All posts by Kerry Belodoff

1.4: Implement and use appropriate teacher-child ratios

Teacher-child ratio icon

Appropriate teacher-child ratios are one of the main aspects of a high-quality early childhood program. Studies show that lower class sizes and smaller teacher-child ratios may improve child outcomes, help reduce behavior problems, lower rates of special education placements, reduce teacher stress, and improve the teacher’s experience. Recent data also suggest that children of color are more likely than White children to be taught in preschools with teacher-child ratios that are too high. This lowers program quality and the quality of the teacher’s relationship with his or her children. Classrooms with higher teacher-child ratios are more likely to report expulsions and suspensions in state preschool programs. According to the National Prekindergarten Study, 12.7% of teachers with a classroom ratio of 12:1 or higher reported one of their children being expelled, compared with 7.7% of teachers with a classroom ratio of 8:1. Appropriate teacher-child ratios can promote stronger teacher-child relationships, improve child outcomes, and enhance the overall experience for both the teacher and children.

How do I do this?

Collect Data. Do you know what your class size data look like? Start by collecting data around your program’s class sizes and calculate a teacher-child ratio. Next, collect data around the number of suspensions and expulsions in your program, broken down by teacher-child ratio. How does your program’s ratio compare with your state’s recommendations or requirements? How does your program’s ratio compare with those recommended by NAEYC or the 2016 Head Start Program Performance Standards (see below)?

NAEYC Teacher-Child Ratios within the Group Size Chart

Head Start Program Performance Standards on Teacher-Child Ratios

Program Option
Age of Children
Group Size
Adult/Child Ratio/Case Load
Center Based 0-3 years 8 1 Teacher for every 4 children 1302.21(b)(2)
Center Based 4-5 years 17-20 children, with a maximum of 20 children enrolled in any one class. 2 paid staff people per class – Teacher and Teacher Aide, or Two Teachers. 1302.21(b)(3)(4)
  3 years 15-17 children, with a maximum of 17 children enrolled in any one class.    
  3 years 13-15 children. With a maximum of 15 children    
Home Based 0-5 years old Individual Family Home visit – One home visit per week that is at minimum 1.5 hour
Provide, at minimum, 22 group solicitation activities over the course of the year
Case Load of 10-12 children with a maximum of 12 1302.22(c)
Family Childcare 0-5 years With one child care provider: Maximum group size is 6 children with no more than 2 children under the age of 2. Child Care Provider’s own children under the age of 6 must be counted in the ratio when they are home 1302.23(b)
  Infants and toddlers One child care provider may care for 4 infants and toddlers with no more than 2 under the age of 18 months.    

Use the Data to Move Forward. Use these data to help assess your program’s needs and areas for improvement. Using the data you collected, consider the following questions provided by New York City’s Department of Education. These questions can help guide your next steps toward implementing a better teacher-child ratio. (The full article and list of questions can be found in the memo.)

  • Where can I target class size reduction or other personalization efforts to impact the highest need populations?
  • How can I optimize my budget to achieve class size reduction?
  • How will class size reduction impact my staffing plan?
  • How can I use my current space to open additional classes?
  • Would creative scheduling of staff and space allow me to reduce class size or teacher-to-child ratio?
  • What kinds of professional development/support will my staff need to ensure that children receive the full instructional benefits of reduced class sizes?
  • If I plan to reduce my class sizes, how can I ensure that my smaller class sizes will be preserved in light of enrollment and facilities policies?

Taking gradual steps toward reducing class size will help keep cost increases small while promoting better child outcomes and teacher-child relationships. These data may also be used by public preschool programs and policy makers to advocate for more resources on a district, state, or national level.

