Creating Safe, Supportive Learning Environments for Children with Disabilities (2017)

Virtual Event

There is a growing evidence base on the relationship between positive learning environments, child development, and academic achievement. OSEP’s second Symposium highlighted core principles relating to creating and maintaining safe and supportive learning environments and why and how States, districts, programs, and schools should consider integrating this work into their improvement plans. The Symposium included examples of aligning initiatives, funds, personnel preparation, evidence-based practices, and professional development in early childhood and K-12 settings. Information shared will be helpful for technical assistance providers, personnel development providers, and parents.

Archived Meeting Recording & Resources

Presenter Information


Symposium Prework


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This document contains resources that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

Technical Guide for Alignment of Initiatives, Programs and Practices in School Districts  This technical guide provides a structured alignment process with steps to assist educational leaders as they: examine current practices across educational systems; consider the extent to which current practices are implemented with fidelity and produce meaningful outcomes; and establish support systems to select and install new practices.

Technical Brief: School Climate: Academic Achievement and Social Behavior Competence  The purpose of this technical brief is to provide an operational and applied overview of school climate that can guide decisions related to policy, professional development, and practice and systems implementation at the classroom, school, district, and State levels.

Technical Brief:  Every Student Succeeds Act: Why School Climate Should Be One of Your Indicators  With the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), State educational agencies (SEA) have a great opportunity to revisit and update their state-wide school improvement plans. Because of the importance of school climate and safety to the academic enterprise, a number of questions and answers are presented to guide SEAs and local educational agencies (LEAs) in considering School Climate and Safety as one of their ESSA indicators.

Supporting and Responding to Behavior Guide:  Evidence-Based Classroom Strategies for Teachers  This document summarizes evidence-based, positive, proactive, and responsive classroom behavior intervention and support strategies for teachers. These strategies should be used classroom-wide, intensified to support small group instruction, or amplified further for individual students.

Implementation Blueprint and Self-Assessment  The purpose of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Implementation Blueprint is to guide leadership teams in the assessment, development, and execution of action plans. The outcome is the development of local capacity for sustainable, culturally and contextually relevant, and high-fidelity implementation of multi-tiered practices and systems of support.

The following is a list of videos describing aspects of creating positive learning environments. These videos have been made by real students and real staff from schools, districts, and States across the country. Thank you to all the participants on these initial videos. All videos are included as examples of addressing an element of creating positive learning environments. The opinions expressed are those of the producers.

Teaching Behavior and Expectations Using a Matrix  In this short video, a middle school principal discusses how his school defines appropriate behavior for each area of the school using a behavior matrix.

Common Expectations in Early Childhood Classrooms  Early Childhood students talk about and model expectations for behavior in the common areas of the school (i.e., cafeteria, hallways, bathrooms).

Teaching Middle School Hallway Behavior  In this video, middle school teachers demonstrate bad hallway behavior and then students explain and model good hallway behavior.

Universal Expectations in Elementary School  In this video, elementary school teachers and students discuss and model expectations in all areas of school.

Media Center Expectations  The students and teachers of Kimball School in Port Huron, Michigan present a Mission Impossible themed media center expectations video.

High School Students Recognize Teachers  This video shows high school students recognizing staff by giving them "Star Bucks" for being respectful, safe, etc.

Introduction to School Climate/PBIS  This video offers an introduction to school climate and PBIS. Later in the video, speakers provide comments on the implementation efforts at the school.

African Centered Expectations  Students discuss how being responsible, respectful, and safe look in their school and how these values have impacted their lives.

Teachers on PBIS  In this video, teachers describe what PBIS means in their classrooms. This is a funny parody of “Let it Go!” that endorses PBIS

Teaching Expectations with a "Mannequin Challenge"  Mustang Madison Challenge: Help look for what students are doing right! This elementary school included students in a “mannequin challenge” to go over expectations and rules across the school day. 

1-2-3 Dancing Expectations  This video is a fun example of teaching expectations for cleaning up in the elementary school classroom. 1-2-3 Dancing Expectations was named "Best Bathroom Rules, Elementary Division", and also received one of the 3 grand prizes: "Best Picture: Elementary Division" at the 2nd Annual PBIS Film Festival in Denver.

