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PBIS in Elementary Schools
PBIS in Elementary Schools
Kerri Legg, Derek Sosnowski, Kristin Fall, Thilagha Jagaiah
Click on the pyramid to visit the PBIS website.
An introduction to the topic:
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a prevention oriented approach that focuses efforts on teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding the positive behaviors as opposed to disciplining the negative behaviors, in an effort to create a positive environment for learning to take place (Warren, et al, 2006). To do this effectively, there must be interventions and supports established throughout a variety of settings, such as school-wide, within the classroom, as well as individual, and small groups. PBIS includes a broad range of strategies that help implement classroom behavior management and can be carried over to other school areas as well to create a positive school climate (Sherrod, et al, 2009).
Today, the PBIS model is used to try to establish positive behaviors and a climate that benefits the general education curriculum as a whole. It is a scientific based protocol for dealing with and improving student outcomes. This support system uses an integration of behavioral science, valued outcomes, practical and empirical supported procedures, and a systems perspective (Warren, et al, 2006). The idea is to establish more appropriate social behaviors and to promote a positive environment or climate, which increases the learning that can take place. The best approach to behavior management is a School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS), which follows a Response-to Intervention (RTI) application (Horner, R., Sugai, G., 2009).
Like the RTI approach, the PBIS model uses a three-tiered approach that includes primary (universal), secondary, and tertiary prevention (Sherrod, et al, 2009). In this approach, all students receive support at a universal level or tier. If the behaviors of some students are not responding to the universal level, then more intensive behavioral supports are put in place. If those behavioral supports are still failing to provide support to a small portion of students, a highly individualized plan is created for a extremely intensive behavioral intervention at the tertiary tier (National, 2011).
School-Wide implementation of PBS typically includes the following per Warren, et al, 2006:
a) A team composed of representative school staff, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders is established to guide the planning process.
b) School-wide behavioral rules or expectations are defined.
c) Appropriate behavioral expectations are directly taught to students.
d) Effective systems for acknowledging appropriate behaviors and discouraging inappropriate behaviors are established.
e) The effectiveness of the program is continually monitored and evaluated.
A complete list of research based-behavioral interventions that can be adopted for students that need more intense intervention can be found at
. Using this framework or approach to teaching will create a learning environment that is effective, efficient, and relevant. Adoption sustains use of research based-behavioral inventions for all students, especially those that have serious behavioral challenges (Horner, R., Sugai, G., 2009).
A historical perspective of the topic:
The topic of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports was introduced as a “nonaversive” Behavioral Support back in 1990 per Horner. The idea was to create a behavioral management approach that supported people with undesirable behaviors that integrates technology and values. Behavioral management during this time period was often very aversive, which can be defined or synonymous with procedures that involve the delivery of pain, withholding basic human needs, or social humiliation (Horner, et al, 1990). During this time, teachers and administrators did not follow such humane ways of dealing with students that deviated from the norm by any means, and there were no laws that prevented or regulated such inhumane punishments from taking place with the schools. There was a big push finally in the 1990’s to deviate from the routine practices of punishment, negative interactions, and exclusion to deal with negative behavior issues and challenges within the school environment (Eber, et al, 2002). During that time period, it was common practice to use punishment, especially with those students who are more difficult when it comes to behavioral challenges or had intellectual challenges that made them more difficult to teach as well.
The “nonaversive” behavioral support came about as an intervention or support in the development, review, or revision of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for any student whose behavior impedes the student’s learning or that of others (Warren, et al, 2006). This was a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1999 and was considered a special education incentive for those students who needed behavioral interventions and supports (Warren, et al, 2006). The educators that implemented this positive behavioral interventions and support method realized at that time that using this proactive measure might be efficiently used with all students, not just those classified under the IDEA or receiving special education services. From there, the “nonaversive” behavioral supports grew into a positive behavioral approach that is currently used with the general education curriculum. School-wide implementation is used as well. It turned into Positive Behavioral Supports (PBS) and has recently changed to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.
