What’s the difference between SEL & PBIS?

SEL and PBIS both foster prosocial behaviors, develop important 21st-century skills, and contribute to a positive school culture. But what’s the difference between SEL and PBIS, and how can you make sure you’re taking steps to integrate both into your classroom and school?

Aligning SEL and PBIS together will help you create positive, long-term change in students’ attitudes, behaviors, and academic performance. Below are easy ways to help you remember the difference between SEL and PBIS, as well as tips for leveraging them together.

What is PBIS?

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a preventative approach that, on a schoolwide level (SWPBIS), focuses more on identifying, acknowledging, and encouraging desired positive student behaviors than strictly punishing misbehaviors.

Punishments, when handled inconsistently and in the absence of positive reinforcement of good behaviors, is largely ineffective. With PBIS, rather than waiting for misbehavior to occur and then responding, teachers and staff proactively model and reward prosocial behaviors. This helps set clear expectations for students and decreases the likelihood that negative behavior will happen at all. Download our free PBIS handbook.

What is SEL?

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) refers to the process of acquiring skills and knowledge to help us understand and manage our emotions, show empathy for others, form and maintain positive relationships, act thoughtfully and responsibly, and achieve useful goals.

SEL teaches five core competencies:

  1. Self-awareness, or accurately identifying your emotions and thoughts and how they influence your behavior
  2. Self-management, or regulating your emotions and impulses, thoughts and behaviors, and stress
  3. Social awareness, or empathizing with others different from you
  4. Relationship skills, or forming and maintaining healthy relationships, communicating clearly, cooperating with others, and successfully navigating conflict
  5. Responsible decision-making, or making ethical choices in positive consideration of yourself and others, as well as analyzing situations and solving problems
Girl Blackboard PBIS SEL

What’s the difference?

SEL provides a solid foundation for the implementation of PBIS.

Social Emotional Learning is teaching students to develop the positive attitudes, behaviors, and skills that will aid them in their social relationships and interactions, emotional well-being, and ultimately their academic learning.

According to a 2017 research study, students exposed to SEL programs scored an average 13 percentile points higher academically than their non-SEL peers. Behavior problems, emotional issues, and drug use were also significantly lower.

On the other hand, PBIS is the process of acknowledging, supporting, and rewarding students demonstrating those prosocial, SEL-based behaviors and attitudes so they’re more likely to occur naturally and so the overall classroom and school culture flourishes.

Aligning SEL and PBIS

To ground SEL in your PBIS strategy, assess your existing school values and see where there is room to explicitly state and integrate the five core competencies of SEL. Then translate those values into the prosocial behaviors you choose to promote through PBIS.

For example, Tier 1 of PBIS involves agreeing upon the behaviors you want to encourage and using common language to set expectations for students. These should be stated positively, easy to remember, and reflect the school’s values. It’s then important to identify how the expectations can be “taught, modeled, practiced, and observed.”

One value might be showing respect for others, which would fit into the social awareness competency of SEL. Communication and teamwork align with relationship skills, growth mindset with self-awareness, and so on.

By making SEL the foundation of your PBIS strategy, you can reinforce the prosocial skills that students are learning, build a positive school culture long-term, and prepare students for the future and lifelong success.

Photo credits: Monkey Business Images, Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com
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