Addressing Cheating in High School  This video was produced by, and stars, high schools students. It addresses a common issue in high school: cheating on tests. This behavior is addressed under the school-wide expectation of “Be Responsible”.

Respond to Aggression Positively  A high school administrative team in California made this video to respond to incidents of students stating offensive remarks to each other.

12 homegrown PBIS Videos  This webpage contains videos on such topics as hallway expectations, effective feedback, positive interactions, and other PBIS-related topics.



2013 Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying and Enclosure  This letter from OSERS provides an overview of an LEA’s responsibilities under the IDEA in terms of addressing bullying of students with disabilities. The accompanying Enclosure document offers several evidence-based practices and resources that school personnel can use to prevent bullying.

Corporal Punishment

2016 U.S. Department of Education Letter on Corporal Punishment  This letter addresses the issue of corporal punishment in schools and provides an evidence-based rationale for why this practice is harmful to children.

Restraint and Seclusion

Fact Sheet: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities  This fact sheet provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities in schools.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Dear Colleague Letter on PBIS in IEPs, Summary for Stakeholders, and webinar  These resources offer guidance to States and LEAs on the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in IEPs for students whose behavior impedes their learning, or the learning of others. The documents focus on the need to consider and include evidence-based behavior supports in IEPs in order to prevent unnecessary disciplinary removals.

Public Charter Schools

Frequently Asked Questions about the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools  This guidance document emphasizes that students with disabilities in public charter schools retain their rights under Part B of IDEA and answers questions related to the provision of FAPE, child find and evaluations, placement procedures, procedural safeguards, IDEA funding and other topics.

Early Childhood Settings

Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs  This policy statement provides recommendations for States, LEAs, schools, and public and private early childhood programs for increasing the inclusion of infants, toddlers, and preschool children with disabilities in early childhood programs.

Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings  This policy statement provides recommendations for preventing and limiting suspension and expulsion practices in early childhood settings. The document includes recommendations for early childhood programs as well as State action that can be taken to prevent suspension and expulsion in these settings.

Dear Colleague Letter on Inclusive Early Childhood Programs  This letter provides an overview of the IDEA’s Least Restrictive Environment requirements in relation to early childhood programs for children with disabilities. It includes information on preschools placement options, reporting educational environments data, and the used of IDEA Part B funds for preschool children with disabilities. 

Bringing PBIS to Early Childhood Programs: The prevention of challenging behavior and promotion of social competence.  This February 2016 webinar hosted by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) features a presentation by Lise Fox, Ph.D. The webinar provides an in-depth discussion of the Pyramid model, PBIS in early childhood programs, and the relationship between the Pyramid Model and School-wide PBIS. 

DEC Recommended Practices Performance Checklists  These Performance Checklists are intended for practitioners (and leaders where noted) to increase their understanding and use of the DEC Recommended Practices and for self-evaluation of one's use of the practices.

DEC Recommended Practices Resources on Interaction  Sensitive and responsive interactional practices are the foundation for promoting the development of a child’s language and cognitive and emotional competence. These interactional practices are the basis for fostering all children’s learning. For children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities, they represent a critical set of strategies for fostering children’s social-emotional competence, communication, cognitive development, problem-solving, autonomy, and persistence. The Interaction Performance Checklists and Practices Guides are designed to support understanding and use of the DEC Recommended Practices related to “interaction.”   

A System Framework for Building High-Quality Early Intervention and Preschool Special Education Programs  The purpose of the ECTA System Framework is to guide State Part C and Section 619 Coordinators and their staff in evaluating their current systems; identifying potential areas for improvement, and; developing more effective, efficient systems that support implementation of evidence-based practices.

Supporting Young Children with Challenging Behaviors  In this 59-minute webinar, Dr. Tweety Yates discusses possible causes of young children’s challenging behaviors and some effective strategies for supporting these children. The webinar is available from the webpage of the Community of Practice for Preschool Development Grants.

