Selecting Tier 2 Services

Tier 2 services can be very beneficial when targeting specific students and their specific needs. Supports such as small groups, CICO, flexible seating options, and scheduled breaks can be powerful. However, like all interventions, there are many things to consider to make these responsive services the most effective.

When I am deciding which strategy or strategies to use I consider things such as:

Skill deficit vs. Reinforcement

Some things to consider are: does this student need help to learn the skill or do need positive reinforcement to encourage the use of the skill? A skill deficit is when the student needs explicit instruction about a specific skill. If they can demonstrate the skill but aren’t utilizing it then they may need positive reinforcement to use the skill. Token boards are just one example of a way to reinforce the skill.

If you decide the student needs positive reinforcement, then here are a few more trauma-informed considerations:

Need vs Benefit

The Responsive Counselor said it best during her Tier 2 Small Group training when she said that we could argue that all students need some support at some level, but which students would really benefit from this support in the school setting?

When looking at students that would benefit consider how it is impacting their ability to be successful at school, and your program goals, and revisit your mission and vision statement.

For example, when a parent divorces some students may do well keeping school a normal routine while others may benefit from small group services. I often have teachers report to me family changes (separation, incarceration, etc.) but I always pause before I jump to a service. I may need to gather more information from the family such as their access to outside resources, review the impact of the change, and monitor the student to see what response would be most beneficial.

Support available:

Using a universal screener is a great way to identify students in need of more support. However, once a student has been identified then we have an ethical responsibility to follow up. So I am often considering whether is there enough school staff available to provide support consistently?

Group dynamics:

Many years ago I had a principal ask me to do a lunch bunch with two students that were just oil and water. Worse, one was a manipulative leader and the other was a follower who missed a lot of social cues. Needless to say, I knew it would be a disaster and it was.

It can be hard to say no to an administrator, but when advocating for our students we need to consider will this mix of students hinder or help the group?

“The complexity of interaction is magnified by the fact that messages are sent within counseling groups on a
verbal as well as a nonverbal level. The nature of this communication is crucial to comprehend what is happening within groups. For example, a member who physically or emotionally distances themself from a group can influence how the group operates as clearly as if he or she makes a statement. As groups develop, members frequently switch roles and patterns of interaction”- Samuell Gladding.

Before starting your group consider talking to the potential group members individually, observe them in class, and even consult with teachers on how they work with others.


Does that data support the need for this intervention? Does the data show that the intervention would be beneficial and aligned with student motivation and needs? What are our school-wide goals? How does this intervention align with my action plan and closing the gap plan?

When looking at MTSS it’s important to remember that we are making data-driven decisions. Here are examples of data you can use.


Time is valuable and I think we can all agree there’s not enough of it. So consider how long have previous interventions been utilized? Are we changing course too fast?

We also need to consider whether this is the best use of counselor time?

Remember counselors are tasked with working with all students.

Carolyn Stone reminds us to consider this, especially if we are being written into IEP’s or 504 plans.


Think about what motivates this student? If the student is motivated by attention does this strategy draw upon that? For example, the 2×10 strategy may not be successful for students who are not motivated by adult interaction and attention.

If the student’s behavior is telling us that they are overly stimulated and need a break, then I may consider scheduled breaks.

In essence, the strategy needs to meet the student’s needs – we need to give them what they want.

Tier 1 programs:

Is a Tier 2 service really needed or do we need to take a closer look at Tier 1 programming? If I am getting many similar referrals, before jumping into a small group I evaluate whether the Tier 1 strategy needs fine-tuning. Perhaps we need additional lessons or perhaps we need to review procedures.

Perhaps it’s a Tier 1 classroom management system that needs to be replaced, such as replacing the clip system with a more supportive and positive system.

Appropriate and available:

Would an outside agency be more appropriate and is it available? If the answer is yes, then it may be best to draw in my community resources.

Training and experience?

Do I or the person providing the intervention have the training necessary to be successful? Do I feel comfortable using play therapy strategies or do I need more support? Am I the best person to use social stories or is my special education teacher more experienced and thus would be better at assisting in using them?


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