our work together will not only develop students’ self-awareness but ensure that teachers have time and space to elevate their interior insight.

Helping students regulate emotions is essential to their social, emotional, and academic achievement. However, supporting and understanding our students’ emotional learning becomes possible when school adults first know how to connect with their own emotions.

(Also, I paid for any supplies they needed that weren’t already at the school. We must stop training teachers to do something and then not equip them with the tools they need to implement what they learn.)

Let’s talk about social and emotional learning! If you’d like to schedule a call, click here. It’s always free to talk.

Rethinking Positive Feedback in PBIS

By Timothy (Tim) Grivois

Years ago, I attended a meeting for a child who received intensive behavior support. I knew the family well, and recently custody changed so that the child’s Aunt was the primary caretaker.

While most of the meeting was about reviewing data and goals for the child, at one point, the Aunt said, “I want you to know that my nephew keeps his Grizzly Tickets in the same place as he keeps family photos and Pokemon cards. Those tickets are treasures.”

This story demonstrates the true purpose of positive feedback within Positive Behavior Interventions and Support. For this child, tickets were not about points or privileges. Instead, every time the child looked at his tickets on the way to get his Pokemon cards, the tickets reminded him of a moment when an adult saw something good in him and took the time to let him know.

While this kind of feedback should always be the goal of PBIS, misusing praise can have adverse outcomes for students. Here are my thoughts on common reasons why adults often resist positive feedback systems.

“Why are we paying kids to be good?”

We shouldn’t. Unfortunately, sometimes accidentally and other times purposefully, the PBIS of 60 years ago encourages schools to monetize compliant behavior. For example, some companies sell schools entire digital environments where students earn ‘points’ for ‘being good’ that they later use to purchase items at their school’s online store. Do not do this.

Effective positive feedback is about having a system that makes it easy for staff to recognize the good that students bring to school every day. When students know what they can do to support the school community, they are more likely to continue. 

“We shouldn’t teach kids to seek our approval.”

We shouldn’t. We should teach children and youth to seek their own approval to follow their community’s values. Done right, your matrix should reflect your community’s values already. If not, talk to me about how to fix this.

Ideally, positive feedback lets students know that they are living their values out loud. When we see students being curious by asking questions, compassionate by including others, or proud by sharing their many languages, we can use our words to tell them. Positive feedback is not about approval but about elevating the quality of relationships with students by recognizing the good we see them do.

“Adults don’t get praise in the real world.”

We should, and here’s a positive example of why:

Recently, I picked up a couple of boxes of bagels for teachers for PBIS training. I’ve been to this shop many times, and before I leave, the manager always asks me to complete a feedback survey. I usually do, and I always have a positive review. On my last visit, I asked the manager, “Out of curiosity, what happens to these surveys once I submit them?”

“Oh my goodness, Tim! Everything you say gets sent to corporate whenever you leave us a positive review. Then they send it back to me, and I print out the email and put it up on our bulletin board by the schedules. We make a huge deal out of it, and I appreciate you giving us so much to celebrate! It makes the place feel happier, and the feeling lasts!”

If you are a school leader, be generous and genuine about recognizing the good your staff brings to school. Your team deserves to know.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support centralizes positive feedback as a critical tenet of school-wide social and emotional support. Both the data and my values as a caring professional lead me to support expanding the frequency of kind words on campus. However, we must be mindful to avoid common mindsets that might lead to adverse outcomes. Whatever your system for positive feedback, make sure that the goal is warm, supportive relationships.

Don’t just look at data. Use it.

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

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support is a common approach to supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement. Training for PBIS is the most common reason schools, and districts contact me. Much of the initial work is in helping school- and district-based teams develop the infrastructure to support students and staff. However, once the school puts its plan into place, long-term, effective implementation requires both a school-wide and a small-group / individual focus.

