Thinking Through the Roadblocks: PBIS

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a school-wide  framework that offers buildings the opportunity for culture change.  Implemented well, within a response to intervention (RTI) system that offers a wide array of creative, comprehensive options for academic and behavioral challenges, research on PBIS is promising.  It reduces the need for special education referrals.  It reduces the number of suspensions.

Most common misperceptions?  

  •  PBIS is all about extrinsic rewards.
  • All kids don’t “need” it, so why should we do it?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

PBIS is a comprehensive framework that is most effective when embedded in the school’s improvement plan/goals AND in collaboration with an RTI model around academics.  The beauty of PBIS, really?

  • develops predictable routines in common areas
  • creates common language for staff and students
  • focuses on teaching routines/expectations instead of punishing
  • helps staff think through expectations for activities and procedures
  • helps administrators think through expectations of staff and students
  • keeps staff and administration communicating about their school culture
  • helps school teams develop alternatives to suspension

Reward systems are part of PBIS and research across many buildings indicate it works.  However, reward systems are only a small part of the bigger picture.  During our professional learning and implementation support, we encourage buildings to determine if this part is necessary for them.  If they are not comfortable with it, we help them implement without.  After all, if the data indicates the climate is fine, why tamper with what works for them?

PBIS is not needed for you?  This may be true for teachers who  are incredibly effective at building relationships.  Maybe you are consistent, positive and  able to manage all difficulties within your classroom.  But look around.  Is this true for every classroom in your building?  District?   Is it possible that your building or district needs it, despite your success?   The consistency, predictability  and routines that PBIS supports offer are vital for children who come from chaotic, unpredictable communities/homes.  Your demographics may not include these students.  They may, but you might be effective regardless.   Still, the benefits of PBIS done well are clear.  They work for everyone, everywhere.  This is about the building, not the individual teacher alone.

So, what does it take to become a high implementor of PBIS?

(1) Teacher commitment to the initiative needs to be developed and reinforced. Communication of guidelines and the rationale for practices could facilitate teacher buy-in. Systematic use of data to demonstrate the effectiveness of PBS practices was also linked to teacher buy-in.
(2) Clear implementation guidelines should be provided to all school staff through a structured system of professional development and information dissemination. The guidelines need to help teachers respond positively to an often diverse population of students. They also need to encourage consistent and appropriate implementation of the rewards system based on a shared understanding of PBS in the school.
(3) Systematic data collection and use allows teachers and administrators to monitor the nature, location, and frequency of smaller disciplinary infractions before they become larger issues.
(4) Including student input in data-based decision-making can be useful in addressing barriers associated with the rewards system, including selecting appropriate rewards and monitoring the consistency with which rewards are offered.
(5) PBS orientation/training for new and substitute teachers could increase the consistency of application within the school. Similarly, refresher training may be needed for more experienced teachers. However, given the limited resources for professional development and the experience of some teachers with PBS, creativity in how to provide the training – to whom, when, and in what format – will be needed.


Positive Behavior Support in Delaware Schools

Identifying Implementation Barriers and Facilitators in PBIS



Tools To Assist Classroom Teachers with Structure: How Much?

In my role as a behavior and learning consultant in our county, I assisted school teams in problem solving around individual students.  It didn’t take long for me to see that the core issue was about the fit between the student and teacher, along with instruction, materials and environment.  The problem was always about the “system” and not an individual.

Every classroom teacher has a variety of rituals, routines, rules and motivational techniques they use as a framework to ensure students are engaged and thriving.  Some have frameworks that are tight; others prefer loose.  This does not refer to how friendly or punishing the teacher is, but instead  the degree to which the teacher orchestrates student behavior.

  • A loosely structured classroom allows students to lead most things, including dismissal, beginning and ending routines, how homework is turned in and how much talking there is during reading. Teachers do not need to be explicit or consistent about expectations and the level of maturity and self-control of the students is high. Dismissal might happen all at once as the students are quite self-directed.
  •  A tightly structured classroom is one in which the teacher makes most decisions, including  the amount of talking, how  many students in the bathroom at a time, etc. The teacher makes expectations explicit and is very consistent in routines.  Dismissal might happen with small groups being excused in a calm, orderly and quiet fashion.

The level of structure in your classroom will be based on two major things:

  1. Your own personal style
  2. The collective needs of your students from year to year

What is your personal style?  Can you tolerate noise?  Movement?  Mess?  Do you prefer quiet and calm?  Are interruptions upsetting or expected?  Can you multi-task or does that overwhelm you?

Teachers must be honest and true to themselves about their own preferences around such things as noise, movement and tolerance for multi-tasking and interruption.  Those preferring a highly orchestrated day are encouraged to work that way, even if their students could responsibly handle less structure.  Students are more likely to adapt and the “fit” will be better.  Those who can tolerate more noise and movement can spend more time reflecting on the needs of the students.  Tightening up on routines and structure can happen if student need dictates.

To reflect on the type of classroom setting a teacher needs, Randy Sprick from Safe and Civil Schools created a brief teacher questionnaire.  The purpose of this questionnaire is to allow teachers to reflect upon their own unique needs.  The teacher who knows they have a low tolerance for noise needs to specifically teach students to keep noise to a minimum and acknowledge when they have it “right”.  This tool can be used with grade-level teams for discussion.

 Next, teachers need to consider student’s needs and their risk factors.  Randy Sprick’s Classroom Management and Discipline Planning Questionnaire is a way for teachers to assess their building and class regarding things such as age, number of students, and specific risk factors they might have.  A class with many risk factors is more likely to have increased behavioral difficulties if the structure of the class is quite loose.  A class with few risk factors may need low structure as the students are predominantly mature and independent students.

Considering both your needs and the needs of your classroom is a great way to ensure the fit between you and them is conducive to engagement and productivity.  You can judge the appropriateness of your level of structure over time by the frequency and intensity of misbehavior.  If there isn’t a problem, there is nothing to fix!   : )