The Pyramid Equity Project—January 2017 Update 
Pyramid Equity Project (PEP) is working in partnership with two Preschool Development Grant programs: Clifton Early Learner Academy in Clifton, New Jersey and Cambridge Early Learning Center in Antioch, Tennessee to implement the Pyramid Model to address inequities in early childhood discipline practices. Specifically the project is implementing the program-wide use of effective practices and procedures for promoting the social and emotional skills of all children, preventing challenging behavior of children at risk of challenging behavior, and providing individualized interventions for children with persistent challenging behavior. The goal is, in fact, to demonstrate how programs, children and families all thrive in an environment where no suspensions and expulsions occur.

Pyramid Model Video  This video provides an overview of the Pyramid Model and provides evidence-based practices that teachers can use to support the social and emotional development of young children.

TACSEI Demonstration Programs Website  This link contains videos, PowerPoints and written descriptions of the TACSEI Model Demonstration programs. The video on the homepage describes how the center in Colorado is implementing the Pyramid Model.

Pyramid Equity Project:  Providing Alternatives to Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood Settings  In this brief video, the work of the Pyramid model is shared as an example of how disproportionate exclusionary practices in early childhood settings are being addressed.

The Pyramid Model: PBS in Early Childhood Programs and its Relation to School-wide PBS  This November 2015 document by Glen Dunlap and Lise Fox provides an overview of the Pyramid Model and discusses the essential differences and similarities between the Pyramid Model and school-age PBIS.

Getting Preschool Classrooms on Board with School-Wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (SW-PBIS)    This August 2015 document by Lise Fox and Denise Perez Binder discusses some of the issues related to implementing School-Wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (SW-PBIS) in an elementary school that has preschool classrooms and offers some tips for achieving the successful inclusion of preschool classrooms in these efforts.

Implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support: The Evidence-Base of the Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children.  This November 2014 document by Lise Fox and Mary Louise Hemmeter provides an overview of the evidence base supporting the practices organized in the Pyramid Model.  

The Power of a Positive Learning Climate for Children Birth to 8

This series of five videos from Get Georgia Reading highlight the importance of positive learning climates for young children and offers strategies for supporting practitioners in this work. The first and fourth video in this series will be shown during the Symposium.

CIPR Resources

A variety of resources are available on the Hub that relate to creating safe and supportive learning environments, some of which are abstracts describing resources available from others (including the federal government and many grantees) and some of which are webpages created by CPIR on specific subjects. Here’s a selection for starters.

School Climate and Discipline

School Discipline and Climate Guidance from U.S. Department of Education  Includes link to webinar on Supportive School Discipline Initiative from Safe Supportive School Learning Environments, January 22, 2014.

Two resources identified in the November 2016 Buzz from the Hub, CPIR’s monthly newsletter

What is the Pyramid Model?  This 11-minute video will give you an overview of the Pyramid Model for Promoting the Social-Emotional Competence of Infants and Young Children, which is a framework of evidence-based early childhood teaching practices that promote social and emotional skills of all children.

Pyramid Model Consortium  Lots of additional resources on the Pyramid Model.

Parents for Healthy Schools  Resources from the CDC to help schools and school groups engage parents to create healthy school environments.

School Discipline Policy Considerations in a SWIFT Framework

SWIFT Guide: Strong and Positive School Culture  Includes videos, presentation slides, and discussion guides that schools can use with staff and stakeholders.

OCR Guidance to Schools on the Bullying of Students with Disabilities

Bullying Prevention Manual  From the PBIS Center. Abstract identifies links to manual, including Spanish, French, and Icelandic versions.

How Safe Is the Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies

What is an Evidence-Based Behavior Intervention? Choosing and Implementing Behavior Interventions that Work  Abstract describes the archived webinar of the National Center on Intensive Interventions (NCII) and includes links to NCII’s Behavior Interventions Tools Chart.

Using Intensive Intervention to Meet the Academic and Behavior Needs of Struggling Learners  Abstract describes presentation by the National Center on Intensive Interventions (NCII) at the CEC 2014 Convention and Expo.