School-wide focus

An enormous component of PBIS is using data to solve problems in real-time. Teams that look at data monthly can identify unexpected behavior patterns and develop respectful solutions. For example, Ha:San Charter School serves Tohono O’odham students primarily and ends their week with a school-wide ceremony. Elders consider wearing hats and earbuds during the Ceremony to be disrespectful. Because the Ha:San team knew that the frequency of hats/earbuds during Ceremony was increasing, they identified a simple solution that all teachers could support: Remind students before dismissing to Ceremony to take off hats and earbuds.

Key Takeaway: Use the data you have to solve problems you’re experiencing right now.

Small-group / Individual focus

Another common reason why PBIS falters is that teams often stop once they’ve developed school-wide infrastructure. However, we expect that some students will need more support to be their best in school. Using data that already exists is a powerful way to identify students who need support right away. Most schools accomplish this through developing Data-Based Decision Rules. For example, students might communicate that they need extra support when they:

  • Visit the office within the first month of school.
  • Generate three discipline referrals within six weeks.
  • Are absent 3-5% of school days during the first quarter.

Once you’ve set a Data-Based Decision Rule, apply to rule to your data to generate a roster. For a variety of reasons, your team may choose not to intervene for every student. However, knowing who is on your roster and why ensures that you meet student needs and elicits equity gaps to address.

Key Takeaway: Using Data-Based Decision Rules elevates the quality of supports for students.

The best part of using data in this way is that you don’t need a Professional Learning Community structure. In fact, a PLC format might get in the way of the work by making things take longer. Instead, the most important task is to measure what matters, communicate data to your team, and take action that serves students and teachers effectively.

We know what we need help with.

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

I interviewed my first podcast guest last week. Victoria Anne Tullercash is the Youth Engagement Specialist for Youth on Their Own, a Tucson-based nonprofit that supports high school youth experiencing homelessness as they work towards graduation.

Victoria’s experience is vital because she explains what adultism is and how adultism affects her access to education.

Adultism is when someone older assumes that they understand the needs of the youth better than the youth themselves. This shows up in schools, nonprofits, and systemically within society when adults develop policy, programs, and interventions for youth without centralizing youth voice and experience. Some examples are:

  • Asking youth to participate in task forces and committees without compensation or incorporating their input.
  • Inviting youth to share their stories at fundraising dinners and compensating them with dinner instead of money.
  • Assuming a teenager’s sadness after a breakup is less significant than an adult’s sadness would be.
  • Taking an adult’s side in a disagreement for no other reason than the other person involved is younger than them.

When adults marginalize youth voices, youth suffer. In the interview, Victoria Anne shares an example of adultism regarding McKinney-Vento, a Federal law well-known to all school leaders in the United States that requires schools to remove barriers to registration for homeless students by providing free food and transportation to school. Victoria Anne describes how they were sleeping on a friend’s couch, unaware that support was available. Not until they were in college did they know what McKinney-Vento even was and that all they needed to do was ask.

This happened because schools target their messaging regarding McKinney-Vento to adults, never explaining to students what McKinney-Vento is, who qualifies, and how to ask for help. This failure to consider the experience of our youth left Victoria Anne—and every student like them—without needed support.

“We know exactly what we need help with,” shares Victoria Anne. Finding opportunities to centralize youth voice is neither frivolous nor fuzzy. What school leaders and youth-serving nonprofits should take away from Victoria Anne’s experience is that students should know as much about McKinney-Vento as they do about how to sign up for the football team. Also, we (adults) don’t know what we are doing unless and until we include youth voice.

True Colors United has developed an outstanding Youth Collaboration Toolkit that you can download here. I encourage all school leaders and leaders of youth-serving organizations to read it from beginning to end as a starting point for elevating the quality of youth partnership in their organizations.

Before you create a DEI task force, make a spreadsheet.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois.

All organizations should have a DEI task force. And, the task force deserves to know what problem they are trying to solve. Without precision and clarity, an organization that begins the work of addressing systemic racism without first looking at its data is probably wasting time.

