Differentiated Behavior Supports Prior to Tier 2


Dr. Clay Cook

Part One of Differentiated Behavior Supports prior to Tier 2 


This is the first part of our “Differentiated Behavior Supports prior to Tier 2” blog.

One thing educators can guarantee when they open up the classroom door to students is that they will get variability. They will get variability in demographic characteristics, prerequisite skills for learning, motivation, behavior—you name it. Given this variability, not all students will have the same level of need. Teachers must differentiate supports based on the level of student need. In fact, differentiation has been shown to be an effective set of educational practices that seek to create a better fit between the learning environment and student needs. When teachers are able to create a person-environment fit, problems are minimized and performance is increased.  

In any given classroom, there will be students who exhibit social, emotional, and behavioral (SEB) challenges that interfere with their own and/or other students’ ability to learn. For these students, the current classroom practices are insufficient to create a “goodness of fit” that enables the student to behave and perform well in class. It is incumbent upon school systems to support teachers to learn feasible and effective practices they can adapt and differentiate in order to meet the needs of students who are struggling socially, emotionally, and/or behaviorally. 

Too often students with SEB needs never receive proper differentiated supports before they are recommended to a team for an intervention or referred for a special education evaluation. In fact, differentiated behavior supports are part of Tier 1 and represent a problem-solving process that teachers are supported to engage in to identify, plan, and deliver specific solutions that aim to address the student’s SEB needs.  

How can we implement differentiated behavior supports as part of Tier 1?

Differentiating behavior supports prior to Tier 2 is a process or system that schools can put in place to facilitate classroom-level problem-solving as part of Tier 1. There are a variety of ways schools can integrate this process into routine practice: 

  1. dedicate a monthly professional learning community meeting among teachers that has the goal and structure to develop a differentiation plan for students for whom they are experiencing SEB challenges, 
  2. host a students-of-concern meeting where teachers collaborate with the principal or other administrators and support staff to develop a differentiation plan they will deliver for a student with SEB needs, 
  3. protect a portion of lesson planning/prep time to differentiating supports for students with SEB needs.

In addition to protecting the time for differentiation plans to be developed, it is critical for teachers to understand that they own and are responsible for this problem-solving process. Teachers can access support and feedback from their colleagues, but they ultimately own implementation of the differentiation plan. 


What if students don’t respond to differentiated behavior supports as part of Tier 1?

Teachers also need to understand that there are students who may not respond to their efforts to provide differentiated supports. For these students, problem-solving processes are owned by a team. When it comes to Tier 2 and 3 supports, a team is responsible for the problem-solving process that seeks to:

  1. Match students to precise and appropriate interventions
  2. Map out a plan to ensure the intervention is delivered with fidelity
  3. Gather data to monitor the fidelity of the intervention and student’s response to the intervention
  4. Meet as a team to make a data-based decision (e.g., maintain, change intervention, increase goal, improve fidelity). 

Thus, while teachers are mainly responsible for Tier 1 and problem-solving to differentiate supports for struggling students, a team is responsible for Tier 2 and 3 and engaging in problem-solving processes to select, deliver, and monitor the impact of more intensive interventions.

Read Part 2: Supporting Teachers to Implement Differentiated Behavior Supports in the Classroom 


About the Author: Dr. Clay Cook is the John and Nancy Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing at the University of Minnesota and Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program. He has extensive research and practical experiences involving the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to promote children’s social, emotional and behavioral wellbeing as the foundation for academic and life success.

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