Professional Development for Tier 3


Professional Development for Tier 3: How to organize training to implement Tier 3 supports.

In this section we propose an approach for delivering the Professional Development needed to establish Tier 3 supports.  Ideally, all teachers, administrators and related services personnel would receive extensive training in assessment, support plan design, implementation and adaptation of individualized behavior support, etc.  At a minimum there are more targeted competencies that can be associated with different personnel. The following is a proposed approach with three levels of content for (a) all faculty and especially the Tier 1 support team, (b) the Tier 2/3 team, and (c) behavior specialists.

A.  Core components of Tier 3 training

1. Training for all staff (Tier 1 Team)

  • Start with the main idea that Tier 3 supports are defined by being individualized to the academic, behavioral and medical needs of the individual student.  This means that the supports need to be based on formal assessment of student needs, and often will be more intensive than other options. 
  • All faculty need to know how to nominate a student for Tier 3 supports, and how to be a member of a Tier 3 student support team.
  • Tier 1 team members need to know when and how to nominate a student for Tier 3 supports, including the decision rules established for inclusion in Tier 3 supports.
  • Tier 1 team members need to know how to monitor if Tier 3 support systems are being used, and if these supports are being effective.

2. Training for Behavior Specialists/Tier 3 facilitators

  • Knowledgeable about behavioral theory
  • Knowledgeable about and skilled in conducting functional behavioral assessments (note role for functional analysis)
  • Knowledgeable about and skilled in leading a student support team in design of a contextually appropriate AND technically sound behavior support plan
  • Knowledgeable about core features of a support plan that is both technically sound and contextually appropriate
  • Knowledgeable about and skilled in design of, collection of, and use of both fidelity and impact data for individual student supports.

3. Training for Tier 2/3 Team Members

  • Define criterion and process for moving a student from "nominated" to "selected" for Tier 3 supports.
  • Knowledgeable about the function and process for "functional behavioral assessment" (FBA) and the combination of FBA information with academic, and mental health assessment information.
  • Knowledgeable about the critical features of an effective Tier 3 function-based and wraparound support plans
  • Knowledgeable about the roles for members of a student support team.
  • Knowledgeable about the process for interpreting Tier 3 support data.

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B. Designing Professional Development for Tier 3 Supports

Professional development for Tier 3 supports is not a one-time training curriculum, but a process for establishing core foundational content, and then regularly updating and enhancing training in response to new personnel, new research recommendations, and new needs from family and students.  A typical process for Tier 3 support planning may include the following:

1. Establish a Tier 1 Foundation

Establishing and sustaining Tier 3 practices is more likely if a school is already implementing Tier 1 PBIS (and often also implementing Tier 2).  Students, families and staff should have a clear understanding of school-wide behavioral expectations, a regular set of strategies are in place to acknowledge appropriate behavior, consequence systems in used to limit the reward of problem behavior, classrooms are organized to establish regular routines and data are collected and used regularly to guide allocation of resources in the school.
As part of the Tier 1 PBIS orientation, all personnel should be exposed to the multi-tiered support logic.  This logic includes not only an introduction to Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports but clearly defined procedures for nominating a student who may need more intensive support.
In addition, all personnel in the school should be introduced to the idea that a Tier 3 student support team is composed of anyone in the school who interacts regularly with a student who is having challenges.  Being part of an individual student support team may include doing an FBA interview, participating in the design of an individualized plan of support, and actually implementing some elements of that plan.

The process for Tier 1 Professional Development is described in other sections, but typically involves

  • Orientation to the core features and logic of PBIS
  • Tier 1 Team training, which typically includes 3-5 days of distributed training with active coaching and support.  Depending on the entry capacity and size of the school this training may need to be extended across 1 or 2 years.
  • Tier 1 Team implements with full faculty

2. Training for Tier 2/3 Team Members

Many schools operate with a single team that managing both Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports.  The size of the school, however, may argue for a unique Tier 3 team.  Regardless of the organizational structure a small group of individuals is needed to coordinate Tier 3 supports.  This Tier 3 team (a) selects students (who have been nominated by staff, using established criteria) for Tier 3 supports, (b) coordinates collection of assessment (behavioral, academic, mental health) information, (c) monitors design, implementation and management of behavior support plans, and (d) nominate adaptations that are needed to best meet the needs of students and families.
The process for Tier 3 Professional Development typically involves 2-3 days of team training (per each Tier 3 intervention) in the procedures associated with (a) selection, (b) assessment, (c) support plan design, (d) support plan implementation, (e) development and management of individual student support teams, and (f) collection, interpretation and use of Tier 3 data (both fidelity and impact).  Team training that is followed by on-site coaching is most effective.

3. Training for behavior specialists and wraparound facilitators

The design of Tier 3 supports is one of the most highly researched areas of education.  This means that professional development for this content can vary from "introductory" to "extensive." A support plan that is likely to be both implemented with fidelity and effective typically needs to be (a) based on accurate assessment of student preferences, behavior patterns and behavioral functions, (b) consistent with basic principles of human behavior, (c) practically adapted to the social, environmental and organizational context, and (d) guided by on-going collection of both fidelity and impact data.  A Behavior Specialist needs to be trained in:

  • Behavioral theory
  • Functional behavioral assessment
  • Leading a team in using assessment information to design individualized behavior/academic supports.
  • Interpreting the technical adequacy AND contextual fit of a support plan
  • Implementing individualized support plans, including wraparound plans
  • Collection, summary and use of data for decision-making (fidelity and impact)
Professional development for behavior specialists can be extensive.  Most school systems select individuals with prior training (School Psychology, Counseling, Social Work, Behavior Analysis) and experience for these roles.  It is common, however, for schools and districts to provide direct training for behavior specialists on the specific assessment tools and behavior support planning protocol used by the district.  This typically can take the form of senior staff providing either targeted training, or through the application of professional learning communities.  Professional development for behavior specialists is typically an on-going part of district planning.

