Positive Behavior Interventions and SupportsPBISLori Klimach * Erin Siegel * Kaitlyn Widlak


SERC Library. (2011). Retrieved 16 November 2011: http://serclibrary.blogspot.com/2011/01/connecticut-summit-on-pbis.html.

Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS)

What is PBIS?
Positive Behavior Intervention Support is a strategy that is used to teach positive lifestyle skills, improve academic performance and to prevent problem behavior.

How do PBS and PBIS differ?
Positive Behavior Support (PBS) and PBIS are two acronyms for the same methodology. The name has changed to become more descriptive of the process and to avoid any confusion with PBS, the Public Broadcast System.

What is a lifestyle skill?
A lifestyle skill is one which, helps a person interact appropriately with others, is primarily focused on the acquisition of social skills, and also teaches appropriate behavior to be used when implementing the skills.

An example from Father Flanigan's Boystown, Girlstown Program:
Making an Apology
  • Look at the person
  • Use a serious, sincere voice
  • Say “I am sorry for or I want to apologize for”.
  • Explain how you will do better in the future
  • Say “thanks for listening”.

Is PBIS the same thing as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
PBIS is an outgrowth of the theories of ABA. One key difference between PBIS and ABA is that trained psychologists and clinicians are the only individuals that can diagnose and design a program designed to prevent and remediate negative behaviors. In contrast, PBIS is a strategy that can be utilized by anyone including teachers and parents.

Can PBIS be done as a stand alone strategy or does it have to be a school wide initiative?
PBIS can be implemented either way yet the individual classroom approach does not provide for the consistent use of the strategies which is very important.


Does PBIS work at all grade levels?
Ideally PBIS is a school wide initiative and the attributes of PBIS are implemented in Elementary School and continue through grade 12. The core elements are the same yet the implementation and reinforcement will look different depending on the age of the child.

What is the history and background of PBIS?
To meaningfully understand how Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) can be integrated into an educational setting, it is important to first recognize Behavioral Learning Theories. B.F. Skinner is responsible for research that indicates how behavior is rooted in the “ABCs”: the antecedent, the behavior itself and the consequence that follows. This research serves as the foundation for PBIS initiatives in the classroom in order to enforce desired behaviors through explicit goal setting and reinforcement.

Antecedents are stimuli that occur prior to the behavior and can include cues or prompts. These can be verbal or non-verbal in nature. In the case of PBIS, antecedents include both the expectations that are established for desired classroom behavior and the prompts/cues the instructor uses to signal these behaviors during instruction.

Consequences occur after the behavior has been exhibited and be either reinforcement or a punishment. Reinforcement serves to increase the frequency of as desired behavior, whereas punishment is intended to extinguish or decrease the frequency of undesired behaviors. It is important to distinguish the different forms of reinforcement and punishment. The chart below shows a definition and example of each:

Give (+)
Take (-)
Increase probability of future behavior
Positive ReinforcementGiving a tangible reward for desired behaviorExample: A student meets expectations and is given a small toy as a reward.
Negative ReinforcementReward by taking away an undesirable stimulus.Example:A student meets expectations so he is given a homework pass for the evening.
Decrease probability of future behavior
Positive PunishmentAdding a negative stimulus as the consequence for undesired behavior.Example: A student swears in class and is given a Saturday detention.
Negative PunishmentA positive stimulus is removed as the consequence for undesired behavior.Example: A student behaves in an undesirable manner during lunch and recess is taken away.
(chart modified from lecture by B. Simonsen, University of Connecticut, 7/15/2011)

Other assumptions of Behavior Learning theorists are that 1) behavior occurs due to the experiences a person has in his or her environment and 2) stimulus and response must occur in a relatively short period of time, with immediate consequence producing the most significant outcomes. The latter is crucial to the effectiveness of consequences applied through PBIS. As research indicates that immediate response correlates to higher probability of an effect, providing students with immediate feedback (both positive and negative when necessary) more quickly encourages or extinguishes the behavior at hand. (Bohlin, Durwin and Reese-Weber, 161).

