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:

No more self-less self-care.

-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

On 18 November 2022, 3:00-4:30 pm (Arizona Time), I’ll lead a session of one of our most popular online workshops: Self-care for Caring Professionals. As always, we’ll explore self-care strategies through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness. However, what’s new in this workshop is how we’ll confront what I’m calling “Self-less self-care.”

“Self-less self-care” is dangerous.

“Self-less self-care” is dangerous. Self-care advocates often use the airplane oxygen mask metaphor, saying, “You need to put on your mask before helping others.” It’s time to stop using this metaphor. Persuading people to care for themselves so they can put more effort into others encourages caring professionals to put obstacles between themselves and their valid (and often pressing) needs.

We need air to live. We don’t need to explain why or ask permission to breathe. Yet, many times, leaders of caring organizations will contact me for self-care workshops hoping that I’ll help teachers, healthcare providers, or nonprofit staff be happier so that work can demand more and more. We can’t root self-care in selfishness because self-care is not selfish.

Self-care is not selfish.

The remedy for “self-less self-care” is not selfishness. Selfish people meet their needs without considering how their actions affect others. Self-caring people, however, understand that empathy happens from the inside out. 

As caring professionals, we constantly confront circumstances where helping others risks harming ourselves. Yet, too often, we create short-term workarounds to manage prolonged stress. ‘Self-less self-care’ may feel effective for a short time. However, continuing to practice ‘self-less self-care’ harms us long-term and models self-destructive behaviors we want our students, families, and clients to avoid.

Join us!

All participants in Self-care for Caring Professionals receive the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Deck. We use the deck to consider eight opportunities to be happy and healthy, and also explore how attending to our Eight Dimensions of Wellness supports healthy boundaries. The workshop is $37 per person. If you’re registering on your own and want a scholarship, email me and let me know. 

Three reasons why individualized behavior support plans fail.

-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director, TGS Educational Consulting

When schools develop school-wide systems to meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs (usually, but not always, within a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports framework), they typically develop fewer individualized behavior support plans. Nevertheless, when students need extra love and support to be their best, knowing how to create an Individualized Behavior Support Plan is essential. However, because Individualized Behavior Support Plans require considerable staff time, effort, and resources, effective leaders take the time to ensure that the supports we put in place are likely to succeed. Individualized Behavior Support Plans fail when they are too big, too shallow, or written by a behavior expert.

Too big.

The quickest way to ensure that a Behavior Support Plan fails is to make it too big. A Behavior Support Plan is too big when the plan requires more than the team can do. Often, ideas that seemed good at the meeting are more challenging to maintain in real life. Signs that your Behavior Support Plan might be too big are:

  • Collecting, tracking, and reporting more than one new data point.
  • Reassigning or hiring personnel.
  • Expecting youth to address more than one issue at a time.
  • Purchasing resources out of personal funds.

Too shallow.

Another way to prevent a Behavior Support Plan from succeeding is to create one that is too shallow. A Behavior Support Plan is too shallow when the team focuses only on what triggers behavior without considering all aspects of wellness. Signs that your Behavior Support Plan might be too shallow are:

  • The plan only supports behavior without considering the youth’s entire social, emotional, and academic well-being.
  • Youth and family are not co-creating the plan with the school team.
  • The plan explains what the youth will do in great detail, with minimal explanation of what school adults, family, and outside providers will do.

Written by a behavior expert.

I routinely work with schools to implement Individualized Behavior Support Plans. While I am always happy to support their local team with ideas, I will only write one with the entire team’s input, including youth and family. While an outside expert can provide valuable perspective, we will always need considerable input from the site-based team to create anything worthwhile. Signs that a behavior expert wrote the plan are:

  • The plan contains obvious strategies that the school has already tried. 
  • Strategies may not match the team’s knowledge about the youth, family, and school setting.
  • The plan expects school personnel to implement practices for which they’ve never received any training.

In my experience, Individualized Behavior Support Plans fail when they are too big, too shallow, or written by a behavior expert. The best way to address these issues is to do the opposite. The next time your team meets to create an Individualized Behavior Support Plan, strive to make the plan small enough to implement well, deeper than just the behavior we’d like changed, and written by the real experts: the youth, family, and school staff who are providing support. When outside help is necessary, get the most value from their expertise by developing systems and ideas that make sense for you. 