An examination of the topic from one perspective:
Implementation of PBIS: An elementary school’s perspective
Some school districts in Connecticut have chosen to utilize the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model to successfully support students with a wide range of both behavioral and emotional challenges. One school in Connecticut that has had sufficient resources to conduct training for all the teachers over the past 6 years has an established action plan for PBIS. My report is based on the experiences of this school.
Background on an elementary school PBIS implementation
The PBIS Leadership team is comprised of two teams with representation across administration, general education, special education, guidance, and specials. The core team, which meets regularly, consists of the individuals who are involved in the critical day-to-day operations such as monitoring behavior data and maintaining communication with staff. This makes the PBIS plan run efficiently and effectively. The other team, known as the peripheral team, meets once every three weeks to review data, activities, and make modifications to the programs suggested. This team also finds avenues to get funds to run school-wide activities, print materials (e.g. posters), and purchase school-wide incentives including token economy and school store supplies.
The school uses the PBIS program to develop the school-wide discipline and rewards system. The over-arching rule in this school is, “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe”. This is demonstrated in various ways throughout the classrooms, hallways, lunchroom, etc., and is incorporated into the school’s detention and referral system. The teachers in the building use this program within their classrooms to reward behavior as well as establish consequences.
Specific expectations for each portion of the school day, such as hallways, cafeteria, bus line, classroom, and bathroom behavior are modeled to the students. One important feature of PBIS in this school is that new staff members are expected to observe the classroom implementation of PBIS by senior teachers.
Behavior Management using PBIS
The school implements PBIS by explicitly modeling to the students the types of behaviors expected of them in the various places at school.
The school takes a more positive approach to learning. The teachers, secretary, lunch supervisors, custodians, and the principals spot students who are being good and reward their behaviors. The school has a positive referral form that is filled out if a student does something extraordinary. The student is then called into the Principal’s office. The principal discusses the positive behavior that the students have exhibited. The principal has a variety of prizes to give away to the students if the behavior deserves a little extra recognition. It appears to have changed a majority of the students' behaviors, but there are still some students who do not seem to respond positively to the PBIS system. Those are the students who are getting the majority of the discipline referrals.
A video on "Caught doing something good"
In the classroom, the structure is maximized. The teacher is consistent with predictable routines. The students go through the same ritual as they step into the classroom. They have to quietly put away their book bags, place their homework in the homework tray, go to their desks and be ready for 20 minutes of morning math before they go to their specials. The students line up in two rows with the line leaders in front and door holders ahead of the two rows of students to keep the doors opened while they walk through. They are expected walk silently through the hallway and as a form of motivation, a mystery walker is selected each time the students leave the classroom and walk through the hallway. If the mystery walker fulfills the criteria of behaving positively throughout their journey to their destination, he or she will be given a ticket as part of the token economy.
During a lesson, the students are familiarized with the group activity, pair work activity, and individual activity to ensure smooth transition without disruption in each lesson. It is a routine that the students have been exposed to and they are familiar with this expectation.
Classroom job is another routine that the students are exposed to. When materials need to be distributed, each student is assigned to a different classroom job. At the end of the month these students get paid with tickets. The number of tickets given depends on how the students execute their jobs. The students who do not conform to the rules of the jobs will be fired and will not earn tickets.
The classroom environment is also designed to elicit appropriate behavior and minimize crowding and distraction. The seating arrangement is changed every month to allow students to mingle with different students and also to place disruptive students in a location that allows adequate supervision. Also, the arrangement is important to allow easy traffic flow. The classroom is divided to staff and student areas. The students are also made aware of small group instruction areas and carpet seating arrangement. These routines ensure smooth transition and effective time management.
The students have been briefed that they have homework from Monday to Thursday and that it is their responsibility that they pick up their homework and complete it before school commences the next day. The students who have three strikes for not submitting homework will face 15- 20 minutes of detention after school.
