Supporting Teachers to Implement Differentiated Behavior Supports in the Classroom


Dr. Clay Cook

Part Two of Differentiated Behavior Supports prior to Tier 2 


This is the second part of our “Differentiated Behavior Supports prior to Tier 2” blog. Check out part one!

Differentiated behavior supports have 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. 

Differentiated 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.  
When supporting teachers to engage in problem-solving to differentiate behavior supports, we use a standard four-step problem-solving model: 

  1. Identify the problem/need/concern
  2. Analyze why the problem is happening
  3. Develop and implement a plan
  4. Evaluate fidelity and student response using data. 

Step 2, problem analysis, is critical to generating effective solutions that target addressing the problem and meeting the student’s needs. We use the following two questions to frame the problem analysis: 

  1. What is missing from the classroom environment that the student needs and the teacher has control over to implement?
  2. What is being implemented in the classroom environment that the student may need a higher dosage/intensity of to address the identified problem? 

In addition to the framing questions, teachers need rubrics they can use to assess what might be missing or what the student may need more of. Rubrics grounded in applied behavior analysis and that involve teachers sifting through Proactive/Preventive Strategies, Teaching Strategies, and Consequent Strategies are particularly helpful. Download a rubric to use below!

The aim of these rubrics is for teachers to identify specific practices that they have control over implementing that they can use to address the student’s SEB needs. Here is a list of strategies that fall under the three categories: 


  • Precorrection
  • Positive Greetings
  • Modifying aspects of curriculum or instruction
    • Interspersing choice
    • Instructional level
  • Intentional positive, welcoming greetings
  • Neutralizing routine to focus and/or calm down prior to starting class
  • Self-monitoring
  • Find time to cultivate a relationship
  • Mystery motivator 
  • Behavioral contract to establish if-then contingency
  • Visual cueing system
  • Prompts
  • Banking time to build a relationship


  • Expected prerequisite behaviors/skills to meet the social and academic demands of the classroom environment
    • Behavioral expectations to be successful in class
    • Academic skills necessary to participate/engage in the work
  • Replacement behavior
    • A more acceptable way for the student to get needs met that serves the same function as the problem behavior 
    • Teach how to request a break to self-sooth or re-focus


  • Reinforce expected behavior or use of replacement behaviors to increase motivation to engage in expected behavior
    • Access to privileges, social activities, or rewards
    • Social recognition through effective praise
  • Goal setting and provide performance-based feedback
  • Collaborative problem-solving meeting following incident of problem behavior
  • Progressively and empathically responding to problem behavior
    • PROMPT approach, including in-class disciplinary
  • Restore relationship through skillful communication that repairs potential harm due to a negative interaction

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.


Click below to download a FREE Rubric to use


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