Through its roots in behaviorism, PBIS translates the tenets of behavior learning theories into strategies and procedures to aid instructors in establishing desirable classroom behaviors. In order to encourage or discourage targeted behaviors, it is essential to understand the function of that behavior to the student. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is based on the idea that all behaviors serve a function. Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) are conducted to determine these functions for students who exhibit problematic or “at-risk” behaviors. Instructors, student teams or, in some cases school-wide teams, implement a strategic and consistent system of positively stated expectations, accompanied by explicit instruction to encourage desired behaviors.

While ABA describes behavior modifications in terms of the positive and negative consequences, PBIS differs in that the focus is primarily on positive response to behavior. Research has revealed that when reinforcement is a meaningful motivator, behavior changes occur more effectively than in situations where punishment is used.

Charlotte Ryan was consulting with the Minnesota Department of Children and Family services with the goal of defining PBIS, explaining best in class implementation methods for PBIS and to create a document that would be used as a resource for public school educators, DCF, Law Enforcement and universities that certify teachers and school psychologists. Although never officially published, Ryan's final draft is included in the Other Resource section at the end of this document. This manual is highly recommended for those that have not been exposed to PBIS, those whom are pursuing content specific teacher certification Grades 7 - 12, and by parents, family, caregivers and community service organizations that are involved in educating students in life skills as well as academic skills.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and how does it relate to PBIS?
In 1968, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was solidly established as a method to research, identify and address problem behaviors, which were deemed as inhibiting success of the individual in important social settings. The definitive and inclusive definition and explanation of ABA is attributed to an article published by Baer, Wolf and Risely in the first issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. The three components of ABA are defined as:
  • Applied: “behavior, stimuli, and/or organism under study are chosen because of their importance to man and society” (p. 92).
  • Behavioral: behavior is “composed of physical events” and requires “precise measurement” (p. 93).
  • Analytic: “requires a believable demonstration of the events that can be responsible for the occurrence or non-occurrence of that behavior” (pp. 93-94).
The methodology assumes that every behavior has a purpose, whether that is to obtain/get something or to avoid something and by altering the behavior, not the antecedent, a person can learn more appropriate behaviors.

Proper execution of ABA requires that clinicians in a laboratory setting administer the research, offer the interpretation, and lead the implementation of the treatment strategy. Those that discount ABA as an effective treatment in the elimination of problem behaviors refer to the lack of real world observation and the lack of accessibility as it requires trained clinicians to administer treatment. ABA supporters stand behind the fact that their results are scientifically valid, have shown reliability over time and have produced results in a large percentage of patients treated.

Another distinction between PBIS and ABA is the application of interventions designed to positively influence the desired behaviors. ABA methodology included the use of not only positive but also negative reinforcement. The premise for this approach is rooted in B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning observations and clinical results. Said in layman’s terms, a person can be trained to consistently produce a desired behavior by positive or negative reinforcement. Even after the reinforcement is removed, the stimuli will still produce the desired response (Carr, Dunlap, Horner, Koegel, Turnbull, Sailer, Anderson, Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 2002 4:4).

The fact that PBIS has its’ roots in the tenants of the ABA process is widely recognized. No matter which methodology is followed, there is no dispute that the Three Term Contingency; Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence, is the main theory behind behavior intervention as developed via ABA. The divide between ABA experts and PBIS experts regarding the effectiveness and scientific validity of PBIS remains a very controversial issue and shows no signs of convergence of opinion in the near future (Brown, Michaels, Oliva, and Woolf. The Behavior Analyst, 2006, 20, 51 – 74).

The controversy surrounding ABA and PBIS has been evidenced since the very introduction of PBIS into public schools. In a strongly worded submission to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis that dates to 1972, O'Leary characterizes the lack of purity of definition and the tendency to over-generalize and misinterpret the success of PBIS without acknowledging that PBIS is a well marketed method that is in fact ABA with less rigor of implementation. Not unexpected, the success of PBIS as a methodology to improve performance and social skills for all children has resulted in wide acceptance of this approach by Government and School Administrators. ABA purists maintain that PBIS is a narrow subset of ABA and without the support of the deep and consistent research results produced by ABA, PBIS would not have the necessary credentials and scientific research based results to support their approach to behavior modification. PBIS supporters purport that their methodology is much more scalable and can be broadly implemented in real life situations which are most helpful in reducing problem behavior (Foxx, et al. The Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2008 10:212).