Modeling positive behavior
The PBIS practice in this school requires teachers to implement positive, rather than negative measures. Teachers are expected to use research-based practices and techniques to improve students’ behaviors. The behavior support programs and plans in the school are based on a functional assessment of behavior (FBA) and utilize positive behavior techniques. The intervention program is the least intrusive and restraints are a measure of last resort.
Social skills lessons are carried out in the classroom. The teachers will teach, review, monitor, and reinforce positively stated expectations. For example, “ Be Responsible, Be Respectful and Be Safe”. The teacher models positive behavior by providing possible occurrences of scenarios. The teachers also establishes a continuum of strategies to acknowledge both appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
One of the strategies used is to get the students to recite a pledge. The following is an example of the pledge.
I will strive to be a leader.
I will act in such a way that I will be proud of myself and others will be proud of me too.
I came to school to learn and I will learn.
I understand that I am responsible for my own actions.
I will have a great day.
The students are taught to ask questions when they are in a situation that may land them in trouble. The following are examples of questions.
Is it against the law or school rules?
Is it harmful to me or to others?
Would it disappoint my family or other important adults?
Would I be sorry afterward?
Would I be hurt or upset if someone did this to me?
Intervention is not just focused on problem behaviors that need to be eliminated, but also on broader life changes. The focus is on preventing problem behavior rather than reacting to it, on teaching skills aimed at replacing the problem behavior, and on self-regulation.
The school uses the following procedure to implement PBIS:
Assess behavior problem
The teachers identify the immediate antecedents that may influence the behavior. For example, the teacher’s instruction or an exchange of words with another student may trigger a behavior problem such as hitting, yelling or kicking. One effective way is to modify the antecedents and then the problem behavior may become irrelevant.
The behavior intervention and support plans focus on prevention of behavioral difficulties and early intervention when difficulties emerge, rather than ongoing reactions to the student’s negative behavior. For example, if the student uses negative behavior to escape difficult academic work, the teachers should find ways to make the work manageable for the student. Some students prefer collaborating with other students and this may prevent negative behavior.
The intervention plans focus on meaningful engagement in order to prevent difficulties. Ample opportunities for participation in activities that the student considers meaningful are provided.
The behavioral interventions and supports are delivered in the settings and within the activities in which the student has behavioral difficulties. Only when the behavioral problem persists and is disruptive, will the students be provided with one-to-one behavioral intervention in a separate classroom. The student will continue to receive instruction in this from the special educator. The special educator will also focus on targeted behavior problem providing individual strategies. The student will not be allowed to go for lunch or specials with the rest of the classmates until the student earns time back to return to the regular classroom.
The students are expected to earn tickets for the following things:
Following any and all of the school-wide expectations
Being safe in the classroom
Participating by raising their hand
Collaborating with classmates
Being safe on the playground
Helping out a friend
Assisting the teacher
Taking pride in their work
Walking silently in the hallways
Staying focused on their task
Having a positive attitude
Using polite language
Coming to school consistently prepared (i.e. a week with homework, notes, supplies, and permission slips)
The ratio of positive to negative reinforcement should be at least 4:1.
The underlying principle to receive incentives, like Fun Friday, is to set the bar high but reachable. To participate, the students are charged tickets and the number of tickets charged is based on the teacher’s discretion. For example, 40 tickets could be charged for Fun Friday. The students who do not have sufficient tickets can work quietly at their desk. Some examples of rewarding the students with the exchange of tickets are:
Fun Friday is a whole-class PBS incentive occurring monthly, that students can do within their classroom if they have earned enough tickets to attend. Classroom teachers can select the activity that works best for them.