Weigh the Costs and Benefits. Although there are costs that come with class size reduction, some of those added costs may be offset by savings that can be made from reducing teacher-child ratios. For example, staff turnover can be lowered when teacher-child ratios are smaller and classrooms more manageable. This reduction in turnover could reduce the costs associated with hiring and training of new staff members. Less supervision may also be required for teachers in smaller classes.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources to reduce teacher-child ratios.
Solutions: Although there is no set cost for class size reduction, many school programs may have difficulty finding the necessary resources. Parent volunteers and student teachers or interns may also be able to serve as aides in classrooms and offer additional support to providers/teachers.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • Want to learn more on the benefits of small classroom size and low teacher-child ratios? Read Class Size: What’s the Best Fit? by Steven Barnett, Karen Schulman, and Rima Shore, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
  • Curious about the return on the investment in reducing class size? Read the policy brief by the NEA Education Policy and Practice Department.
  • Need a list of guiding questions to help your program plan for class size reduction? Check out a memo written by New York City’s Department of Education.
  • Want to know what is the recommended ratio for your program? Take a look at the Teacher-Child Ratios suggested by NAEYC or 2016 Head Start Program Performance Standards.


Barnett, Steve., Schulman, Karen., and Shore, Rima. (2004). Class Size: What’s the Best Fit? National Institute for Early Education Research, 9, 1-12. Retrieved from

FCD Policy Brief Series, (3), 1-8. Retrieved from

Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

Howes, Carollee and Robert Pianta. (2005). Features of Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Classrooms, and Teachers: Do They Predict Observed Classroom Quality and Child-Teacher Interactions? Applied Developmental Science, 9(3), 144-159. Retrieved from

NEA. (2008). Class Size Reduction: A Proven Reform Strategy. NEA Education Policy and Practice Department. Retrieved from

Rashid, H. M. (2009). From brilliant baby to child placed at risk: The perilous path of African American boys in early childhood education. The Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 347-358,363. Retrieved from

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from

Have questions? Want to provide feedback?

Contact us

1.5: Provide reasonable provider/teacher work hours with breaks

Teacher work hours icon

Early childhood providers/teachers are among the most important people in the social, emotional, and academic development of our young children. The average workday of an early childhood provider/teacher can include many responsibilities: providing direct child care, completing administrative tasks, communicating with parents and guardians, and planning lessons. Providers/teachers may have little to no downtime during their workday. Interviews and surveys of providers/teachers reveal that time pressures are among the most common causes of stress. In a 2012 study, nearly all providers/teachers surveyed reported stress due to the time demands of teaching. The stress caused by time constraints can hinder a provider/teacher’s sense of control over his or her classroom and hinder his or her emotional stability. A study of state-funded preschools found that teachers who report elevated levels of job stress are more likely to suspend or expel children than teachers who report average or low stress.

In the Joint Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policy in Early Childhood Settings, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recommend that childhood programs “promote teacher health and wellness and ensure that teachers work reasonable hours with breaks.” By allowing providers/teachers to have breaks and time away from the children, teachers may be able to better manage their stress and strengthen the quality of their relationships with their children.

How do I do this?

Have providers/teachers journal their time spent. Providers/teachers can record the time they spend throughout the day and share this record with the administrator or program. Ask them to record specifically the times when they have breaks during the day, if any, and the points when they feel the most stressed. Teachers can use the day planner guide provided by the Virtual Lab School to help record their thoughts, challenges, and experiences for all of their daily activities.

Evaluate the program’s daily schedule. Program directors and providers/teachers can take a critical look at their existing schedule. Use your program’s answers to the day planner guide to help you evaluate the schedule. What do their responses reveal? Program directors and providers/teachers can take a critical look at their existing schedule. Are there numerous times of transition? Do the times of transition correspond with when teachers feel most stressed? Does the schedule allow for any reasonable breaks for the providers/teachers? Determine whether there may be ways for the schedule to be adjusted to allow for brief breaks for the teachers throughout the day and fewer transitions.

Adjust classroom schedule. On the basis of the providers’/teachers’ and director’s evaluation of the schedule, make the necessary changes to the schedule that will best suit the children’s and providers’/teachers’ needs.

Allow time for other responsibilities. Incorporate intentional time into the schedule for teachers to complete administrative and other tasks outside of direct child care responsibilities. Providing opportunities where teachers can complete more of their responsibilities during work hours can reduce the amount of work spent at home and help reduce stress. Take advantage of staff meetings to have providers/teachers share their approaches to create the sense of a support group and professional development among staff.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My program has difficulty finding time for staff to take breaks away from children because of our limited resources and staffing shortages.
Solution: For programs located in the same building as an elementary school, other trained and qualified instructors may be able to help provide additional support for those preschool teachers. Parent volunteers, student teachers or interns, and even nonprofit providers may also be able to help monitor preschool classrooms and offer additional support to providers/teachers.

