Re-writing the Script: Adjusting our tier one language for reopening schools

By Carin L. Reeve

If you have been teaching or leading for a while, you probably have some well-established scripts for teaching expectations and “how to do school.” As we prepare for whatever reopening schools is going to look like, it will be necessary for all of us to rewrite our scripts to ensure that new expectations become a part of our classroom and our school culture.

Our internal scripts come from the common language and clear expectations that live in our tier one, school-wide behavioral and academic language. Tier one, in a Multi-tiered System of Supports, is built on common language, clear expectations, consistent reinforcement, and is rooted in data. When tier one is strong, there is evidence of that common language and clear expectations everywhere – in teacher expectations, in student interactions, and even in opportunities for redirection and additional practice.

Because tier one outlines what we expect for every student, it will be important for school building leaders to review that tier one language prior to reopening schools. By providing the common language and clear expectations at the tier one level, school building leaders can ensure that everyone is sharing and receiving the same messaging around important safety guidelines like handwashing and social distancing. Reviewing the tier one language also allows school building leaders to think through any potential problem areas (How do we ensure social distancing in the gym? What is our procedure for getting PreK students into classrooms? What are the implications for fire drills or lockdown drills?)

Rewriting our scripts also allows teachers and leaders to rethink how they will respond when students need more practice with the new expectations. Our go-to strategies may need to be thought through in light of our new learning – and investing time ahead of reopening will help teachers and leaders focus their energy on supporting students as they return to a new version of normal. As an example, if you rely on proximity for redirection, what can that be replaced with in a virtual classroom or how can it be altered in a social distancing classroom?

As we build plans to reopen schools, it will be important to include time in Social Emotional Learning Plans for teachers to model, teach, practice, and reinforce new expectations with their new scripts and to continue that practice over time. It takes time and continual reinforcement to embed new practice into the culture of a classroom, so the same common language and clear expectations that you introduce in September, are being continually reinforced in May. This takes a huge commitment from both school building leaders and from teachers, but when students are using that common language in conversation with each other, then there is a strong tier one foundation.

Just as we rewrite and revise our lesson plans to reflect current teaching practice and the needs of the students in our classrooms, we must also rewrite and revise our scripts that support our expectations for a strong school or classroom community. Demystifying the safety guidelines for schools and creating common language and clear expectations for how those guidelines will be incorporated into the school culture will reduce anxiety and increase the sense of normalcy in school buildings.


Carin L. Reeve is the Director of School Improvement at Peaceful Schools in Syracuse, NY. She has 27 years in education committed to improving outcomes for students and developing excellence in teachers. Reeve spent ten years in school leadership, including four years as a successful turnaround principal. As a part of the team at Peaceful Schools, Reeve shares her expertise with schools, districts, and leaders who are looking to build systems of social, emotional, and academic support for children.