7-up, Hangman, 4-corners, board games/ puzzles, freeze dance, laptops
iii. Extra recess (to play outside)
iv. Use of DVD & Audiotape
PBIS is still at its early stage in this school and it is hard to see results due to several problems. One reason is because some of the students who show serious behavior problems move to different schools. Another reason is due to inconsistent practice by the teachers when providing positive reinforcement. It also appears that the school does not have a list of behavior problems that could be considered as office referrals. Therefore, minor incidences such as refusing to do tasks are categorized as office referrals and this impacts the data which is used to assess the success of PBIS.
An examination of the topic from another perspective:
the right choice for my school! What is?”
Over 7,000 schools across the nation are currently implementing PBIS with success (“PBIS-Frequently Asked Questions”, 2011). This framework improves school climate, academic performance, school-wide organization and planning, and behavior outcomes. Data shows that PBIS works.
However, if PBIS
the right choice for your school, what is? The Comer School Development Program and Responsive Classroom are two other evidence-based frameworks and alternatives to PBIS. These programs are also designed to improve school success through careful planning and data analysis. The three frameworks depend on staff consistency and fidelity on a school-wide basis. While The Comer School Development Program, Responsive Classroom, and PBIS share some common goals, the frameworks have specific approaches that make them unique.
Click on the schoolhouse to visit The Comer School Development Program website.
The Comer School Development Program
When Dr. James P. Comer, a child psychiatrist at Yale, started The Comer School Development Program, he had two specific goals in mind. He wanted to support children’s development so that they can make positive contributions to society and he wanted to collaborate (Mission and Vision, 2011). His framework involves parents, students, and staff in every aspect of education. Each individual is responsible for the creation and maintenance of a positive learning environment.
Dr. Comer’s three-team approach plays a significant role in successful implementation of the program. The School Planning and Management Team, made up of school staff and parents, is in charge of setting school-wide and community goals, monitoring student progress, organizing professional development, and putting together activities that correspond with the framework’s goals. The Student and Staff Support Team is led by administrators and specialists in child development. They work with educators and individual students and help them communicate information, get appropriate support services, and implement prevention programs. The Parent Team is the third critical component of The Comer School Development Program. Family involvement is stressed in every classroom, at every level of education. Parents work with school staff to coordinate activities and create a positive learning environment (How It Works, 2011). Dr. Comer and his colleagues emphasize cooperation between the three teams, consensus prior to decision making, and a focus on student needs when problem-solving (How It Works, 2011). Keeping these beliefs in mind at all times allow staff, parents, and students to benefit greatly from the framework. The Comer School Development Program focuses on a comprehensive school plan, staff development, and assessment and modification of the school’s goals (Model of the SDP Process, 2011).
At Comer schools, teachers, parents, administrators, and support staff are committed to student growth. All individuals strive to help learners become successful members of the community. Curricula and activities are designed around the six pathways of development: physical, cognitive, psychological, language, social, and ethical development (Resources, 2011). This provides students with a well-rounded education that is focused on individual growth, effective methods of communication, and the establishment of positive relationships. Professional development often focuses on these six pathways, so that teachers understand child development and how to best meet their students' needs (Merrow: Comer Schools are Beacons of Hope, 2011).
School data from around the world and the New Haven public school district in particular can attest to the success of this framework. Although the program has reached hundreds of schools so far (School Development Program, 2011), it has been implemented much less often than PBIS and is not as widely known. With such positive feedback and data that show significant improvements in student performance, school climate, and parent involvement (Research and Evaluation, 2011), The Comer School Development Program could grow substantially in future years.
Click on “Jackie Miller on the Comer Process” to hear about the principal's experiences.
Click on the sun to visit the Responsive Classroom website.
Responsive Classroom is another approach that can be used independently or in combination with PBIS. This program focuses on several goals that are communicated to staff in a one-week training program. While specific objectives may differ between classrooms and schools, the ultimate goals remain the same. They include improving academics and social skills, educating staff (About Responsive Classroom, 2011), establishing positive relationships, and building intrinsic motivation (Anderson, 2011). Teachers, administrators, and students work together to create a positive learning environment in which all students succeed.