Potential Barrier: We are a very small program and do not have additional staff to support breaks.
Solution: Consider investing in professional development or in-service days for staff so they get a break. You could also use trained volunteers to help allow for provider/teacher breaks and time management throughout the day. To do this, you could explore partnering with a local college to find early childhood education student interns.

  • Check out the list of resources created by the University of California at Los Angeles to help you initiate a volunteer program in your program or school.
  • Take a look at the sample schedule below to see how the lead teacher, a teacher aide, and volunteers can work together to staff an entire preschool day and allow for teacher breaks.


Where do I go for more resources?

  • Supportive Environmental Quality Underlying Adult Learning (SEQUAL) is a multipurpose tool designed to help early childhood programs examine and improve the workplace environments for their teaching staff. The tool can be used by programs to assess what areas of the workplace environment are supporting best practices and what areas are hindering best practices.
  • Check out the list of resources created by the University of California at Los Angeles to help you initiate a volunteer program in your program or school.
  • Children are more likely to engage in challenging behavior during times of transition when they are moving from one activity to another. Transition times can often be stressful experiences for teachers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests that adjusting the schedule to minimize transitions can help decrease instances of challenging behavior. See below for an example of a schedule revised to minimize transitions, and check out NAEYC’s guide for tips on creating an effective transition plan.
    Source: Moving Right Along…Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior, 2008
  • You can also check out Recommendations 2.2 and 2.3 to learn more about strategies that help promote a supportive environment and children’s positive social-emotional development. These strategies can help decrease and prevent challenging behaviors.


Day, C., and Quing, Gu. (2009). Teacher Emotions: Well Being and Effectiveness. Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project, Advances in Teacher Emotion Research (pp. 15-31). Retrieved from

Gillam, W. and Golan, S. (2006). Preschool and Child Care Expulsion and Suspension: Rates and Predictors in One State. Infants and Young Children, 19(3), 228-245.

Gooze, R., Whitaker, R., and Dearth-Wesley, T. (2015). Workplace Stress and the Quality of Teacher-Children Relationships in Head Start. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 30, 57-69.

Hemmeter, M.L., Ostrosky, M., Artman, K., and Kinder, K. (2008). Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior. NAEYC. Retrieved from

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Education. (2014). Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings. Retrieved from

Ylitapio-Mantyla, O., Uusiautti, S., & Maatta, K. (2012). Critical viewpoint to early childhood education teachers’ well-being at work. International Journal of Human Sciences, 9 (1), 458–483.

Have questions? Want to provide feedback?

Contact us

1.6: Create a culture of support and collaboration among staff

Supportive staff culture icon

Teaching young children can be joyful and rewarding. However it can also be physically and emotionally demanding, as well as socially isolating. Research supports that teaching is a stressful occupation, and that stress can affect the quality of the education and care early childhood educators provide. One study found that teachers who feel more stress at work are more likely to expel at least one child annually. In addition, children who present persistent or unique behavior problems can quickly exhaust the strategies an individual provider/teacher knows. To address feelings of stress and isolation, research has highlighted the importance of working in a program/school with a positive atmosphere of social support.

Social relationships and opportunities for staff to collaborate and solve problems as a team play a crucial role in reducing provider/teacher stress and supporting teachers in managing child behavior. Fellow teachers can offer support by brainstorming ideas, sharing guidance and advice based on their own experience, and providing encouragement. In addition, research suggests that in schools in which teachers have trusting relationships with their peers, teachers are more willing to learn and try new practices.

How do I do this?

Provide time and structures for collaborative teams to meet. Build collaborative weekly or biweekly team meetings into providers’/teachers’ schedules. These meetings should be led by a team member without another leadership role. Instruct providers/teachers to develop action-oriented agendas for these meetings. These should include discussion of challenging behaviors they are facing, intervention strategies to cope with challenges, and relevant resources that can help. Encourage providers/teachers to reserve time at the end of each meeting to evaluate the meeting and talk about ideas for improving the collaborative process.

