Start at Square 1 — Tier 1– to Address Challenging Behavior in PreK

Last month, we introduced the Pyramid Model – an evidence-based approach based in the  Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) framework for young children.

See this handout for full-size visual:

Our main take-away was “don’t flip the pyramid” – in other words, it’s better to implement measures that prevent challenging behavior (Tier 1 & 2 of the Pyramid Model) before spending all of your energy providing intensive help to a few children (Tier 3).

We may all agree with the notion that Tier 1 (building Nurturing and Responsive Relationships and High Quality Supportive Environments) is a good place to start. After all, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” right?

Here, we’ll look at the 8 areas of Tier 1 practices and then highlight 3 common areas of need in classrooms.

What does Tier 1 look like? 8 Practice Areas

See our VPI+ Tier 1 Resources handout for more detail on each area and links to valuable resources.

1-Supportive Communication with Children

2-Adults Work as a Team to Support Children

3-Schedules & Routines

4-Classroom Design

5-Promote Children’s Engagement

6-Teach Behavior Expectations/Rules


8-Providing Directions to Children

Top 3 Common Needs in Tier 1

Let’s take a deeper dive into 3 practice areas that research tells us are typically the greatest needs.

For each area, we’ll share some observable teaching practices, drawn from the CSEFEL Inventory of Practices and other linked resources below.

#1 Common Need: Teach Behavior Expectations/Rules

* Post visuals with 3-5 specific, positively stated rules (e.g., “Gentle hands,” “Walking feet,” “Listening Ears”) – these may correspond to any general expectation (e.g., “Be safe,” “Be respectful”) (see TACSEI Teaching Tools: Classroom Rules PPT)

* Systematically teach classroom rules (with children’s input, demonstration, practice)

* Regularly review expectations/rules– before and after challenging behaviors occur

* Regularly reinforce children who demonstrate these rules/expectations

Video [3:49]: Take a look at this teacher reviewing classroom rules. Note what elements you notice her implementing and what children say/do that indicate her practices are working.

Children Demonstrating Classroom Rules

(source: CSEFEL Module 1)

#2 Common Need: Schedules & Routines

* Create a daily schedule that balances child-led activities (centers, free play) with teacher-led activities (whole group, small group)

* Keep teacher-led activities to under 20 minutes —and shorten further when children’s attention wanes!

* Post and refer regularly to a visual schedule of daily activities at children’s eye level

* Follow a daily schedule with a consistent set of activities with embedded routines—and prepare children for changes

* For children who need individualized support, provide extra cues and visuals (e.g., a cue card, mini picture schedule showing steps to an activity)

(see: VKRP Guide to Using Cues & Visuals with link to TACSEI PPT: Visuals to Print)

(source: CSEFEL Module 1)

#3 Common Need: Supportive Communication with Children

* Give specific praise that describes children’s positive behaviors (see TACSEI: Communication is Key handout)

* Give more attention to positive than challenging behaviors: use a ratio of 5-to-1 Positive to Negative/corrective feedback

* Have extended conversations about children’s interests and ideas

* Join in children’s play to show interest, follow their lead, and offer support

(source: CSEFEL Module 1)

What Can I Do?

#1 Teach and support Tier 1 practices across your workforce, focusing on prevention of, instead of reacting to, challenging behaviors

Use free Pyramid PD resources, starting with CSEFEL Module 1 – which overviews all Tier 1 Practices. This inservice module (with PPT presentation, embedded videos, and supporting materials for trainers and teachers) can be delivered by program staff or a local/hired trainer (reach out to your local T/TAC provider for suggestions).

#2 Assess use of Tier 1 practices using Pyramid observation tools

Fidelity (using practices as intended) is key to success.  Use a good fidelity tool to assess the important, but not-so-obvious, distinctions among levels of implementing practices as intended (e.g., for Teaching Behavior Expectations: posting rules is important, but reviewing them consistently is necessary for children to improve behavior).  Two Teaching Pyramid fidelity measures are the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (an in-depth, validated measure for purchase; see TPOT-At-A-Glance for overview) and the TPOT-Short Form (free, less in-depth, unvalidated version found on p. 15-16 of this CECMHC Observation Toolkit).

#3 Have teachers self-assess their practices and offer coaching support to teachers to strengthen selected practices

Teachers should self-assess their strengths and needs (the CSEFEL Inventory of Practices is designed for this) as well as being observed for fidelity. Ongoing coaching support using fidelity observations and teachers’ self-assessments has been demonstrated effective for promoting better social-emotional outcomes and reduced challenging behaviors! 

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