Evidence-based classroom practices are critical in implementing Response Classroom effectively. Morning meetings, where concepts from the previous day are reviewed, start the day off right with high levels of engagement and participation from students (Anderson, 2011). Throughout the day, positive teacher language is used to reinforce appropriate choices, remind students of the classroom rules that they helped create, and redirect students as necessary (Anderson, 2011). An effective time-out, when a student takes a few minutes or less to regain control, is sometimes used as well (Anderson, 2011). Other practices that contribute to student engagement and learning include interactive modeling, academic choice, and collaborative problem solving (The Responsive Classroom Approach, n.d.). These framework components are motivating and encourage learners to focus on their education.
In an interview with Mike Anderson, a Responsive Classroom consultant and experienced classroom teacher, the blending of academics with social and emotional development was emphasized (Anderson, 2011). In order for Responsive Classroom to be implemented successfully, both core instruction and classroom management that recognizes social development must be strong. Lessons are engaging and offer students choices (Anderson, 2011). To compliment meaningful academics, educators explicitly teach appropriate behavior and social skills (Anderson, 2011). The goal is for students to make good decisions because it is the right thing to do, instead of working solely toward extrinsic rewards for their behavior (Anderson, 2011).
Token economies are often used in PBIS schools. Although these extrinsic rewards (points, school dollars, tickets, etc) are sometimes faded out, it is important to consider the effectiveness of these systems. Token econo
mies can be beneficial in many classrooms, but must be established and implemented with care. Responsive Classroom prefers to use extrinsic rewards minimally. When they are given, students help choose the reinforcer and discuss behavioral expectations. It is made clear that the reward will not always be present and that the students should instead focus on mastering the skills being reinforced (Anderson, 2011). This helps learners to become intrinsically motivated to make good choices.
Responsive Classroom has helped schools across the country increase academic achievements, create a more positive school climate, deliver high-quality instruction, and improve behavior outcomes (Research Confirms the Benefits, 2011). As more educators learn about the program, it is predicted that Responsive Classroom will continue to expand (Anderson, 2011) and positively impact the education of students.
To see how The Comer School Development Program and Responsive Classroom are related, check out this video: The Importance of Child Development in Education: A Conversation with James Comer and Chip Wood.
The following frameworks can also be used as alternatives or in combination with PBIS. Click on the images to visit the programs’ websites.
Areas of future research, directions, or controversies:
One of the major areas of future research regarding PBIS is the issue of why it is more difficult to implement the program with certain age groups rather than others. Elementary and middle schools have experienced great success in using PBIS to improve school climate and manage behaviors effectively, while high schools have reported a higher frequency of difficulty in successfully using the program. The reason for this discrepancy is not entirely clear and there is a growing effort to both understand and correct the problem. Because PBIS is a program that can be easily tailored to suit specific students, groups, and behaviors, there is no reason to doubt that it can be successful across many age ranges. The specifics of where this research will be focused are unclear at this time, but high schools will be the primary area of study.
Another aspect of PBIS that is being studied more frequently is the issue of restraints and seclusions. This is also one of the most controversial elements of PBIS because of the often misunderstood nature of why and how seclusions and restraints occur. There have been many complaints made by parents throughout the country over the issue of a restraint involving their child and there is a growing effort to decrease the number of restraints that occur within PBIS programs. Research is focused on when restraints and seclusions become necessary and how they should be implemented. There is a consensus among the PBIS community that there should be a standard procedure for both of these issues and that schools must be in agreement on why, how, and when they occur.
One of the most controversial elements of PBIS involves one of its most essential features: the use of rewards and reinforcers. Many teachers have philosophical disagreements with rewarding students for behaviors that they are simply expected to perform. The line of thinking is such that teachers expect students to come to school ready and prepared to learn and do not see a point in praising students for completing their assigned schoolwork. This controversy is being dealt with by increasing teacher awareness of the usefulness and success of rewards and praise in the classroom. If skeptical teachers can be shown that rewards serve to increase the frequency of desired behaviors, they are more likely to use this method to manage their classroom. Increased training and more concrete evidence regarding the success of this element of the PBIS program are being used to decrease the skepticism towards the use of rewards.