  • For more ideas on promoting a collaborative culture, view this case study on one school’s approach to using teacher collaboration to foster a supportive professional culture, lessen teacher conflict, and promote school-wide best practices.

Identify provider/teacher leaders. Teacher leadership roles offer educators the chance to work with adults outside of their classroom. Teacher leaders can help build a culture of collaboration in which educators can share experiences, provide mentorship, gather resources, and work together to solve classroom problems. During meetings or professional development, some providers/teachers may stand out as having strong interpersonal skills, teaching experience, and knowledge. These providers/teachers may be effective provider/teacher leaders. They could serve as a liaison between providers/teachers and program leaders, facilitate collaborative team meetings, or mentor other teachers. Provide teacher leaders with the time, resources, and training needed to develop their skills and take on such roles.

Build trusting relationships with staff. As an administrator, you need to be clear about expectations and enforce policies, but to build a culture of social support and collaboration, you also need to make sure teachers feel comfortable bringing up problems and discussing solutions.

  • Visit with teachers before and after program hours to informally check-in, or volunteer to help out in their classroom.
  • Maintain an ‘open door policy’ that lets teachers voice concerns or alternative viewpoints and have productive conversations with program leaders.
  • Program leaders and providers/teachers should refer to children as “ours” as opposed to “yours/mine” and focus on mutual growth and improvement.
  • For more tips for leaders on promoting a more open school culture, see the Edutopia blog post Cultivating a New Leadership Archetype.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: It is hard to find the time for collaboration.
Solution: Early childhood educators have full schedules and are likely to be already working additional hours outside of the classroom. They also may be concerned that time spent in team meetings will take away from instruction, or that meetings are a “waste of time” because of past experience with meetings that are spent talking about logistical information or updates.

  • To address this barrier, you can attempt to build time for collaborative team meetings into the master schedule at the beginning of the year, so that meetings do not need to be held after work hours. Look for chances during the school day in which volunteers or aides can cover for providers/teachers for a short time so that providers/teachers can spend this time collaborating.
  • Alternatively, you may be able to better use meetings that are already being held by sending out general updates before the meetings and devoting more time to collaboration.
  • You can also use technology to create virtual meeting opportunities, as well as enhance communication and sharing among staff through email, discussion boards, resource banks, and forums.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • For additional information on developing peer leaders, Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership offers advice from teachers and principals in Massachusetts elementary and secondary schools.
  • The blog post Caring for Teachers Supports SEL for Students on Edutopia includes even more ideas for effectively supporting staff.
  • If you are interested in forming professional learning communities (PLCs), or small groups of educators with shared interests who work together to expand their knowledge and improve their craft, check out this PLC facilitators guide.
  • If your program is small or educators have limited experience, online PLCs can offer support from many educators and experts. offers a Classroom Management for Early Learning online PLC that includes webinars, a resource library, and a discussion forum.
  • Need more strategies for building trust among educators and between educators and the administration? The booklet Building Trusting Relationships for School Improvement offers lots of strategies for program leaders to build and maintain trust with and among educators.
  • Experiencing deeply disturbing events or situations (i.e., trauma) can affect the way a person learns, plans, and interacts with others. This can have profound implications for how providers/teachers interact with children, families, and each other. This resource guide from the Department of Health and Human Services provides an overview and a range of resources on trauma-informed care.


Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational leadership, 60(6), 40-45.

Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1991). Principles for the practice of collaboration in schools. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 6-9.

Gilliam, W. S., & Shahar, G. (2006). Preschool and child care expulsion and suspension: Rates and predictors in one state. Infants & Young Children, 19(3), 228-245.

Imel, S. (1991). Collaborative learning in adult education. ERIC Clearinghouse.

Kelly, A. L., & Berthelsen, D. C. (1995). Preschool teachers’ experiences of stress. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11(4), 345-357.

Kyriacou, C. (1987). Teacher stress and burnout: An international review. Educational Research, 29(2), 146-152.