Schools and nonprofits implement initiatives and programs to solve problems. Those problems typically emerge from data:

  • Low attendance data leads to home visits.
  • Discipline data indicates a need for restorative practices training.
  • Reading scores prompt phonics intervention.

Opportunities to address racism emerge when we ask:

  • Do students of different races and ethnicities have different attendance rates?
  • Are students of color more likely to visit the office for a disciplinary reason than white students?
  • Is there a racially identifiable group of students who struggle to read at our school?

Answers to these questions that do not first look at data will not work. At best, we’re using hunches to frame problems that require facts to understand. At worst, we’re developing solutions that exacerbate the harm. Typically, though, we’re wasting time.

To address systemic racism, we have to know how outcomes for students of color differ from white students, both as a nation and in our schools. The most straightforward way that I have seen schools frame antiracist work is to use data.

  • Set a data-based rule that identifies students needing support (attendance, discipline, academic)
  • Create a roster of students meeting the data-based rule, without student names and sorted by race.
  • Compare the proportion of identified students to the overall demographics of your school.

Should we discover that a racially or ethnically identifiable group of students has worse outcomes than white students (both nationally and here at our school), we have an ethical and professional responsibility to act. Whatever solutions your team implements, it is essential to include those the solution is meant to serve early on. Explain what your data reveals, and share a few possible ideas. Then, seek input and revise plans based on what you hear. 

Most important, begin the work with whom your data reveals are your most vulnerable students. Our students who have the most need to grow also have the most to gain. Ultimately, what we learn by effectively supporting our most vulnerable students elevates everyone.

Without data, organizations can plan book studies, attend conferences, and appoint task forces, ostensibly addressing systemic racism, all without ever knowing what must change to create equitable learning spaces in real life. Thankfully, the data you already have is almost always enough to get started.

Self-care is the cornerstone of a healing-centered school.

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

“You need directions to Las Vegas? I’ve never been there before, and I’m not sure where it is, but I can give you directions!”

To help someone get from one place to another, we have to know how to get there ourselves. In my interviews and observations of people who are skilled in self-care, I have come to understand that healing involves a specific skill set:

  • Self-love
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-service


Self-love means having reverence for our self as a person. People who practice self-love do not take critics too seriously (external or internal), and they talk about themselves with the same positive regard for close family and friends. Another sign of self-love—especially among educators and other caring professionals— is to be as generous towards themselves as to those they serve.


Self-awareness means knowing who we are and what we need. Self-aware people understand and respect the messages that their minds, bodies, and hearts send by knowing how and when to set boundaries. For example, people skilled in self-care know when to plug into caring communities and when to unplug and take time for themselves.


While self-love and self-awareness are prerequisites to self-care, self-service is about doing the actual work. Self-service is not the same as being self-serving. A self-serving person protects their interests maliciously. For example, cheating on an exam, lying to avoid consequences, or manipulating others may help the cheater, liar, or manipulator but also causes harm. 

People skilled in self-service understand that attending to their own needs rarely harms others. On the contrary, taking care of our bodies, minds, and hearts typically enhances how we can participate in communities, including the schools, nonprofits, and government agencies where we work.

The cornerstone of healing-centered schools

In healing-centered schools, teachers and school leaders understand that we cannot help children who have experienced trauma learn to practice self-love, self-awareness, and self-service without understanding what these concepts mean and how to apply them in our own lives. 

Self-care is not a workshop that asks caring professionals to treat themselves to a latte to be ok with untenable working conditions. Instead, I emphasize self-care in my work because 1) my clients and their staff are human beings who deserve to be happy, and 2) as we learn and become more skilled in self-love, self-awareness, and self-service, we elevate our capacity to walk alongside those we serve who suffer lasting effects of traumatic events.

Self-care is a journey—and because we’re all in different places on this journey—helping others heal requires some familiarity with the map. Build healing-centered schools by practicing self-love, self-awareness, and self-service: first towards yourself and then your school community.

