Rethinking PBIS

What do you think of when you think of PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)?  Chances are you think first of the idea of “caught being good” or rewards.  I was at a SEL (Social Emotional Learning) training recently and when we were asked what our schools did related to PBIS, student rewards was the first thing that came up.  One person talked about a student run school store they had put together where students could spend money or tickets they earned for positive behaviors.  Others talked about similar systems all with some sort of ticket or money system to motivate positive behavior.  Although these things aren’t bad in and of themselves and can be a positive part of a school culture for students, we miss the core of what makes PBIS effective if we make it all about rewards.

The simple truth is that for the 80-90% of students in school who display positive behaviors, they will continue to display them whether they are rewarded for it or not.  Additionally, the 10-20% of them who sometimes don’t display positive behaviors (and don’t typically earn rewards) won’t improve their behavior over the long term with rewards alone.  So where should our focus be if not on rewards?

  1. Making connections: Every student should have a positive connection with at least 1 adult and a few of their peers at school.  It is absolutely the key to all success at school and in life.
  2. Teaching our expectations: Try a little experiment with a group of kids this next week: First, introduce to them a fairly complicated math concept that they haven’t previously learned.  Announce that there will be a quiz at the end of the week and those who earn a 90% or above will receive a pizza party.  Those who earn below a 90% will receive a detention.  Then, sit back for the rest of the week and offer them no instruction or resources to learn the concepts needed.  Sound silly?  Then why do we treat behavioral and social skills this way?  We need to systematically teach and reteach our expectations, take data, then teach and reteach again based on what the data tells us.
  3. Making learning fun: Over the years I’ve learned that 90% of classroom management issues go away if students are really engaged in learning.  Raise the bar for your lessons.  Make learning in your classroom so fun that students would hate to ever misbehave and risk missing out on something.

One simple example of teaching positive behaviors in action was a Can/Can’t chart the PBIS team made at my previous school with pictures to show both appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the snow (visuals are great especially for 2nd grade and down).  Whenever we had a snowstorm, classroom teachers would quickly go over the chart before they went out to recess.  If a student got in trouble for throwing snowballs, we would reteach them using the same chart.  If they ended up missing a recess due to frequent infractions, we might have them do a cutting/pasting activity with the same chart still focusing on teaching them appropriate behaviors for playing in the snow.   By implementing this simple tool in my previous school, snow related discipline went down roughly 80%.  This same concept can be used across all areas of the school day and it works!  Although my current school is not a PBIS school, PBIS has many advantages worthy of our consideration.  How are you building a great culture at your school?  How can you move beyond rewards and focus on what really matters?  Want to swap great strategies or tools for teaching positive behaviors?  I would love to hear from you!


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