Finally, you’ll find resources for Individualized Behavior Support Planning throughout the blog and at our next PBIS webinar on the 26th of October. Click here for more information and to register.

Free Webinar: Individual Behavior Support Plan Template

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

While most behavior support plans include strategies for preventing unexpected behavior, few seriously consider the root causes of challenging behaviors outside of immediate triggers. Instead, TGS’ Individual Behavior Support Plan Template places student wellness first and makes every opportunity available to meet students’ needs.

On 26 October 2022 at 3 pm MST, I’ll walk through the Individual Behavior Support Plan Template. We’ll work together to explore how this way of thinking is more effective and often requires less energy and resources from school staff.

Click here to register for our next free PBIS webinar, and email me your questions at

If you register, you’ll want to download the template here, and the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Cards here.

Reflective CICO

By Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois

Suppose a youth needing support for unexpected behaviors could receive frequent brief doses of positive, values-centered feedback that pre-teaches expectations at regularly scheduled intervals. What would we expect to happen?

The obvious outcome would be a dramatic reduction in unexpected behavior. The goal of Check-in/Check-out (CICO), a standard behavior intervention in Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, has always been to provide students with adult connection and support. 

Curiously, the data that schools usually track is typically student-facing. While trainers frequently emphasize that “the intervention is the conversation, not the form,” in practice, the form tends to dominate. The student carries a point card with them throughout the day (or, more often, loses it), and teachers rate their behavior against how well they conform to school values. 

PBIS must better align CICO systems, data, and practices, and Reflective CICO is the best way to do this. Instead of tracking student behavior (which we do anyway with office referrals), we need to track that critical elements of CICO conversations occur as scheduled and as trained. For CICO to work, teacher feedback must be:

  • Values-centered
  • Positive
  • Relevant to the next setting area, and
  • Brief

Values-centered feedback connects to established school norms. For instance, if “trustworthy” is a school norm, a teacher might say, “You were trustworthy when you asked permission to go to the nurse, and you came back as soon as you were done.” For more examples of values-centered feedback, click here.

Positive means that we refrain from describing what not to do. Instead, we explain how a student might honor school values more fully. Such feedback often sounds like this: “It was tricky for me to help your group when you were interrupting your peers. It’s helpful when you show them respect by letting them finish before asking your question.” We can give positive feedback, even when students need to grow. This happens when we go beyond explaining the problem by providing ideas for a solution.

Feedback for students should be as relevant to where they are going as to where they have been. Cueing students to values essential to the next part of the day helps students move beyond any issues of the last hour towards success in the next. Sometimes, I’ll hear teachers say, “You’re about to go to Social Studies, and being responsible by following directions is very important to Mr. Brigham. Keep your eyes on him, and I know you’ll have a great class!”

Finally, CICO sings when interactions are brief. The longer we talk, the more cumbersome CICO becomes, especially when we have such short transitions between subjects and periods. Aim for 30 seconds or less, which seems to be 2-3 sentences.

You can download a Reflective CICO point card below and start as soon as you’re ready. This card is CICO-SWIS compatible (talk to your facilitator about how to do this). By keeping the data teacher-facing, we eliminate several common problems with traditional CICO data. No more lost forms, students refusing to take them, or conversations that focus more on points than on the good we want to see in our students.

If you have questions about implementing this more manageable, more effective version of CICO, email me and let’s talk! 

Use your words.

Positive feedback begins with positive, accurate words.

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

Since much of my work is helping schools implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, teams often want to know how best to recognize students for living school values out loud. Thankfully, the best way to recognize students for positive behavior is to use words. Often, the words sound like this:

“Thank you for being compassionate by including new friends in your game!”

I recommend using words because they cost nothing and matter more than anything.

However, many schools I work with want to build a more comprehensive recognition system. Some pay external vendors to set up digital stores and track digital points. Others create forms where teachers type positive news, and a beautiful certificate gets emailed to families automatically. Most use a simple ticket or token system without a store but may host whole-school celebrations when the school reaches a particular goal. 

