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Reviewing Core Instruction for Behavior Skills

By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP

Most teachers understand their role in teaching academic content as the central mission of their jobs. Traditionally, schools were expected to teach the three “Rs” of reading, (w)riting, and ‘rithmatic. In recent years, many schools have begun to implement universal (i.e., Tier 1 core) instruction to teach the behaviors expected in schools. These skills include social interactions with peers and adults as well as handling emotions and dealing with conflict. A primary model for such behavior instruction is referred to as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). The PBIS model incorporates three levels (or tiers) of behavior instruction, including Tier 1 universal instruction, Tier 2 secondary instruction, and Tier 3 tertiary instruction. This blog will review the basic features of Tier 1 core behavior instruction as well as FastBridge® tools that can support universal behavior programming.

Tier 1 Universal Behavior Instruction

The primary focus of Tier 1 behavior instruction is defining and teaching students the expected behaviors for all school settings.  

Universal team. The first step in this process is for the school to establish a universal team that includes representatives of all stakeholders. The team should include representatives for students, teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, specialists, classified staff, and administrators. Having broad and equitable representation is important so that those individuals who know the appropriate behaviors can be part of defining and describing them in student-friendly terms. The universal team works together to create behavior definitions for all school settings and then creates teaching and display materials that will be used to prepare students to know and use the correct behaviors in each setting. Behavior expectations are needed for the classroom, hallways, cafeteria, library, gym, playground, bus, and other areas.  

Teaching expected behaviors. Once definitions of all behaviors and teaching materials have been created, the team needs to create a plan for teaching all students what behaviors are expected in each location of the school. There are multiple formats for teaching the expected behaviors and students will learn best when the lessons are provided several times in multiple settings. School-wide assemblies are an excellent forum for initial lessons because they can reach all students at the same time. After general lessons at school-wide assemblies, classroom teachers can provide whole-class lessons that review the lesson content and include practice activities so that students will be able to interact with other students using the skills covered in the lessons. Classroom lessons should be accompanied by lessons in other school settings, including all those settings for which behavior expectations have been defined. Over time, booster lessons about the expected behavior skills should be provided at strategic times and as needed. For example, booster lessons after every major school break help to remind students what is expected across all school settings.

Another important role for the Universal team is to make sure that all building staff understand and can both teach and reinforce the expected behaviors. A good way to support the staff is to present short refresher information about how to teach the expected behaviors at each staff meeting. For staff who do not routinely attend such meetings, having smaller meetings for those with similar duties helps. For example, sessions for classified staff, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and others are important because they play an important role in supporting all students’ implementation of expected behaviors. In addition to teaching expected behaviors, staff will promote their use by providing praise and other forms of reinforcement whenever they see the target behaviors. Praise from adults is one of the most powerful ways to reinforce student use of positive behaviors. Some schools also use additional token reinforcement systems such as tickets or beads for expected behaviors. Tickets or other token reinforcement systems can help to promote both class-wide and school-wide positive behaviors. There are published curricula for school-wide social-emotional behavior instruction and an excellent resource for learning more about school-wide behavior instruction is

Universal Behavior Screening

In order to learn how well school-wide behavior instruction is working, schools can conduct universal behavior screenings. Such screenings can include teacher and student rating scales as well as review of key data such as office discipline referrals (ODR). FastBridge Learning®  offers two behavior screening tools: the SAEBRS and mySAEBRS. SAEBRS stands for Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Reading Scale. The SAEBRS is the teacher version and the mySAEBRS is the student version. The SAEBRS can be used with students in grades K-12 and mySAEBRS can be used by students in grades 2-12. Behavior screening data provides information about student and teacher perceptions of students’ social interactions and academic engagement. Both SAEBRS and mySAEBRS can be used alone but they are more helpful when used together because, for students in grades 2-12, the combined information can show whether student and teacher perceptions are the same or different. In addition, SAEBRS and mySAEBRS scores can be used to identify students’ behavioral strengths and weaknesses and to identify what types of additional instruction should be provided. For example, behavior screening data can be used to develop additional booster sessions and targeted lessons for all students in a class.

Office Discipline Referral (ODR) data provide different information that school-wide teams can use to learn how well the core behavior instruction is working. ODR data are typically compiled from incident reports that accompany any student who is sent to the “office” because of behavior problems in some other school setting. Such ODR can occur due to a student being sent to the office from the classroom for being disruptive, or when one or more students are sent to the office as a result of fighting on the playground. Examining ODR data on a monthly basis will show which students or school settings are associated with the highest and lowest numbers of behavior problems. For example, such data might reveal that a first year teacher sends students to the office twice as often as other teachers. This teacher might benefit from coaching and mentoring by veteran teachers in techniques for classroom behavior management. If a particular location in the building is associated with a higher number of behavior incidents, it might be that additional staff presence in that location when students are present is needed. Or, it might mean that the correct behaviors for that setting need to be re-taught to all students. When examining ODR, school teams are encouraged to review not only the data but check to see if visual reminders about expected behaviors are still in place, and when the skills were last taught.

Behavior Interventions

Most students will learn and use the expected behaviors for each school setting once they have been taught and reviewed regularly. Nonetheless, some students might need additional lessons in order to master these skills. Both Tier 2 (strategic) and Tier 3 (intensive) behavior interventions need to be available in all schools for students who need them.

Tier 2 behavior intervention. These interventions are usually conducted with small groups of students and focus on teaching and practicing the target skills. Although it is possible to create behavior intervention groups that include only those students who need to improve their behaviors, a limitation of this approach is that all of the students in the group will have behavior deficits and there might not be any positive behavior models. Another approach is to create Tier 2 behavior skills groups that include both students with skill deficits and some with prosocial behavior strengths. Such combined groups provide more opportunities for students to see expected behaviors modeled and for students to practice emerging behavior skills. Tier 2 behavior intervention groups are often called “social skills” groups and there are a number of published curriculum materials for such interventions.

Tier 3 behavior intervention. Students who exhibit significant and chronic behavior deficits typically require individualized intervention support. Such intervention can include customized social skills lessons or counseling sessions that address specific challenges such as aggression, anxiety, or depression. These supports can be provided individually or in small groups of students with similar needs. The goal for all interventions is to help the student improve his or her skills to such an extent that less or no intervention is needed.

In prior decades, teachers usually considered their job to encompass teaching basic and advanced academic skills. In recent years, an emerging body of research has shown that when schools teach prosocial behaviors as part of Tier 1 core instruction, student achievement improves and discipline problems decline. The National Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports ( is a technical assistance center that has many free resources that teachers and school teams can use to build and evaluate Tier 1 core behavior instruction. Such instruction begins with defining the expected positive behaviors in each school setting and then teaching them universally to all students through school-wide, classroom, and booster lessons. An additional tool for evaluating core behavior instruction is universal behavior screening. Screening tools include both rating scales and ODR reviews. By combining core instruction with behavior screening, teachers will have the tools necessary to address and improve all students’ school behaviors.

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