4. Summary

The design of Professional Development for Tier 3 supports differs from other elements of PBIS implementation in that at least three distinct sets of knowledge/skill need to be established.  Professional Development for Tier 3 includes at a minimum (a) orientation for the full faculty and Tier 1 team, (b) specific training in procedures and management protocol for the Tier 3 team (which may also be the Tier 2/III team), and (c) targeted content support for behavior specialists who will both guide the team-development of behavior support, and coach/support implementation of resulting plans.

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C. Coaching Tier 3 Practices for excellence and sustainability

In order for multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) practices across all three tiers to sustain within an organization, school staff require high quality professional development to guide implementation efforts. As a result, "coaching" is seen as a vehicle to facilitate such efforts (Killion & Harrison, 2006; Sugai & Horner, 2006). The role of the coach includes such activities as assisting schools in setting up tiered intervention supports, facilitating team planning and problem-solving, using data to guide decision-making, evaluating fidelity and outcomes of interventions, proving ongoing professional development and technical assistance to school staff, and assisting leadership with resource allocation. "Coaching" includes supports that are delivered at the student or teacher level and are called "individual/instructional coaching" or at the team level and called "systems" coaching.

1. Instructional coaching can be provided through a variety of methods. One of the most common and highly preferred methods is face-to-face support in the classroom. For some individuals, small group coaching can also be highly effective when participants are engaged in providing similar supports. While face-to-face interaction and direct exposure to the classroom environment can be beneficial in helping coaches to understand the dynamics of the situation and can aid in establishing a collaborative relationship between coach and teacher, this method of coaching is not always an option. In such conditions, remote coaching can occur using technologies that apply internet-based audio-video connections that support real-time observations and feedback.
Instructional coaching generally involves professionals with expertise in a particular area who then work closely to enhance instruction and support practices with the ultimate goal of positively impacting student achievement. With regards to tier 3 support, this expertise involves a basic understanding of function-based behavior assessment and planning, including simple antecedent strategies, teaching strategies and replacement behaviors, as well as consequence strategies. In addition to this content knowledge, an effective coach will also have knowledge of pedagogy and sufficient interpersonal skills to both impart knowledge and work with teachers in refining skills to best fit the classroom and students.  For students with mental health, substance abuse and/or medical needs, coaching may also include ensuring access to highly skilled professionals that can inform the team about effective strategies to integrate into a behavior intervention plan.

Table 7.1 Coach Attributes and Skills

Pedagogical knowledge

Content knowledge

Interpersonal skills

  • Understanding of how students learn
  • Understanding of instructional practices available
  • Understanding of adult learning processes
  • Understanding of the culture of the school, community and family and need for contextual fit
  • Use of function-based behavior assessment and intervention procedures
  • Ability to alter intervention for various developmental levels
  • Ability to identify mental health, substance abuse, medical support issues
  • Communication
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Flexibility
  • Supportiveness
  • Tactfulness
  • Approachability

The ideal coach will have sufficient skills to provide assistance to classrooms in a professional and friendly manner, and have the observational skills and capacity to analyze the current behavior of implementers and the frequency and degree in which it either maintains or diverges from a plan of support. Lastly, the ideal coach will have a general understanding of the culture of the school, classrooms within the school, and the need for contextual fit of interventions in those environments. Table 7 provides an array of attributes and skills of an ideal coach.

2. Systems Coaching: Instructional coaching can be an important factor in ensuring implementation at the classroom level. However, such efforts will have difficulty sustaining without attention to systems level factors. In that effort, coaches can be utilized as systems leaders and change agents at both the instructional level and the organizational level (Fullan & Knight, 2011). Systems coaching is a set of activities that provide dynamic support and facilitation to develop the capacity of school leadership teams to implement multi-tiered systems of support for academics and behavior (March et al., 2012).
While systems coaching requires many of the same skill sets as instructional coaching (pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge, and interpersonal skills), systems coaching focuses problem solving on systems issues versus individual student issues and includes skills that benefit these applications. Such additional skill sets may include: (a) the ability to use various data to solve systemic change issues, (b) facilitation skills for effective team-based collaborative planning and problem-solving, (c) ability to impart knowledge specific to organizational change and innovation content, (d) ability to support behaviors aligned with this innovation, and (e) the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of actions pertaining to systems change.
Individual level and systems level supports need to be addressed concurrently in order for schools to implement multi-tiered systems of support for behavior effectively. Systems coaching allows for instructional coaching to be delivered more effectively and efficiently.  Instructional coaching is necessary to support staff to produce valued academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes for students.

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D. Resources: Tools, videos, presentations, publications, exemplars

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As we continue to improve the Tier 3 resources on, we want to ask each of you if you have case studies, examples, materials or tools that you would like to share on the website.  If you do have materials to share, you can access a form for the submission of your materials at 'Tier 3 Resource Submission.'  Please follow the directions on the submission form to assist us in evaluating whether we can post the material or not. Remember that the OSEP TAC will not post products, materials, etc. that are proprietary or for profit in nature.