And honestly, while all of the incentives and reward systems might add some fun for students for a time, nothing we do to recognize the good our students bring to school will ever matter more than our words. Here are some examples of excellent positive feedback I hear when I’m in classrooms:

  • You were inquisitive when you asked [another student] to tell you more about what they were saying.”
  • I thought I would have to put all these computers away by myself, and then you came over and helped me. That was kind.
  • I know you are always safe by walking, and I’m going to say thank you every day because it helps everyone remember to look out for each other.
  • I remember you forgot your homework yesterday and felt a bit stressed about it, and then you were responsible by using your time wisely in class. You’re doing great!
  • You were brave when you respectfully but firmly stepped in when a classmate made a sexist comment in class. That’s what allies do.

It’s not about things.

The key to recognizing student behavior isn’t the tangible or intangible ‘things.’ After all, even an intangible bribe is still a bribe. What matters most are our words. Before spending any time designing how many tickets earn extra recess or whether or not to have a pizza party, think about your school values and write out a few examples of what you’d like to be able to say to students when they live a value out loud. Having the words in our heads ahead of time makes them come out easier and more authentically when the moment is right.

To be clear, I love a good pizza party, especially if the principal can supervise a grade or two while the kids eat and watch a movie. Let’s have fun and give teachers a break too! But, we don’t need to tie these joyful moments to behavior. Instead, recognize positive behavior with words. Celebrate whenever you’d like and however kids like. And if you’re not sure, ask them.

Working smarter.

by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.  

Successful initiatives begin with a shared understanding of what the team is doing, who the work is for, and what’s supposed to happen when we get it right. Sometimes, leaders assume that everyone understands what’s going on. The best, however, take no chances. Recently, Fatih Karatas, Chief Executive Officer at Sonoran Schools, sat down with me and his leadership team to list all initiatives and then identify the audience, responsibility, and outcome for each.

First, we brainstormed initiatives. We defined “initiatives” as anything Sonoran Schools was doing that was not yet a part of their automatic, unprompted, and systematic practice. Taking attendance in their school information system, for example, would not be an initiative, because everyone knows how to take attendance and does so every day. However, the team identified several initiatives that were important to the organization, but were not yet part of routine, daily practice:

Next, we identified who was responsible for each initiative. When I lead this process, the person ‘responsible’ is the person who is paid to ensure the initiative is done well. Whether the project is 1% or 100% of a position, without leadership, initiatives fail. Often, teams note that responsibilities are shared or duplicated, leading to fruitful discussions about how best to allocate limited leadership time.

After we agreed on who was principally in charge of each initiative, we identified each project’s audience. The audience for an initiative is the group whose practice or behavior must change. For example, while the Director of Student Conduct and Safety is responsible for PBIS, the district-level audience for the work are the principals and deans who must implement PBIS systems and practices.

Finally, we outlined outcomes for each initiative. We know our outcomes are correct when they describe what happens when we get it right. For PBIS, we decided the outcome would be that every site has implemented effective systems, practices, and data strategies to support positive behavioral outcomes for students. 

While aligning initiatives this way clearly supported the team, what matters most is what happens next. Now that each initiative has a clear leader, audience, and outcome, Sonoran Schools is going to develop outcomes and key results to guide daily practice. I’ll share more here when we’re done!

Note: Other versions of the Working Smarter Matrix are available all over the internet. The one that I use is below.

Free webinar: Getting Started with Check-in / Check-out (CICO) with Dr. Tim Grivois

by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

I’m excited to announce the first in a bi-weekly series of free webinars on behavioral supports happening every Wednesday at 3:00 pm (MST) on zoom.

Our first webinar, Getting started with Check-in / Check-out (CICO), will be on 28 September. This session is for schools that have already implemented school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Support. Often, students need a little extra love to be their best in school. CICO is an excellent framework for providing these students with positive adult attention and connection. With CICO, your school can front-load the love and support for students who need it most.

Participants will learn ‘classic’ CICO as well as a version that refocuses reflection on adult supports and away from student unexpected behavior. Both can work, and both are easy to start.

Join us and learn what CICO is and how to get started. Click here to register: