How to Meet Students’ Behavioral Needs Using PBIS

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary School Principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
Smiling boy receiving a ribbon from a teacher in a classroom.

What is PBIS?

The acronym PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. PBIS is often a whole school approach that addresses behavior concerns while highlighting the positive behavior that is displayed throughout a school building. This also includes systemic and unique strategies for all students to achieve social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behaviors within our entire student population. PBIS promotes and encourages positive social behavior, but it also greatly impacts the climate of our schools, as well as applies function-based problem solving to address the needs of individualized students who tend to engage in repeated behavior problems.

An additional strength of using PBIS throughout a school building is that it engages all of the staff throughout the building (including admin, teachers, paras, the nurse, custodian, cafeteria workers, volunteers, and bus drivers) in routine reflection and data-based decision making to guide intervention based decisions when trying to address any behavior concerns that may occur.

Student Behavioral Needs Met Through PBIS

The goal of PBIS is to approach behavior in a positive manner. Students are rewarded for making positive choices and face consequences for poor choices, as opposed to what was in place for years past, solely being punished for wrong doing. It is up to the staff to ensure that students are explicitly taught expected behaviors so that they are aware of what is acceptable and that they will be held accountable for their actions. We can’t assume students all know how to walk down the hall, stand in the lunch line, know the playground rules, or even assume that they know proper and appropriate etiquette in the restroom or cafeteria. Teachers can teach the same lessons from grade level to grade level using the same vocabulary and reviewing expectations so that students are aware of what is appropriate in all settings of the school regardless of who their teacher is or what class they are attending.

Because PBIS is a multi-tiered behavior system, students who do not reach their behavioral goals may receive higher levels of support and interventions to help them do so. Often students who have difficulties with staying on task, keeping their hands to themselves, making inappropriate comments, or just not being kind to others benefit from PBIS programs that are implemented with fidelity. When everyone, including staff and students, are all on the same page, it’s more likely that the PBIS program will diminish the undesirable behaviors that are in place and the outcome will be a completely different mindset of a school building as well as a positive approach to working with students.

PBIS Strategies to Implement in Your Classroom

Clear Expectations and Positive Reinforcements

Often, teachers may feel as if they are left defeated when dealing with students who have attention issues and are off task. Having clear expectations as well as providing immediate positive reinforcements will assist with keeping students on task. Often an immediate reinforcement can be something as simple as verbal praise or a visual prompt. Reinforcement does not have to be something that is tangible. Praise can go a very long way. Visual or physical prompts such as a quick high five or thumbs up is enough to keep a student on task. These “feel good” moments for our students are often small gestures that they crave and look forward to receiving.

Know Your Students

Some teachers give praise often and may have more challenging behaviors in their classroom that require a little more than just a verbal reinforcement. Knowing your students and their interests is the key to providing tangible reinforcements that are motivational. If you have a classroom full of first graders and you decide to set a goal and reward the students with reptile stickers, how much of a reinforcement would this be if 75% of your students do not like reptiles? We want to be creative with our incentives as well as know what will truly motivate our students to give their very best each day.

Be Immediate and Consistent

Being immediate and consistent is bound to provide structure and promote positivity within your classroom. A token economy is often part of a successful PBIS program as it provides an immediate incentive for students. Often classroom stores are used and this provides an incentive for students to work up to items that they would like to earn. Seeing others earn rewards often is a motivator within itself and this too can cause behaviors to diminish in the classroom. We all know that behaviors often are very contagious. This is true when promoting positive behavior within your classroom as well.

Never Take Away Incentives

One huge factor of PBIS and implementing this into your classroom is that you never take away something that a student has earned. If we put this into adult terms, if we were to make a mistake or have poor judgement when working on a task, our boss would not take away our paycheck. This goes the same for students who earn different incentives within the school. If we begin to take things away, what would be the motivation to earn them? We want our students to work hard in earning these incentives and have the opportunity to enjoy what they have earned. As the bar is raised, the students will work harder and the behaviors will diminish.

User error is often the reason why some PBIS programs are not a success. As we implement PBIS into our schools and truly know our kids and have the staff who come into contact with our students all on the same page, there is a greater chance of the program being a success and the problematic student behaviors will no longer be a concern.

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