Laycock, V. K., Gable, R. A., & Korinek, L. (1991). Alternative structures for collaboration in the delivery of special services. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 35(4), 15-18.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2015). Building a School Culture that Supports Teacher Leadership. Retrieved from

Punch, K. F., & Tuetteman, E. (1996). Reducing teacher stress: The effects of support in the work environment. Research in Education, (56), 63.

Sheffield, D., Dobbie, D., & Carroll, D. (1994). Stress, social support, and psychological and physical wellbeing in secondary school teachers. Work & Stress, 8(3), 235-243.

York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. (2004). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255-316.

Have questions? Want to provide feedback?

Contact us

1.7: Train staff on cultural awareness and implicit biases, focusing specifically on bias based on race, gender, and mental and physical ability

Cultural awareness icon

Disproportionality exists in early childhood suspensions and expulsions by age, gender, race, and ability. Studies have found that providers/teachers are more likely to suspend or expel children who are Black, boys, and older (e.g., 4-year-olds). Studies of school-age children have also found that schools are more likely to suspend or expel lower income children and children with a disability. fact, children of color, boys, and children with disabilities are likely to be more harshly disciplined than other children for the same behaviors. They are also more likely to be disciplined for behaviors that are not well defined, such as “having a bad attitude.”

Implicit bias contributes to the discipline gap, especially for Black boys. If teachers expect bad behavior, they watch children more closely and punish them more often. Infographic defining implicit bias
Everyone has some implicit biases; it is part of being human. Our implicit biases often come out when we must make quick decisions under stress, and we may end up relying on unconscious stereotypes. Implicit biases become harmful when they affect decisions made about how children are treated at school, which in turn affects their chances at succeeding in school and later in life. By working to consciously and intentionally recognize and overcome our biases, we can stop them from having a negative effect on the way we interact with children and families. This will help all children succeed and help reduce suspensions and expulsions, especially for boys, children of color, and children with disabilities.

“At the end of the day, the question is not whether or not we have bias. The question is how we can address it.” – Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families

Although implicit biases are difficult to recognize and overcome, studies show that discussion of and self-reflection on biases, cultural awareness training, and using resources such as Culturally Responsive Teaching can help overcome biases. Cultural awareness is important because people from different cultures may behave differently in the same situation or might perceive the same behavior in different ways. Cultural awareness, especially about behavior, can help teachers understand their children and their motivations and change the way they use discipline. However, implicit biases are not addressed by only understanding other cultures. Adult self-awareness is critical. Adults must also engage in self-reflection and work to understand what they bring to the table in their perceptions and experiences. By working to understand themselves and their students, providers can help shrink the discipline gap and promote equity and justice for young children throughout their lives.

“We have to be courageous enough to have conversations that make us uncomfortable.” – Lisa Williams

For more information, watch this TED talk by Rosemarie Allen:

How do I do this?

Step 1. Discuss and reflect.

  • Have conversations with your staff. Conversations about bias should be approached sensitively and carefully. Start by talking about how bias is normal, the important thing is how we think about our biases and how they affect our behavior. Noticing differences between people is natural and normal. It is very possible to learn not to judge people based on those differences.
  • Work with your staff to set norms for your discussion. These might include the following:
  • Create formal (but safe and supportive) ways for staff to discuss and reflect on such issues as:
  • You don’t have to make a plan for having a conversation about equity by yourself!
  • Stress the negative effects of disproportionality on education and social outcomes, particularly for Black children and children with disabilities.Emphasize that the goal is to create a positive school climate where all children can thrive.
  • Set a clear purpose and goals in all discussions. This may include a guide or checklist of topics to talk about and data that show what disproportionality looks like (see Recommendation 1.1). You and your staff can watch this video of Rosemarie Allen talking about how important it is for educators to reflect and understand themselves if we want to reduce the effects of implicit bias and stop suspensions and expulsions.
  • Here are a few more helpful resources to promote discussion and reflection:

Step 2. Identify training needs. Use professional development to make sure that discussion and reflection effects improvements in practice.