There may be differing interpretations of where PBIS and ABA approaches diverge, yet the implementation of reinforcing positive behavior as a method of improving social skills and important behaviors is showing great promise in helping students access the academic experience available. It is not surprising then that the tenants of ABA and PBIS have found their way into many instructional strategies including Marzano’s 9 rules of effective instruction (2007. Marzano, The Art and Science of Teaching, Alexandria, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD]).

Implications for Teachers and Controversies

The rewards, and the setbacks, of PBIS continue to be studied as PBIS is still a beginning framework of behavior management in many schools. Teacher reactions to PBIS programs are generally positive and success rates increase dramatically given the level of training, reinforcement and support of the Administrators. According to the Wisconsin PBIS Network, ever since they began implementing PBIS the community has responded with encouraging and affirmative attitudes. Their website (http://www.wisconsinpbisnetwork.org/parents-and-family/success.html) shares inspirational stories and successful data, including such statements as: “extra attention from staff led to a 21% reduction in suspensions” at one school, “students at another school impressed the community's police chief with their clear understanding of the school's expectations for behavior,” and “a giant signed bus poster tells the story at another school, where bus behavior improved dramatically through a unified effort involving teachers, school staff, bus drivers and students.” Clearly PBIS is working at schools throughout Wisconsin and professionals in the academic world are overall pleased with the strategies PBIS supplies.

It is easy to forget that PBIS has only been a recognized, organized and widely accepted platform for use in academic and social skills improvement for 15 years. Some suggest that by academic and scientific standards, 15 years is not long enough to establish valid, credible, reliable, research based evidence of the effectiveness of PBIS. One of the key attributes of PBIS is that it has been developed for use by all key constituents including teachers, parents, administrators, social support providers, etc. is also an unfortunate challenge for PBIS. In order to be successful, It is essential that instruction, training and practice be devoted to correctly introducing PBIS concepts to teachers and administrators. Research by Reinke, Herman, Stormont, Brooks, and Darney (2009) suggests that school-based programs like PBIS have reduced the present and future risk for various emotional disturbances empirically but “few of these programs have been successfully transported or maintained outside the context of controlled research studies.” These researchers state that the solution to this issue is training school personnel and this is a critical part of the successfulness of PBIS implementation. School Districts that have successfully implemented PBIS routinely devote the majority of professional development days to PBIS so that school staff can understand both its basic concepts and how to properly implement the methodology. PBIS will continue to be a controversy since not everyone completely grasps what it does and how it can help.

Bradshaw, Reinke, Brown, Bevans, and Leaf (2008) completed a study “across three years from 21 schools randomly assigned to receive training in PBIS and 16 schools not trained in PBIS.” The results indicated that PBIS does, in the end, work as “trained schools evidenced significantly higher levels of implementation fidelity” and “non-trained schools showed some increases, but lagged behind trained schools on all subscales.” This research suggests that training improves classroom management and the overall academic standards of its students. The end result, however, is only achieved if personnel are properly trained. Another study, examining the effect of PBIS on teachers, by Bradshaw, Koth, Bevans, Lalongo, and Leaf (2008) indicates that PBIS actually has a generally positive impression on the environment of the school itself. After completing a data analysis on 2,507 staff, they discovered “a significant effect of PBIS on staff reports of the schools' overall organizational health, resource influence, and staff affiliation over a 3-year period.” This study therefore suggests PBIS actually has a positive influence over the overall school environment.

