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Tier 2 Social Emotional Behavioral Support: Strategies for Running Small Groups

Tier 2 Social Emotional Behavioral Support: Strategies for Running Small Groups

Social emotional and behavioral small group instruction is a great way to support students who need a little more than what tier 1 SEL curriculum provides. Running small groups can be an effective way to provide guidance and support to students. Small groups can help create a safe space for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and receive feedback from peers. With the help of small group counseling, students can gain insight into their own behavior and develop better coping skills for dealing with difficult situations.

Small groups also provide an opportunity for counselors to address specific issues that may not be addressed in individual or larger group sessions. By running small groups in school counseling, counselors can create a supportive environment where students feel comfortable expressing themselves while receiving guidance from trained professionals. Still, it can be a challenge to integrate this level of support into the school day. Let’s explore how to get started! 

Logistics - Who and When?

Tier 2 Social Emotional Behavioral Support: Strategies for Running Small Groups

When we think of small groups as tier 2 behavioral interventions, it may help us plan and prioritize when creating schedules. It is helpful to block intervention time and have staff available to lead interventions for SEL just as we do for academics. While we can’t anticipate every need that our students will have in years to come, we can draw from past experiences to have resources ready to go. We also want to be thoughtful about who we choose to enroll in these groups and what topics we will cover. Here are a few questions to help you decide how to best proceed!

  • What enrollment criteria will I be using? Teacher referral? Parent referral? Student survey data? Office referral data?

  • It would be ideal to tap into your MTSS team to answer these questions! Come up with a consistent system that will make things run smoothly and will help you get in front of potentially difficult behaviors. 

  • How will I enroll? Will I offer rolling enrollment and get students in as soon as a need is identified or will I offer groups in 6 or 9 week blocks? 

  • I’ve seen this done both ways. Some schools find it easier to offer in cycles so the group dynamics stay consistent. Others find rolling enrollment to work just fine! It may depend on the content and age of your students. Make these decisions before you get started to prevent confusion. 

  • When will I offer groups? 

  • Perhaps they will be offered once per week during a designated intervention time. I’ve also seen some offered daily when a full time staff person is available for the sole purpose of social emotional support. This decision may be dictated by counselor and social worker availability. Set yourself up for success by setting reasonable expectations. Remember consistency is key and once per week is still consistent! 

Content and Progress

After you’ve built in protected small group time and chosen a few content areas such as emotion regulation, changing families, goal setting, organizational skills, coping with anxiety, etc., you’ll want to think about how you’re going to deliver content and track progress. I turn to sites like Counselor Keri, The Responsive Counselor, and Teachers Pay Teachers as a starting point and build what will best serve my students from there. To ensure high quality materials, I seek content that aligns with either ASCA standards or CASEL’s social emotional competencies. Other for purchase programs such as Navigate 360 have been very helpful in providing evidence based developmentally appropriate content as well!  

Tier 2 Social Emotional Behavioral Support: Strategies for Running Small Groups

I track progress by beginning each session with a quick scaled check-in that allows my students to self-reflect and document how they’re feeling. I also survey teachers at the beginning of the group and at the end to assess if our lessons are carrying over into the classroom. Depending on the content, I may also do classroom observations to look for transference of skills. Finally, I keep a running attendance sheet so I can report what sessions students have completed in case I need to intensify certain supports or reteach any topics. 

How to Create an Effective Group Environment 

Once you and your team have agreed upon an enrollment and scheduling system, it’s time to get to work! We know that creating an effective small group environment is essential for the success of the group. It is important to create an environment where students feel safe and supported, build relationships with each other, and have a sense of belonging. This can be done by creating an atmosphere that is inviting, encouraging, and fun.

Tier 2 Social Emotional Behavioral Support: Strategies for Running Small Groups

By encouraging relationship building among members and providing activities that are enjoyable, school counselors can create a safe space where students can open up and share their thoughts without fear of judgment or criticism. By fostering a sense of belonging within the group, students will be more likely to participate in activities that are both educational and entertaining. Through these activities, counselors can help students develop skills such as communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and teamwork. I love to integrate games into my groups! 


Small groups are a fantastic way to support students in developing social emotional skills that will help improve their self-esteem, relationships, and academic performance. Working in collaboration with the MTSS team, counselors and social workers can prioritize this level of support in a way that benefits individual students and the school as a whole! There are certainly obstacles to achieving this but it can be done! If you have any questions or are looking for more in depth support, please reach out to me at I’d love to help you get started in building a system that alleviates stress and supports students! 



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