Despite the controversy surrounding the use of seclusions and restraints in PBIS, the program is headed in a very positive direction. The continuation and increase in research regarding how best to manage and improve behaviors is extremely encouraging. More empirical evidence that can be used to improve the program will be valuable in tweaking it and making it an even more successful tool in education. More and more schools are counting themselves as PBIS schools and are willingly undergoing the training required to successfully use the program. PBIS is evolving into a tool for educators that can be used to improve the climate of any school and make learning easier for all students, not just those identified as troubled.
What this means for teachers and schools:
What all of this information, and the PBIS program in general, means for teachers and schools is that learning environments and behaviors will improve. The goal of PBIS is to “enhance academic and social behavior outcomes for all students,” which, quite simply, means that education will become a more successful and enjoyable process for both teachers and students (PBIS FAQ, 1). Through the implementation and use of PBIS, teachers will find it easier to manage behaviors and to increase those that are desirable. Teachers working with populations that have behavioral issues will be better prepared to manage and shape troublesome behaviors and to improve the learning climate for all students.
The overall climate in schools will also improve dramatically after the implementation of PBIS. Schools will run more smoothly, positive and desired behaviors will be rewarded, and office referrals will decrease. All of these things combined will make schools better functioning and they will be better able to meet the needs of their students and successfully educate them.
Additional resources to learn more:
Watch PBIS in the classroom
Watch PBIS Maryland Banner School : Behind The Scenes
PBIS – SWPBS for Beginners
School-wide Positive Behavior Support Implementers’ Blueprint and Self- Assessment
HUG “Hello, Update, Goodbye” Program
Safe and Civil Schools
Comer School Development Program
PBS and ABA
Video: The Comer School Development Program and Responsive Classroom
The Importance of Child Development in Education: A Conversation with James Comer and Chip Wood.
About Responsive Classroom. (2011). Retrieved November 30, 2011, from Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. website:
About Us. (2011). Retrieved November 22, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Anderson, M. (2011, November 30).
. Interview by K. Fall [Phone interview].
Eber, et al. (2002). Wraparound and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in the Schools. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 3(10), 171-181.
Frequently Asked Questions. (2011). Retrieved November 24, 2011, from Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports website:
Horner, et al. (1990). Toward a Technology of “Nonaversive” Behavioral Support. The Association for Persons with Sever Handicaps, 3(15), 125-132.
Horner, R., Sugai, G. (2009). Responsiveness-to-Intervention and School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports: Integration of Multi-Tiered System Approaches. Exceptionality, 17, 223-237.
How It Works. (2011). Retrieved November 22, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Jackie Miller on the Comer Process [Video file]. (2008). Retrieved from
Merrow: Comer Schools are Beacons of Hope. (2011). Retrieved November 23, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Mission and Vision. (2011). Retrieved November 22, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Model of the SDP Process. (2011). Retrieved November 23, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 2011, retrieved from
PBIS Frequently Asked Questions. (2011). Retrieved November 26, 2011, from Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports website:
Research Confirms the Benefits. (2011). Retrieved November 30, 2011, from Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. website:
Research and Evaluation. (2011). Retrieved November 25, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Resources. (2011). Retrieved November 23, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Responsive Classroom Approach. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2011, from Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. website:
School Development Program. (2011). Retrieved Novem
ber 23, 2011, from The Comer School Development Program website:
Sherrod, et al. (2009). The Impact of Positive Behavior Support to Decrease Discipline Referrals with Elementary Students. Professional School Counseling, 6(12), 421-427.
Warren, et al. (2006). Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support: Addressing Behavior Problems that Impede Student Learning. Educ Psychol Rev, 18, 187-198.
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