Skip to main content

Unifying Our Approach

If you think back to your days at the school cafeteria, you might remember being told, "You get what you get and don't have a fit." The food of the day was pre-filled on your tray, and you just picked it up on your way through the line.

But if you have been to a school cafeteria recently, you might have seen that things have changed. Even as young as kindergarten, students have many options for filling their trays. Do they want the green beans, the raw carrots, or the side salad? Options to pick from the canned peaches, apple sauce, or orange slices are available down the line. 

Today, schools are expected to ensure every student receives a well-balanced meal daily, so how can they do that with all these choices? The guiding tool is the Cafeteria Tray. Students are guided to fill each tray compartment with the corresponding food category, but they can choose between the various options that fit into it. The vegetable compartment must have a vegetable, the fruit compartment a fruit, the protein compartment a protein, and so on.

The same concept lives in our minds as we navigate teaching behavior in our schools. At Emergent Tree, we've created a Tray Framework as a visual to guide the development of an effective MTSS-B System:

Tray Components

Each tray component must have a clear purpose statement that drives the selection of each campus's practice. The practice can vary from campus to campus - but the purpose must match as the unifying and aligning thread. Each tray component is critical in creating a comprehensive and effective Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) for Behavior. Take a look at each component:


Clearly articulating campus core values and defining behavioral expectations for all areas connected back to the common ideas of the campus core values. Then, using evidence-based instructional approaches to teach expected behaviors to all students in a consistent teaching plan.


Daily routines to ensure every student feels seen each day, as well as a strategy to assess students' emotional state as they enter the classroom each day.


Define tools to prompt and track teachers' feedback for displaying core values throughout the day to help boost teacher positive-to-negative ratios and create a collaborative classroom community.


Guidance on classroom vs. office management behaviors and the development of toolkits across various behavior categories (i.e., disruptive, non-disruptive, escalated, and crisis).

Systems Support:

Development of a team to design, implement, and sustain systems across time, including the onboarding of new staff each year.

Data Informed:

The identification of data to inform implementation and impact with clear analysis schedules.


Unifying Campuses

Aligning to a core set of standard practices across a campus can be challenging, no matter what level you teach or the size of your campus. Maintenance of practice over time can be an even bigger lift as people transition from campuses, role changes happen, and student needs evolve.

Every campus is unique in how they approach MTSS, based on the pre-existing practices, preferences, and needs of their campus. An anchoring framework that defines the consistent threads across practices can support maintaining consistency and ensuring equitable access to evidence-based practices across time.

The Tray Model for building your MTSS program can guide you to success. Just like your kiddos might be overwhelmed with all the food choices in the meal line, a teacher or campus might be overwhelmed with all the behavior tools available. By focusing on specific categories and ensuring each area is addressed, we can provide a solid structure for teachers to be creative and flexible while functioning within a common rhythm together as a campus.

Tray of Supports_All Tiers Cover Image


Looking for ideas? Download a reference sheet of ideas for every Tier.



Here are some resources to help you as you build your MTSS-Behavior System:



Laying the Ground Work Course:

Grab an overview of how to apply the Tray Framework to Tier 1.

Take the Course



SEP 28  Webinar - Trainings Thumbnail


9/27 Webinar:

Join us for a live webinar about Developing a District-Aligned Framework As An Integrated Model for MTSS-Behavior.

Register Now



Interested in having a program review completed on your campus. Get in touch!