As an implication for teachers, PBIS certainly helps the school environment by providing teachers with a framework to implement behavior management in their classrooms. Over 7,500 schools use PBIS to work with behavior management and it is proving, with solid data, to help with student performance (Bradshaw, Koth, Bevans, Lalongo, and Leaf, 2008). Controversies of what consist of a reward, questions about the rights and wrongs of motivating students, and various other debates on how to discipline students exists across the country. Thus far it has overall been concluded that PBIS is empirically proved to be effective. Teachers, at large, have positive reactions to PBIS and are confident in using it. However, it is critical that this confidence comes with proper training and professional development. PBIS can work in different schools, at different grade levels, and with diverse student populations. Supported by well-researched data, PBIS can work to emphasize pro-social behaviors while ultimately dedicating more time to academics as behavior management is not such a challenging issue.

What are the future implications of PBIS on public schools?
Already implemented in thousands of schools across the country, PBIS has been set into motion as an effective classroom management tool. Whether elementary, middle, or high school, PBIS is a strategy that can be used to reinforce school-wide expectations, assist in group interventions, and support individuals with specialized interventions (Simonsen, 2011, Positive Behavior Support). The present implementation of PBIS is widespread, with several institutions tireless research on topic and a variety of schools experimenting with PBIS strategies.



PBIS.org supplies up-to-date articles presenting PBIS data, as well as helpful resources for schools, families, and the community at large. This organization is rigorously dedicated to the proper implementation of PBIS as an evidence-based system that must be formally measured and controlled in order to insure it is carried out with fidelity (pbis.org, 2011). To PBIS.org (2011), then, the future of PBIS will continue to revolve around evidence-based research with the ultimate goal of improving “social and/or academic outcomes for students.”

The University of Connecticut is another institution that is engaging in school-based academic and behavior research. Dr. George Sugai founded the Center for Behavioral Education and Research (CBER) as an organization that would focus on collecting data to implement positive behavior supports and PBIS at large. CBER holds annual conferences, provides online resources, and exhibits current data in order to spread the most current researched-based information on PBIS. On November 9, 2011, a conference was held titled “PBIS Present and Future.” The PowerPoint, accessible online, emphasizes PBIS as a framework rather than a curriculum (Sugai, 2011). Sugai’s (2011) presentation makes clear that PBIS has thus far been proven to work and its future will continue to be guided by decisions based on well-researched data. Further consideration and research regarding PBIS will include looking at multi-tiered systems, more closely studying culture and context, and finding out how teachers can improve the explicit instruction of PBIS (Sugai, 2011).

The foundation of PBIS has been built. Professors, graduate students, administrators, teachers, families, and the community now have the framework to construct a complete picture of PBIS with the common aspiration to improve student behavior and the rate of learning. To assess the potential of PBIS we have to look at systematic changes related to social networks, self-esteem, and educational arrangements at the group level. New assessments, such as interviews and surveys, that look at group behavior at the classroom level must be implemented with fidelity in order to properly collect and assess PBIS data (Carr, et.al, 2002). The future of PBIS lies in the hands of the evidence-based research the behavior supports stem from. The Neag School of Education (2011), with Dr. Sugai, uses PBIS to “improve academic and social behavior outcomes for students in schools by engaging in the systematic study of educational issues and interventions, and dissemination to pre-service and in-service school personnel.” As more research is completed, PBIS will most likely be implemented in both public and private schools across the country.

Furthermore, PBIS is more and more likely to be implemented as IDEA (2004) urges educators to use PBIS, spelling it out “by writing the phrase ‘positive interventions and supports’ into the law” (“PBIS –What You Need to Know”). Therefore, “Congress in effect rebranded PBIS as the definitive model of positive behavior support” (“PBIS –What You Need to Know”). As PBIS is now written into Congressional law, it is fair to predict that PBIS will be the theoretical framework and philosophical background to behavioral management in classrooms across the country. The future of PBIS is one that will encompass additional empirical research and evidence-based data to look at the integration of various academic elements including students, staff, and supportive decision-making (Sugai, 2011). The future of PBIS is on-going. As long as PBIS continues to be the framework for classroom management strategies, institutions and individuals will continue to examine the topic and discover new ways of how best to successfully implement PBIS.

