Reimagining Tier Two Interventions in School Counseling

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Reimagining Tier Two Interventions in School Counseling

Written by: Jessica Sullivan

May 24, 2024

As a school counselor, when you are asked about tier two interventions, do you automatically think of small groups? It’s true that small group counseling is often an effective intervention for teaching new skills to multiple students at a time. Small groups can also foster a sense of belonging and connection amongst students. But this strategy also comes with logistical barriers that can prevent school counselors from forming and maintaining small groups. In this post we will identify key components of multi tiered, multi domain, systems of support for school counselors, with an emphasis on tier 2 interventions. We will also explore some tier 2 strategies other than small groups that counselors can implement in their schools.

Tiered interventions are a critical piece of any school counseling program. Whether elementary, middle, or high school, identifying students who are in need of additional support and then providing those supports, ensures all students have opportunities to experience success. School teams can collaborate to review tier one data to determine which students or groups of students would benefit from more focused interventions. These interventions, when developed based on root causes and on a consistent basis, can often provide the necessary support to prevent students from needing additional tier three interventions.

“Identifying students who are in need of additional support and then providing those supports, ensures all students have opportunities to experience success.”

Behavior/Concern Tree Graphic.One barrier to implementing tier 2 interventions is knowing which students would benefit from this level of support. Your school data can be used to help identify which students are struggling with tier one supports alone, and would benefit from targeted interventions. Data sources vary greatly from school to school, but there are some common data sources that most schools have which include: Attendance, Behavior/Discipline, and Academic/Achievement data. These data sources can show which students have a deficiency in one or more areas, if there has been a missed opportunity for a particular student group, or if a student group may be disproportionately represented in your data (Hatch & Hartline, 2021). As school counselors you also work closely with teachers and families and these referral sources can be considered as well. This planning tool from Hatching Results can be used as a reference for your school team. 

Once you have narrowed down which students have a demonstrated need, the next step is to determine the root cause. The fundamental reason for a persistent problem or behavior is the root cause. You may have multiple students presenting with the same observable behaviors, but the reason or cause of those behaviors may differ. If you target the behaviors without considering the cause, you may find that your interventions are unsuccessful (Hatch & Hartline, 2021). This can be frustrating for you, the students, and their teachers. To get to the root cause of an issue, your team should collaborate to determine the “why” of the student’s noticeable behaviors (Hatch & Hartline, 2021). This can be accomplished by gathering input from teachers, the child’s family, or by talking directly with the student. You will also want to consider the child’s development, cultural context, or the impact of their environment.

Root Causes Tree Graphic.

This graphic illustrates how the observable behavior of students (failing geometry grades)  is only one piece of the puzzle. If educators were to put the same intervention in place for all students, they may not be addressing the root cause of the students’ failing grades, which could be for a variety of reasons (Hatch & Hartline, 2021). In this example, we find that the root cause of the failing grades ranges from difficulty with the content, to lagging study skills, to barriers such as attendance and social emotional concerns. If the intervention chosen was to have all students with failing grades attend a study skills workshop, it would likely only benefit one portion of the group. 

Once you have identified students in need of additional support and the root cause of the concern, next you will need to determine which intervention strategy to implement. This can be an overwhelming task! There are resources that may be beneficial in narrowing down interventions strategies to try. Direct services are those that are provided directly with students. Indirect services are additional supports that can be put into place to assist students.

Additionally, the following interventions highlight 3 strategies that can be implemented at all levels and for multiple domains. 

Intervention Strategy: Workshops 

Domain: Social emotional, academic, college/career

Level: All

Student Need: Skill Deficiency, Missed Opportunity

Duration: 1-3 occurrences 

Overview: Workshops are an intervention strategy that allows participants to explore topics and practical application of skills. They can be created based on social emotional, academic, or college and career needs. One key benefit of workshops is that it allows the school counselor  to provide information and access to resources to many students at one time. Students can be pulled from a variety of classrooms or grade levels depending on needs.

Example: All 5th grade students are taught a lesson on organizational skills. Students complete an exit ticket at the end of the lesson to rate their skills and knowledge level. An organizational workshop is then held with students whose exit ticket indicates they need additional supports in this area.

Intervention Strategy: Check In Check Out

Domain: Social emotional

Level: All levels

Duration: Dependent on needs/goals

Overview: Check In Check Out (CICO) is an intervention strategy to use when students are seeking attention. It provides an opportunity for the student and a supportive adult to work together to improve the student’s behavior. The adult provides predictable opportunities to teach behavior expectations and provide positive reinforcement. Ideally, the student would “check in” each day with their supportive adult. Classroom teachers would provide reinforcement in the classroom setting throughout the day, and the student would “check out” at the end of the day with their supportive adult. Some benefits to CICO include a decrease in disruptive behaviors and discipline referrals, while reinforcing school wide PBIS expectations. Another positive to this strategy is that there are many staff members who can serve as the supportive adult, outside of the school counselor. With some guidance from the MTSS team, most adults working in schools can implement CICO. 

Example: At an MTSS meeting, a third grade teacher discusses that one of her students has had some disruptions at home and is acting out behaviorally at school. The group determines the student would benefit from an additional adult connection at school. The student loves art and the art teacher is trained in Check In Check Out. She begins meeting with the student regularly to increase his sense of belonging at school and to address the behavior goals the MTSS committee created based on the observable behaviors of the student. 

For more information, Panorama Education has a detailed guide to CICO.

Intervention Strategy: Attendance Meetings

Domain: Academic, social emotional

Level: All

Student Need: Skill Deficiency, Student Group Representation 

Duration: Dependent on need/goals

Overview: Attendance meetings are an intervention strategy that can be used with students who are struggling to get to school each day. There are many factors that contribute to absenteeism, but meeting regularly with these students can help determine barriers to them coming to school. Counselors can then work collaboratively with students and families to increase the student’s attendance. Root cause analysis is especially important with attendance concerns and this often requires an initial meeting one-on-one with the student to determine contributing factors to their absenteeism. Some counselors may then choose to meet in a small group with students who have similar root causes. 

Example: Counselor meets one-on-one with a 9th grader who has been flagged for her chronic absenteeism during quarter one. The counselor completes a pre-intervention survey to gather data on the root cause of the student’s absences. Through this survey and a conversation with the student, the counselor finds the student is struggling with math concepts and is getting so behind in class that she is overwhelmed and is avoiding school altogether. The counselor arranges to meet with the teacher to discuss the concerns and provide tutoring resources for the student.

For more information, Attendance Works has resources for all levels


As school counselors we are continuously looking for effective interventions to help students find success. School teams can work together to identify students in need of additional support, root causes for these needs, and interventions that can be implemented to teach replacement behaviors, reinforce skills, and promote supportive relationships with students and staff. Meeting student needs truly is a team effort and a collaborative approach to MTSS can result in positive gains in student achievement, attendance, and behavior management.


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  • Jessica Sullivan

    Jessica Sullivan has been a school counselor working with upper elementary students for 9 years after previously working as a classroom teacher for 4 years. Jessica serves on the social emotional learning coordinator committee as well as the school counselor leadership team within her district. She is also a member of the Comprehensive School Counseling Strategic Priority Team for Counselor Connect. In 2018 Jessica's school was awarded Gold Star Recognition for their school counseling program. Jessica loves the field of school counseling and enjoys working with other practitioners to help one another learn, grow, and strengthen their school counseling programs.

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