Bring your own agenda.

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

I used to say that I don’t go to meetings without an agenda. However, I realized that this is not always true. Sometimes, when I’m expected at a meeting that has no agenda, I bring my own.

One key leadership maxim ought to be “Never waste anyone’s time.” Leaders must communicate why the meeting is more important than whatever else staff could be doing. If I’m not sure why I’m expected at the agenda-less meeting, I decline if I can. But, sometimes, I can’t. When I know I have to be on a call or in a conference room, but I don’t know why I have to be there, I’ll come with my own agenda.

Having a plan for a purpose-less or ‘purpose-vague’ meeting is an excellent mental health and productivity tool. That said, I am not suggesting that anyone take over someone else’s meeting—that is never appropriate and crosses professional boundaries. Instead, we can use strategies to help us step into our positive power when and where we can.

Before the agenda-less meeting

As soon as you realize you can’t avoid an agenda-less meeting, take a look at who has been invited. Ask yourself, “If I called a meeting with this group of people, what would I hope to gain?” Write out a list of questions to ask, pick your top two, and ask the facilitator if those topics could be put on the agenda. Typically, the answer is yes. When the answer is no, you’ll usually discover what the actual purpose of the meeting is going to be. Either way, you’ve made the meeting a much better use of your time.

During the agenda-less meeting

If you don’t discover the meeting’s purpose within the first two minutes, it’s likely that the facilitator has not framed the problem, task, or issue with enough clarity to actually work on anything. One powerful question for this situation might be “If everything happens perfectly at today’s meeting, what would we have accomplished?” (Side note from personal experience, tone of voice matters…curiosity is more effective than annoyance.) Another productive choice might be to listen to other participants, searching for opportunities to collaborate later. Either way, deciding for yourself what you want to get out of your time helps shape what you can offer the group.

After the agenda-less meeting

I’ve been to too many meetings where I left unsure of what we accomplished. However, I’ve never left a meeting where I didn’t discover at least one opportunity for collaboration. After I exit the zoom call and before I leave a conference room, I draft and send follow-up emails, eliminating work for later. And honestly, I do this for both agenda-ed and agenda-less meetings.

“Bring your own agenda” is a powerful strategy for setting boundaries around your time, particularly if you’re not in a position to decline agenda-less meetings. The strategy works because you step into your own positive power to make your time together as useful for you (and for your team) as you possibly can.

If this strategy resonates with you, click here to schedule a call to learn more.

Strategies to support work completion habits for students with ADHD.

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

I often read and hear educators talking about how students with ADHD struggle to turn in assignments, or complete their classwork. The truth, however, is that much of how we organize assignments in school is at odds with how students with ADHD organize themselves. Particularly for schools with a Positive Behavior Interventions and Support framework, framing supports from a strengths-based perspective is essential. Below are some strategies that students with ADHD (and their families) often find supportive.

Classroom Strategies

  1. Stop grading homework and focus grades on work completed in class.
  2. Accept late work.
  3. Provide students a print handout of assignments if writing is a challenge. 

School-wide Strategies

  1. Streamline how teachers communicate assignments and grades so that there is only one place students and families need to look.
  2. Schedule lessons / courses involving memorization for the beginning of the day.
  3. Ensure that recess is a required part of every student’s day.

Family Strategies

  1. Advocate for your child. If you know that one of the strategies above will help your child succeed, make sure your child’s teacher or teachers knows.
  2. Use a weekly family calendar to help your child keep track up upcoming due dates and family commitments.
  3. If your school uses an online grade book, make a weekly habit of logging in and checking for missing assignments.

Finally, while ADHD is often looked at as a disability, all students are on a broad and diverse range of normal. Notice the strengths and contributions your students with ADHD bring to school every day. Developing an assets-based perspective changes how (or whether we can) connect with and support students with ADHD.

If you’d like, I’m happy to talk through how these strategies might work in your setting. Click here to schedule a zoom….it’s always free to talk.