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PBIS review: Is PBIS creating extrinsically-driven students?

Amanda ClarkJanuary 14, 2022

Teacher talking in front of the classroom

If you’ve been working in the school system for a while, you’re probably familiar with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS is a great way to create a more positive environment at your school.  It can help decrease office referrals and suspensions and boost student engagement at the same time. While this is good news, there may also be a downside to PBIS. Some experts say this methodology can also create extrinsically-driven students. In this post, we’ll explore how PBIS can offer new ways for students to seek rewards as well as the benefits of intrinsic motivation. We’ll also offer tips on how to use PBIS in a positive way. 

Table of Contents

1. What is PBIS?

PBIS is an evidence-based, behavioral management system that has been gaining popularity among educators over the past few decades. It’s designed to create an environment of mutual respect and specific behavior in the classroom. 

PBIS is based on three fundamental tiers. 

Tier 1: This tier sets the foundation for all other levels of support in your school. It includes defining behavior expectations and teaching these rules to students in the early stages of their education. This tier promotes learning in a safe environment throughout the student’s school life.

Tier 2: This tier is designed for students who need a little extra help by targeting behavioral needs. Schools often provide this level of support to students who may also need assistance from a behavioral specialist or counselor during/after school hours.

Tier 3: This PBIS tier is aimed at students who display disruptive and dangerous behaviors. Enforcing Tier 3 requires formal assessments to determine needs. Actions can be customized with a personalized plan developed by the student’s educators. 

2. What are the disadvantages of PBIS?

Like every instructional method, PBIS does have disadvantages. For starters, you may find that the time you spend planning, teaching, and evaluating leaves fewer hours for other instructional strategies. You also have to recognize that students who don’t have a clear stake in the appraisal process may feel scrutinized and frustrated when they don’t earn privileges.

A study by the  Association for Behavioral Analysis International has shown that school administrators are more likely to  select behaviors associated with their own culture.

Skimming the surface

Some educators say that since PBIS often focuses on surface behavior, it doesn’t consider stress responses as an appropriate way for people — especially children — to deal with challenging circumstances. Therefore, PBIS may contribute to overly escalated emotions, which can lead you farther away from solving behavioral problems in your classroom. 

And let’s not forget the elephant in the room. It’s been well documented that PBIS encourages extrinsic motivation to decrease problematic behaviors. As a result, many educators have raised concerns that PBIS may reduce intrinsic motivation. 

A study by the the World of Work Journal had this to say: “It is not obvious that extrinsic rewards interfere with intrinsic motivation. Indeed, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may be separate, unrelated and additive, as many researchers and theorists have argued.” 

3. How can PBIS be used in a more positive way?

Can you really be sure that PBIS isn’t just creating extrinsically-driven students in your classroom?  Here’s the solution. Teachers can easily integrate and promote internal motivation within a PBIS-based curriculum.

Here’s how: 

  • By encouraging and practicing positive attention and self-talk. These are powerful ways to internally motivate children to change their own behavior. 
  • By working with a child’s natural abilities and interests. This makes tasks more enjoyable and the resulting success more meaningful for your students.
  • By encouraging children to take responsibility for their success. Teaching children to be accountable for the results of their good consequences puts ownership in the child’s hands. In turn, this increases their sense of control and mastery while lowering stress levels and reducing negative emotions, such as guilt or worry.

4. Combining PBIS with SEL to solve the problem 

SEL, or social and emotional learning, provides a road map for educators to help and support students achieve their full potential.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, (CASEL) defines SEL this way: 

“(It’s) the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

PBIS and SEL work together 

Numerous  studies have pointed to the extreme benefits of combining PBIS and SEL. A recent study by PubMed found that “as predicted, the COMBO condition produced significantly greater improvements in overall mental health and reductions in externalizing behaviors when compared to all other conditions.”

The truth is, social-emotional learning (SEL) can provide support that PBIS doesn’t. SEL helps students develop other skills so their motivation to succeed doesn’t come from external factors. This includes teaching students how to better interact with those around them. 

5. What are the advantages of PBIS?

The goal of PBIS is to create a school climate in which students, teachers, administrators and parents behave appropriately. PBIS schools focus on both behavioral expectations as well as the academic curriculum. This strategy also includes positive behavior interventions for individual students such as reinforcement and teacher observances to modify the classroom environment. 

Here are a few more advantages: 

  • According to the Family School Community Alliance, PBIS teaches children desired behaviors as well as how  to minimize bad behaviors.
  • PBIS focuses on creating environments that promote student success.
  • PBIS progresses with each individual child, and continues to evolve as a child grows. 
  • PBIS is a social science technique that uses good behavioral research to create an environment where students can learn and thrive.

6. How to implement an extrinsically-driven PBIS rewards system that works 

After working at an alternative high school for emotionally disturbed students, I’ve found that implementing a sticker or point system and a PBIS school store are good examples of a PBIS rewards system. The premise is simple: Students earn stickers or points for appropriate behaviors to cash in at the PBIS store.

In my classroom, we valued earning privileges instead of taking them away. However, it’s important to remember that when you start using this method with your students, it may take some time before the conduct improves… so be patient with your students.

Classcraft’s platform 

Another way to integrate a successful PBIS rewards system is through Classcraft, an online educational platform that creates a sense of school-wide community and culture. Through engaging students in competitive games and establishing rewards for positive actions, Classcraft keeps students coming back, playing more, feeling invested in the game, and trying harder to earn PBIS rewards.

You have options 

The problem with some PBIS programs is that they are only focused on rewarding students and punishments. While this can be effective in certain circumstances, it’s not the only solution. Educators have to be aware of other ways to motivate their students. 

Engage your students

Visit Classcraft today for more information about how you can integrate SEL and PBIS to integrate intrinsic/extrinsic motivation for your students by using game mechanics like points, badges, leveling up, quests and challenges to engage every learner!

Photo credit: Google Education

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