Juvenile Justice Resource Hub

Helping Justice-Involved Youth Transition Back to Traditional School Settings  Suite of resources from the U.S. Department of Education

Toolkit for Youth with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections

Reaching and Serving Students with Disabilities in Juvenile Justice  This handout expands upon the information provided in the CPIR/RAISE September 20, 2016 webinar on reaching and serving students with disabilities in juvenile justice. Provides connections to resources from: federal agencies, centers on juvenile justice, Parent Centers, and other organizations.

OSER’s Dear Colleague Letter Webinar - IDEA Behavioral Support and Discipline  In this CPIR webinar, Renee Bradley, of OSEP, is joined by representatives from Parent Centers, protection and advocacy agencies, and state directors of special education to  unpack the important “Dear Colleague” letter  released by OSEP regarding behavior and school discipline. and discuss its impact on the field.

Supporting Behavior of Students with Disabilities Handout

Important Links Mentioned in Dear Colleague Letter Handout

Behavior Suite  5 stand-alone webpages of resources addressing behavior: Behavior Expertise; Behavior Assessment, Plans, and Positive Supports; Behavior at School; Behavior at Home; and Bullying.

Brief for Parent Centers on School Resource Officers  This CPIR brief expands on OSEP’s Dear Colleague Letter on the Use of School Resource Officers (SROs) in Schools, released September 8, 2016.

IRIS Resources – IRIS Modules

Early Childhood Behavior Management: Developing and Teaching Rules  This IRIS Module includes information on how to create developmentally appropriate behavior rules for early childhood classrooms so that they link to a given school's behavior expectations. The importance of communication with families about rules and expected behaviors is also stressed (est. completion time: 1.5 hours).

Classroom Management (Part 1): Learning the Components of a Comprehensive Behavior Management Plan  This IRIS Module—a revision of Who's In Charge? Developing a Comprehensive Behavior Management System—highlights the importance of establishing a comprehensive classroom behavior management system composed of a statement of purpose, rules, procedures, consequences, and an action plan. It also provides information about how culture, classroom factors, and teacher actions can influence student behavior (est. completion time: 1 hour).

Classroom Management (Part 2): Developing Your Own Comprehensive Behavior Management Plan  This IRIS Module—a revision of You're in Charge! Developing Your Own Comprehensive Behavior Management Plan—reviews the major components of classroom management (including rules, procedures, and consequences) and guides users through the steps of creating their own comprehensive behavior plan. The module is a companion to Classroom Management (Part 1): Learning the Components of a Comprehensive Behavior Management Plan (est. completion time: 2 hours).

SOS: Helping Students Become Independent Learners  This IRIS Module describes how teachers can help students stay on task by learning to regulate their behavior. The four strategies discussed are self-monitoring, self-instruction, goal-setting, and self-reinforcement (est. completion time: 1.5 hours).

Addressing Disruptive and Noncompliant Behaviors (Part 1): Understanding the Acting-Out Cycle  The first in a two-part series, this IRIS Module discusses problem behavior in terms of the stages of the acting-out cycle and suggests ways to respond to students in the cycle's different phases (est. completion time: 1 hour).

Addressing Disruptive and Noncompliant Behaviors (Part 2): Behavioral Interventions  The second in a two-part series, this IRIS Module describes interventions that can increase initial compliance to teacher requests as well as interventions that can be implemented to decrease disruptive and noncompliant behaviors (est. completion time: 1 hour).

Functional Behavioral Assessment: Identifying the Reasons for Problem Behavior and Developing a Behavior Plan  This IRIS Module explores the basic principles of behavior and the importance of discovering the reasons that students engage in problem behavior. The steps to conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a behavior plan are described (est. completion time: 2 hours).

Creating an Inclusive School Environment: A Model for School Leaders  This IRIS Module offers a general overview of the concepts that principals should consider when creating inclusive schools (est. completion time: 2 hours).

CEEDAR Resources

CEEDAR Intensive TA in Georgia  CEEDAR has been providing intensive technical assistance to Georgia since 2014. The partnership between the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Professional Standard Commission, and initially three educator preparation programs set goals for reform efforts in teacher and leader preparation, teacher and leader licensure, and preparation program evaluation. Aligned with other state initiatives, the Georgia-CEEDAR team is committed to improving positive learning environments and outcomes for students with disabilities. If you are interested in finding out more go to

Additional Federal Resources

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE)  Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students. Lots of resources here, including training and TA, research, connections, and states and grantees.

