For Teachers

Positive Behavior Support in Schools – How Well Does it Work?

By Monica Fuglei September 4, 2013

The bell rings and noisy students stream out of classrooms into complete chaos: shoulder bumps, angry scowls, and displeasure abide. The alternative? A relatively quiet hallway with students walking in an orderly manner. Which creates an environment more conducive to learning?

Positive Behavior Support defined

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS or PBS) seeks to replace outdated school handbook language of “you can’t” with behavioral modeling that gives students the tools to create an environment conducive to learning and rewards them when they behave respectfully to each other and to their teachers.

Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports is a program developed by the National Technical Assistance Center in conjunction with the Department of Education to address behavioral dysfunction in schools and create evidence-based practices to benefit all students in a school. Because schools vary so significantly in population, overall school culture, and student needs, it is important to note that PBIS is a framework rather than a curriculum.

Major elements of the PBIS framework

The PBIS framework is based on four major elements: Outcomes, Practices, Data, and Systems. Schools identify the target outcomes of their students, families, and educators and then develop evidence-based practices that help reach those goals. They also participate in a data-collection process that allows them to continuously align or revise their practices based on the data collected. Finally, the school works to develop systems that would support continued implementation of PBIS so that it can be maintained over time.

How does PBIS work?

Different schools use the PBIS framework to develop their own program reflective of their student bodies. Franklin Elementary in Littleton, Colo. uses the Keys to Success, which aligns with their mascot Ben Franklin. Schools in Aurora, Colo. use a PBIS-based system called ARMOR — an acronym for Accountable, Respectful, Motivated, Organized, and Responsible. Consistently, PBIS programs work to give students specific behaviors that create a positive atmosphere, but because PBIS is a framework rather than a curriculum, it can be tailored to fit individual schools or districts.

Rewarding positive behavior

Evidence of the PBIS program can be seen in the hallways of schools that have adopted the framework. Some schools hang brightly colored signs that list desirable student outcomes. Teachers and administrators roam the halls looking for good behavior in action, sometimes called “gotcha moments.” These administrators or teachers are armed with small slips or rewards where they can identify and reward the student’s positive behavior (such as holding a door for a classmate or helping a fellow student pick up books they dropped) immediately.

Students often come home to their parents excited to share a complimentary note. Sometimes students or classes will compete to see who can get the most “gotchas” in a school year. Reward-based motivation faces criticism as an undermining of a child’s ability to develop intrinsic motivation for good behavior, but PBIS cites several studies that show no negative influence on the development of intrinsic motivation.

Student-defined good behavior

The ability to articulate the qualities of a positive student can be very important, and some schools ask their students to do just that. A sophomore English class at Phillips High School in Wisconsin was asked to articulate their own version of their school’s outcomes. Their reward? Publication in the local newspaper. Such rewards feed a student’s excitement and commitment to engaging in positive behavior and the feeling that teachers and administrators are always watching translates into a changed school culture.

How effective is positive behavior support?

Aurora Public Schools in Colorado created a series of videos to show the significant influence of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on student behavior and school culture.

Because PBIS functions as a framework rather than a curriculum, measuring the overall efficacy is difficult. As each individual school or district chooses their priorities, key behaviors (negative and positive), and adjusts to their student body’s reaction to those behaviors, accurate program-wide data assessment can be challenging.

That said, PBIS cites a number of studies supporting the presence of PBIS in schools and that have established a strong connection between adopting the framework of PBIS and an overall desirable change in school culture.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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