  • Teaching Tolerance has a free professional development webinar series about reducing prejudice, improving relationships between different groups, and promoting equity.
  • Talk to your staff and try to answer these questions about the kind of professional development you need:
    • Where does training need to be targeted?
    • Do staff have any requests or skills they want to build? Use this outline of the skills early childhood workers should have to guide your professional development needs. It includes skills for inclusiveness of all cultures, languages, needs, and abilities.

Step 3. Create formal policies and procedures to reduce discipline disproportionality.

Step 4. Express gratitude and acknowledge progress. After training and developing or revising policies, reflect again with staff on current strengths and needs, and plan a course of action. Recognize staff who have worked hard and made progress using new practices. Encourage teachers to acknowledge one another, as well. This creates a culture of support and recognition.

  • In regular staff emails or newsletters, add a “shout out” section where administrators and other staff can submit a brief comment about a colleague’s hard work (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Johnson for reflecting and talking honestly and encouraging others during professional development. Your time and dedication to this process are greatly appreciated!”).
  • Administrators can personally call or send handwritten notes to thank teachers who are working hard to put training into practice and reflect on their teaching practices. Let your staff know that you see their hard work!

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: My staff and/or I am uncomfortable talking about race, gender, ability, and our own biases and the way they affect discipline and our interactions with children.
Solution: That is OK! Many people feel uncomfortable talking about implicit bias and inequity. Everyone has implicit biases, and being willing to have a conversation is an important step to meeting the needs of all children. Before starting a conversation about implicit bias, inequity, and discipline, create a safe and welcoming space for staff to have an honest conversation. Work as a group to create ground rules for how everyone will contribute. Check out this blog post that walks you through steps for leading a conversation on equity and this resource for educators leading dialogue and reflection about diversity and equity. It includes steps to help you prepare, suggestions for ground rules, icebreakers, ways to reflect, and group activities.

Potential Barrier: I don’t have access to professional development resources to train my staff in cultural awareness or to help us talk about our implicit biases.
Solution: There are many wonderful, free resources online for educators working to reduce implicit bias and promote equity in their schools. Many of them are listed throughout this guide. For example, check out the Anti-Defamation League’s page specifically created for early childhood providers interested in anti-bias education.

Where do I go for more resources?

  • Check out Teaching Tolerance (SPLC) to learn more about why we need equity in schools and how to build a positive school climate and find lots of great resources for yourself, your staff, and your children.
  • For more information on positive school climates, check out the School Climate page from the National Center on Supportive Learning Environments.
  • For more information on anti-bias education, check out this toolkit from the NAEYC.
  • Edutopia has many resources to help learn about Culturally Responsive Teaching.
  • Looking for even more free resources to help carry out some of these steps in your school or program? Inclusive Schools Network provides tools, tips, and strategies to help you make a difference in your school and community.
  • The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is a useful tool for any person or group who is learning how to talk about tough topics productively.


Adamu, M., & Hogan, L. (2015). Point of entry: The preschool-to-prison pipeline. Retrieved from

Capatosto, K. (2015). Implicit bias strategies. Kirwan Institute. Retrieved from

Devine, P. G., Forscher, P. S., Austin, A. J., & Cox, W. T. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(6), 1267-1278.

Great Schools Partnership (2016). Disproportionality. The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

Great Schools Partnership (2016). Equity. The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

Elementary & Middle Schools Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.). Disproportionality: The disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minorities in special education: Frequently asked questions. EMSTAC.

Gillam, W. (2005). Pre-kindergarteners Left Behind: Expulsion Rates in State Prekindergarten Programs. FCD Policy Brief Series, 3, 1-8. Retrieved from

Gilliam, W. S., Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Yale Child Study Center. New Haven, CT.

Losen, D. (2011). Discipline policies, successful schools, and racial justice. National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Yale Child Study Center. New Haven, CT.