ED School Climate Surveys and Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements  The ED School Climate Surveys and the Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements will enable states, local school districts, and individual schools to collect and act on reliable, nationally-validated school climate data in real-time. These new free and adaptable resources will enable educators, administrators, and school system leaders to understand and create environments where every child can be successful.

Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS)  This office within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education promotes the health and well-being of students in elementary and secondary schools.


Symposium Postwork

Thank you for your interest in the OSEP Symposia Series post-work. This event is now archived and discussion boards closed. If you were unable to attend the live events, you may view an archived version of the Symposium on Significant Disproportionality presentation and the Creating Safe, Supportive Learning Environments for Children with Disabilities presentation.  

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Speaker Bios

Photo of Renee Bradley, Ph.D

Renee Bradley, Ph.D., has over thirty years’ experience in special education. She began her career as a teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. During those eight years she worked in a variety of settings from self-contained to an inclusion program to providing homebound services working with children in preschool through high school. In 1997, Renee joined the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs as a program specialist and now serves as the Deputy Director of Research to Practice. Among her responsibilities she is the project officer for the National Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions. She coordinated the OSEP LD Initiative and served as the project officer for the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities and the Partnership Project. She has written and contributed to numerous publications, serves on several professional publication boards, and is a frequent presenter on special education issues. Renee has a bachelors and masters in special education from the College of Charleston and her Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy from the University of South Carolina.

Photo of Lise Fox, Ph.D

Lise Fox, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. Lise is a Co-Director of Florida Center for Inclusive Communities (a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities), a faculty member with the OSEP-funded ECTA Center, and an investigator with an IES funded research project examining the implementation of the Pyramid Model within community early care and education programs. She also provides training and technical assistance to early childhood programs through the Pyramid Equity Project. Her research is focused on in practical approaches to addressing issues surrounding the inclusion of young children with problem behavior in community settings, program-wide implementation of the Pyramid Model, and individualized positive behavior support.

Photo of Ruth Ryder

Ruth Ryder is Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education. Ms. Ryder has been in a variety of positions in OSEP since 1988, most recently as the OSEP Deputy Director. In this position, she is providing national leadership in moving special education accountability to a more results-oriented focus. In addition, she is focusing attention on ensuring that the needs of children with disabilities are addressed in the major initiatives of the Department, such as ESEA Flexibility, School Improvement Grants and Early Learning. Prior to joining OSEP, Ms. Ryder was a program administrator for a school district in Washington State with responsibility for an OSERS funded special education demonstration project examining integrated service delivery models for including children with disabilities in general education.  She also administered the ESEA Title 1 and Title 2 programs, State-remediation, gifted education, outcome-based education, and State-and district-wide testing programs. Additionally, she was also a special education consulting teacher and a general education classroom teacher.

Photo of George Sugai, Ph.D.

George Sugai, Ph.D., is Professor and Carole J. Neag Endowed Chair in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. His professional interests include effective classroom and behavior management practices, school-wide discipline, social skills instruction, special education, classroom and school climate, and positive behavior supports. He has been a classroom teacher, program director, and camp counselor. Currently, he is co-director of the OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (, co-director of the Early Childhood Personnel Center (, and research scientist in the UConn Center on Behavioral Education and Research. 

Jennifer Tschantz, Ph.D.

Jennifer Tschantz, Ph.D., is a program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). At OSEP Jennifer is a member of the Research to Practice Early Childhood Team and works with discretionary projects that focus on supporting the implementation of evidence-based practices for young children, birth through age five, with disabilities and at-risk. She and her colleagues collaborate across offices in the Department and with other federal agencies to promote policies that support high quality early learning programs and services for all young children. Jennifer’s areas of interest include early childhood data systems, early childhood outcomes systems, supporting social competence, expanding high quality services and programs for young children, and preschool inclusion.