Examples of Positively Stated Expectations:
From Mark Twain Elementary School (Bettandorf, IA)

Additional questions about the future of PBIS
  • Will PBIS be unified into one set of standards and methodologies?
  • How is the use of PBIS monitored to ensure fidelity of implementation?
  • Which school-wide PBIS models are most effective and how are they monitored?
  • Will the future of PBIS focus more on academic success or to improve social functioning?

Links and Resources

PBIS Best Practices


Upcoming presentations and resources from the Center for Behavioral Education and Research (CBER)
Upcoming Presentations


CBER Newsletter

Baer, Donald M., Wolf, Montrose M., Risley, Todd, R. (1968). "Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1 91 - 97. Retrieved from Sage Publications

Brown, Fredda, Michaels, Craig, Oliva, Christopher, Woolf, Sara (2008). "Personal Paradigm Shifts Among ABA and PBS Experts: Comparison in Treatment Accessibility." Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. Retrieved from Sage Publications Online

Carr, E., et. al. (2002). "Positive Behavior Support: Evolution of Applied Science." Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions,4 (4). doi: 10.1177/109830070200400102. Retrieved from Sage Publications Online

Cohn, Andrea. (2001). National Association of School Psychologists. Positive Behavioral Supports. Retrieved from

Behavior Modification. (n.d). Wikipedia. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavior_modification

Bradshaw, C., Koth, C., Bevans, K., Lalongo, N., and Leaf, P. (2008). “The impact of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) on the organizational health of elementary schools.” School Psychology Quarterly, 23(4), Dec 2008, 462-473. doi: 10.1037/a0012883.

Bradshaw, C., Reinke, W., Brown, L., Bevans, K., and Leaf, P. (2008). "Implementation of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) in elementary schools: observations from a randomized trial.” Education and Treatment of Children, 31 (1), February 2008, 1-26. doi: 10.1353/etc.0.0025

Johnston, J.M., Foxx, Richard, M., Jacobson, John, W., Green, Gina, Mulnick, James, A. (2006). "Positive Behavior Support and Applied Behavior Analysis." The Behavior Analyst, 2006, 29, 51 - 74, No. 1.

NEAG School of Eduation. (2011). “George Sugai.” Retrieved from http://www.education.uconn.edu/directory/details.cfm?id=249.

O'Leary, Daniel, K. (1972). "Behavior Modification In The Classroom: A Rejoinder To Winett And Winkler." Jourmal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1972, 5,505-511
Retrieved from www.JABA.com

OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). (2010). PBIS Frequently Asked Questions.
Retrieved from http://www.pbis.org/pbis_faq.aspx

PBIS.org. (2011). “Is school-wide positive behavior support an evidence-based practice?” Retrieved from http://www.pbis.org/research/default.aspx.

“PBIS – what you need to know.” Safe and Civil Schools. Retrieved from http://www.safeandcivilschools.com/research/papers/pbs-pbis.php.

Positive Behavior Supports. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved November 12, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_behavior_support

Reinke, W., Herman, K., Stormont, M., Brooks, C., and Darney D. (2009). “Training the next generation of school professionals to be prevention scientists: The Missouri Prevention Center model.” Wiley Online Library. doi: 10.1002/pits.20454.

Ryan, Charlotte (1996). "Best Practices Manual: Promising Practices in Designing and Using Behavioral Interventions." Unpublished paper presented to Division of Special Education, MN Department of Children and Families September, 2008. Retrieved from MN North Star

Simonsen, Brandi. (2011). “Positive Behavior Support and Classroom Management Basics.” Unpublished paper presented at University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT. July 15, 2011.

Sugai, George. (2011). “PBIS present and future.” Retrieved from http://www.cber.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/PBIS-keynote-overview-1hr-Nov-9-2011-POST.pdf.

Wehmeyer, M. L., Patton, J.R. (2000). "Mental Retardation in the 21st Century." Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Volume 15, Number 2, Summer 2000. Retrieved from

Wisconsin PBIS Network. “Success stories.” Retrieved from http://www.wisconsinpbisnetwork.org/parents-and-family/success.html.