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (2016). School Climate. American Institutes for Research: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. Retrieved from

National Education Association (2008). Promoting Educators’ Cultural Competence to better serve culturally diverse students. An NEA Policy Brief. NEA Human and Civil Rights Department. Washington DC. Retrieved online from:

Pearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. and Gaertner, S.L. (2009). The nature of contemporary prejudice: Insights from aversive racism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 314-388. Journal compilation. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Russ, E. (2014). Zero tolerance, zero benefits: the discipline gap in American public k-12 education. New voices in public policy. George Mason University School of Public Policy. Retrieved from

Skiba, R. J., Poloni-Staudinger, L., Simmons, A. B., Feggins-Azziz, L. R., & Choong-Geun, C. (2005). Unproven Links: Can Poverty Explain Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education? Journal of Special Education, 39(3), 130–144.

Smolkowski, K., Girvan, E. J., McIntosh, K., Nese, R. N., & Horner, R. (2016). Vulnerable Decision Points for Disproportionate Office Discipline Referrals: Comparisons of Discipline for African American and White Elementary School Students.

Sullivan, A. L., Klingbeil, D. A., & Norman, E. R. Van. (2013). Beyond behavior: Multilevel analysis of the influence of sociodemographics and school characteristics on students’ risk of suspension. School Psychology Review, 42(1), 99–114.

Have questions? Want to provide feedback?

Contact us

1.8: Consider implementing a program- or school-wide multitiered system of support

Multitiered systems icon

Early education programs and schools can better meet children’s emotional and behavioral needs by being proactive and systematic. To help you and your staff be more proactive and systematic, think about adopting a program- or school-wide multitiered system of support (MTSS). No matter what you decide, focus on putting in place the policies and practices that promote children’s positive social-emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors that are identified in the other recommendations of this guide. In elementary schools, studies have found that school-wide multitiered systems of support reduced discipline referrals and suspensions and helped fifth-graders do better in school. In early childhood settings, research has found that multitiered systems of support helped improve social skills and reduce challenging behaviors. Using a multitiered system of support in your program will help provide supports to prevent challenging behaviors. This might include changing the classroom environment (see Recommendation 2.2) and promoting positive social-emotional development (see Recommendation 2.3). It will help identify children who need stronger or more customized supports to address challenging behaviors through developmental screening (see Recommendation 1.3), functional behavior assessment, and behavior support plans (Recommendation 3.1).

A multitiered system of support (MTSS) is a comprehensive framework for organizing practices into different levels, or tiers, to provide the differentiated supports for all children to succeed in inclusive and natural environments. In an MTSS, the first tier (universal) includes those practices and core instruction that promote the positive social-emotional development of all children. The second tier (targeted/secondary) includes targeted practices that identify and address needs of children at risk for challenging behaviors. The third tier (intensive/tertiary) includes practices for providing individualized, more intensive interventions to children with persistent challenging behaviors. Additional key features of an MTSS include universal screening, progress monitoring, and data-informed decision-making. Examples of an MTSS include the Pyramid Model and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

To help decide if you should use an MTSS and which one you would like to adopt for your program/school, access the following resources:

How do I do this?

Step 1. Choose a diverse team to provide input. When you talk about starting a multitiered system of supports (MTSS) or any new curricula, assemble a diverse team that represents your staff and families well. This team should include yourself, providers/teachers, and other relevant program/school partners. This type of decision-making structure makes it more likely that everyone involved will be committed to the ultimate decisions you make.

Step 2. Consider key questions with the team. With your diverse team, think about these key questions to guide your ultimate decision about whether to adopt an MTSS:

  • Has the MTSS been adopted successfully by programs/schools like ours?
  • What does it take to fully implement the MTSS?
  • Hide

  • What are the costs—money and time—to fully implement the MTSS with fidelity?


If your program/school decides to implement a multitiered system of support framework, continue to step 3.

Step 3. Promote buy-in and commitment to implement the MTSS framework consistently. If you think it is right for your program, implement an MTSS framework that fits well with challenging behaviors you see at your school and the program/school context (see program-specific resource websites below). Once an MTSS framework has been chosen, the team should take the following steps to promote buy-in and fidelity of implementation:

  • Have a formal kickoff.
  • Put the program in place and schedule training.
  • Decide what steps program/school leadership will take to support fidelity of implementation and sustainability.
  • Acknowledge progress and excellent implementation.

