Move from siloed initiatives to a holistic approach. Six areas to consider in developing a new model for comprehensive student services in a K-12 district.

When designing a program around comprehensive student services, the end goal should be a tangible plan that is actionable and measurable.  While support for the “whole child” is widely espoused, many schools have systems and programs lacking crucial support components to make this a reality. In fact, if all support components truly were in place, the end result would be emotionally literate children. Effectively supporting every child holistically doesn’t mean applying a trauma-informed approach to every child; what it means is that every child should experience a more empathic and supportive approach.

What if we integrate SEL, equity, restorative practices, and trauma approaches to establish a comprehensive student services model?  

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 6 guiding principles to a Trauma-Informed Approach can act as a guide or framework for an inclusive model to consider:


Establish building and student service procedures and protocols that are present in everyday functions.  Following safety protocols at one’s school means more than pulling out the policies and procedures manual when an emergency occurs.  

  • Ensure all team members are part of the safety plan within a school and all stakeholders know there is consistency and accountability in action.  
  • Develop standard protocol around attendance and mental health hospitalizations.
  • Implement a visible anonymous reporting system to allow students and families to notify the administration in the case of a safety threat to self and others.    

Trustworthiness & Transparency

Establish justice practices that are restorative and not punitive in nature.  Celebrate a student’s interest in being self-reflective and establishing an increase in self-awareness for their actions.  Create a behavior framework for these established social-emotional learning skills.

  • Take the time to get to know your students. Teachers with the least amount of classroom management issues seem to have the strongest relationship with their students.   A day or two spent developing personal relationships at the beginning of the year or at the midpoint could actually save time later and allow for greater efficiency throughout the year.  
  • Grant buy-down practices for disciplinary occurrences.
  • Create a restorative justice packet that is evidence-based and focuses on learned behavior and restitution.  Authorize students to have reduced consequences if willing to authentically participate or complete such packets.  
  • Follow-up with student service staff to ensure that outcomes can be assessed and the next steps outlined.

Peer Support

Embed strong evidence-based counseling groups.  All student services teams can implement a myriad of groups that are based on local data sources.  For example, groups based on topics such as divorce and grief are appropriate, but the majority of student groups ideally will be based on various performance indicators such as behavior, attendance, and grades.  

  • Implement decision-making and growth mindset curricula to address behavioral indicators.  
  • Utilize executive functioning and progress monitoring to address grade indicators.  
  • Tools such as a modified ACES assessment can be given to assess group needs and differentiate curriculum tailored to the various needs of support.  This survey can identify group trends such as single-parent households and connection to the community. The ACES gives a quick snapshot of a student’s connection to school, community, and home.  

Collaboration & Mutuality

Audit instructional practices around remediation and grading!  Establishing trauma-informed classrooms does not have to mean every classroom becomes a therapy office. This is an empathic approach that allows students multiple ways to demonstrate mastery and flexibility to their social-emotional well-being. At the end of the day, we want to ensure that our students develop skills and competencies toward subject content.  

  • Create meaningful opportunities for corrective feedback.
  • Develop a cohort of teachers working to improve and innovate grading practices so they have a network of fellow educators to share best practices and new ideas.  
  • Allow students to remediate grades since effort is everything. If the student is willing and works to show competence, then real learning could be in the remediation process itself.  

Empowerment & Choice

Develop and implement a comprehensive SEL curriculum that focuses on the CASEL core competencies.  These competencies focus on core skills such as self-awareness and self-management which are crucial for success in life beyond high school.  

  • Deliver a standardized SEL curriculum through a freshman advisory or study hall so that all freshmen have a foundational skillset as they navigate the transition to the high school environment.  
  • Work with counselors, social workers, and deans to continue to deliver the SEL curriculum through advisory or study hall periods in subsequent high school years. Empower upperclassmen to be student leaders within the advisory and assist in providing an embedded mentoring framework with SEL competencies.
  • Empower advisory boards. There is great power in engaging student voice and securing active participation from the community and board members. Provide a framework to allow these voices to be heard and acted upon.

Cultural, Historical, & Gender Issues

Establish a robust discrimination policy all-encompassing of age, race, sex, religion, gender, gender identity, and all demographic possibilities that establish your institution as one that does not tolerate any type of hate speech and celebrates all differences.  

  • Create gender support plans that allow for preferred pronouns, preferred restroom usage, gender-neutral spaces and other accommodations that will be updated yearly to reflect and support a student’s growth and continued development.
  • Differentiate a professional development and psychoeducational plan for administrators, staff, support staff, and custodial maintenance staff.  Often times various staff groups are left out and they can be a crucial component for connecting with students and creating a safe space for all.  
  • Embed equity components into all aspects of professional learning.  This includes data retreats, in-service days, and professional learning communities.  Equity is not a “one and done” topic. It must have a continuous thread throughout the professional development program.

This list is not exhaustive but illustrates concrete ideas to assist in creating a holistic student support framework. The next generation of student support needs to evolve from siloed initiatives to an integrated framework leveraging various initiatives that are complementary to one another–a framework that focuses on creating emotionally literate students and has a whole-child foundation.

Matthew Liberatore

Matthew Liberatore

Dr. Matt Liberatore, LCPC is the director of professional learning and student services for Township High School District 214, president of the Illinois School Counselor Association, and senior advisor to Intellispark.