A Setting is NOT an Intervention


By Dr. Howie Knoff

As I’ve worked with schools during these Pandemic months, it has been interesting to watch how they have handled social distancing, the organization of instructional pods, and the movement of students in and out of different settings across the school.

When observing in a Michigan school classroom last week, I was amazed to see 28 fifth grade students jammed into a too-small room with each desk equipped with a bolted-down plexiglass front. The students were arranged in three rows with six inches between the desks on the side, and less than 18 inches between the desks in each row.

From a pedagogical or classroom management perspective, respectively, there was no way for the teacher (a) to move comfortably to the back row if s/he wanted to closely watch a student complete the problems on an assignment, or (b) to use proximity to prompt a student to get back on task.

From a safety perspective, the students could not comfortably move from the front door to their desks, and I shuddered to think what would happen if the students needed to get out of the classroom during a fire drill (or worse).

Clearly, the Pandemic has altered how we organize the different settings in a school. But issues related to school and classroom settings existed before the Pandemic ever hit, and how we conceptualize settings is critical to the services and supports that we provide to students, and the collaboration and productivity of school staff.

How settings impact the outcomes
of 5 different processes in a school

The Pandemic has altered how we organize the different settings in a school, as well as how we schedule and logistically move students and staff from setting to setting. But, as we have emphasized throughout this article, putting people into places is not the goal.

The goal is putting the right people in the right places with the right other people, putting the right people “in charge,” discussing goals and desired outcomes at the outset, providing and sustaining needed resources and conditions, and accomplishing great things over time.

While the Pandemic has created a number of challenges, some issues—related to the use of school and classroom settings existed before the Pandemic ever hit.

How we conceptualize settings is critical to the services and supports that we provide to students, and how school staff collaborate and productively accomplish important school and schooling outcomes.

As we continue to address Pandemic-related issues, we also need to identify the issues that existed before the Pandemic and address them also. But we need to recognize, once again, that it’s not where we do our work, it’s how we do it on behalf of all of our students.


Knoff, H. M. (2020, August 8). Why stress-informed schools must precede trauma-informed schools: When we address student stress first, we begin to impact trauma. Project ACHIEVE Educational Solutions. Retrieved from:


Howie Knoff, PhD, NCSP, is an international consultant, speaker, and author specializing in school improvement and strategic planning, social-emotional learning and social skills training, multi-tiered systems of support, and interventions with behaviorally challenging students. He is a practitioner who has also been a university professor (22 years), and State Department of Education federal grant director (13 years). The author of 24 books and 100+ articles/book chapters, he was the 21st President of the National Association of School Psychologists. Learn more at projectachieve.info.

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