On Target for Success: A Description of School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) is a proactive way to teach desired behaviors while systematically eliminating targeted problem behaviors through positive reinforcement and positive redirection. It is not uncommon for educators to use a more reactive approach to discipline, such as office discipline referrals and suspensions (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011). These approaches rarely result in behavior change. Many students, especially those with disabilities, do not learn appropriate behaviors incidentally. Therefore, these students require explicit instruction on behavioral expectations and consequences. In addition, providing positive reinforcement for desired behaviors increases the likelihood that those behaviors will continue to occur. Over the last decade, countless school districts across the nation have implemented school-wide PBIS programs. Studies show that schools who followed a school-wide PBIS model saw a large decrease in problem behaviors and discipline referrals (Cheney, et al., 2010; Sherrod, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009; Warren, et al., 2006).

School-wide PBIS models are broken down into three tiers. The first tier (Tier 1) focuses on teaching appropriate behaviors and correcting problem behaviors in all students. Teachers and school administrators compile a list of common problem behaviors found in a variety of locations around the school (i.e. cafeteria, hallways, auditorium, and classrooms). Then, a plan is devised for teaching rules, expectations, and consequences to the entire school, with an emphasis on the discussed targeted behaviors. Students are then rewarded for following the rules. There are a variety of ways to reward students at a Tier 1 level, but many schools choose to implement a school-wide token economy, where students are immediately reinforced with tokens and then have the opportunity to trade those tokens in for a bigger reward. Even at a Tier 1 level, it is imperative that the reinforcers are relevant to the students’ interests.

The second tier (Tier 2) generally involves approximately 15% of the student population. These students usually receive two to five discipline referrals a year and require a little more behavior intervention that the students in Tier 1. In a school-wide system, these students receive the same supports as Tier 1, but may also attend small group sessions with a guidance counselor to explicitly learn the importance of following rules. Some students in Tier 2 may also need a daily progress report (DPR) where teachers sign off at the end of each class to indicate which expectations the student did and did not meet. DPRs can be paired with token economies so that the student is being reinforced for meeting behavioral expectations in all of their classes. These behavior monitoring systems should be individualized to meet the needs of the student.

Tier 3, the final tier, aims to meet the behavioral needs of students who receive five or more discipline referrals a year (usually 5% of the student population). These students typically require extensive behavior interventions and individualized support. A functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan may need to be created. In addition, DPRs, cool-down passes, teacher-written praise notes, and self-monitoring systems are individualized strategies that may help students in Tier 3 meet behavioral expectations.

One of the most important things to consider when implementing a PBIS system is the interests of the students. In order to effectively reinforce desired behaviors, the consequences have to motivate students to behave. Many students are reinforced by receiving positive praise or attention. Other students may require a tangible reinforcer. Interest inventories can be given to determine what students find to be the most rewarding.

As schools move to a more inclusive model, many are using school-wide PBIS programs to manage problem behaviors. By taking a proactive approach to discipline, students are able to learn how to meet behavioral expectations through explicit instruction and interest-based reinforcement. This also enables schools to place more of an emphasis on academics. Students with disabilities benefit from PBIS models because of the direct instruction of expectations, the contingent reinforcement for meeting those expectations, and the positive redirection that occurs when those expectations are not met (Leach, 2010).Through PBIS, students of varying abilities can learn cooperation and self-management skills that will carry over throughout all aspects of life.


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Cheney, D., Lynass, L., Flower, A., Waugh, M., Iwaszuk, W., Mielenz, C., & Hawken, L. (2010). The check, connect, and expect program: A targeted, tier 2 intervention in the schoolwide positive behavior support model. Preventing School Failure, 54(3), 152-158.

Leach, D. (2010) Bringing ABA into your inclusive classroom: A guide to improving outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorders. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Rodecki, J. N., & Witzel, B. S. (2011). Positively decreasing disruption and discipline referrals. Focus on Middle School, 42(2), 1-4. Retrieved July 2, 2012 from http://www.acei.org/images/stories/MiddleWinter11.pdf

Sherrod, M., Getch, Y., & Ziomek-Daigle, J. (2009). The impact of positive behavior support to decrease discipline referrals with elementary students. Professional School Counseling, 12(6), 421-427.

Warren, J. S., Bohanon-Edmonson, H. M., Turnbull, A. P., Sailor, W., Wickham, D., Griggs, P., & Beech, S. E. (2006). School-wide Positive Behavior Support: Addressing Behavior Problems that Impede Student Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 18(2), 187-198.


Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.

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Posted in Behavior

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