Vignette 1: At the Blue Bonnet Early Childhood Development Center, when staff complete their Pyramid training, they are recognized at the weekly staff meeting and given a graduation certificate. Once trained, the staff each set goals for their Teaching Pyramid Model Observation Tool (TPOT) scores. When staff meet their goals, they are given a Lunch on Me! Certificate.

Vignette 2: At the Little River preschool program, administrators and other staff give out “gotchas” to acknowledge use of PBIS practices. The name of the staff member observed implementing a practice is written on a slip of paper and put into a shoe box. Every two weeks, the program holds a drawing and the chosen staff member gets to select one of the following rewards:

  • Coverage to leave 30 minutes early one day
  • Coverage for recess/outside play duty for one day
  • Coverage for a 45-minute lunch off campus
  • Privilege of using the Reserved Parking spot for two weeks

  • Assess progress and new needs.

What Barriers Might I Run Into and What Are Solutions?

Potential Barrier: I’ve heard of multitiered systems of support, but it seems like adding an MTSS framework is a BIG deal and overwhelming.
Solution: An MTSS framework can actually help your program/school streamline and organize the practices, curricula, or interventions you already offer to be aligned at each level of the MTSS to children’s needs. This often this means you are NOT adding curricula as much as ensuring you have the proper level of support for each tier. If it is implemented thoughtfully, an MTSS framework can simplify and align processes.

Potential Barrier: I need resources for providing training and professional development on multitiered systems of support.
Solution: If you are part of or affiliated with a local or state public preschool program, your school or district might have already have implemented a tiered system of support. If so, you are most likely entitled to have your staff access or be provided trainings for little or no cost. The PBIS Center website and Pyramid Model website provide a variety of free resources, but the framework you select should have training and professional development materials and offerings available.

Potential Barrier: My program doesn’t have the resources or funding.
Solution: Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can help you find local free and low-cost training opportunities. They can also help you find grants for additional funding and resources. You can locate Child Care Resource and Referral agencies in your area through Child Care Aware’s search tool. Its State by State Resource Map can point you in the right direction for local resources on child care, health and social services, financial assistance, support for children with special needs, and more.

Potential Barrier: My staff are resistant to adopting new practices.
Solution: Engaging staff in exploration and decision-making processes promotes buy-in and makes it more likely that all interested parties—staff and families—will be committed to the ultimate decision. Communicate to staff that investment in the MTSS model reduces behavioral incidences and increases children’s engagement, learning time, and children’s acquisition of skills.

Potential Barrier: We’ve tried implementing evidence-based practices or curricula before, but it doesn’t last.
Solution: Support the ongoing implementation of practices. Evidence shows that providing a one-time training without follow-up implementation supports is not effective. It is also crucial to integrate practices into everyday activities and build them into the daily schedule, with support or mentoring from coaches or peer teachers invaluable for reflection and practice change.

Where do I go for more resources?


Bradshaw, C., Mitchell, M., & Leaf, P. (in press). Examining the effects of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

Hemmeter, M. L., Fox, L., & Hardy, J. K. (2016). Supporting the Implementation of Tiered Models of Behavior Support in Early Childhood Settings. In Handbook of Early Childhood Special Education (pp. 247-265). Springer International Publishing.

Gettinger, M. & Stoiber, K. C. (2006). Functional assessment, collaboration, and evidence-based treatment: Analysis of a team approach for addressing challenging behaviors in young children. Journal of School Psychology, 44(3), 231-252.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Education (2014). Policy statement on expulsion and suspension in early childhood settings.

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). How to choose a social-emotional curriculum. How do I decide? Series of guidelines. Accessed from

Lane, K.L., Menzies, H.M., Kalberg, J.M., & Oakes, W.P. (2012). A comprehensive, integrated three-tier model to meet students’ academic, behavioral, and social needs In K.R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, A.G. Bus, S. Major, & H.L. Swanson (Eds) APA educational psychology handbook, Vol 3: Application to learning and teaching (pp. 551-581). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Minic, M., Smith, B. J., and Strain, P. (2009). Administrator strategies that support high fidelity implementation of the Pyramid Model for promoting social-emotional competence & addressing challenging behavior. Issue Brief. Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI). Retrieved from

Have questions? Want to provide feedback?

Contact us