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How to create a successful PBIS initiative

Timothy MugabiDecember 9, 2019

2019-boy-hero-clouds-kid-Photo: Porapak Apichodilok/Pexels

Implementing a Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions (PBIS) initiative offers schools a number of valuable benefits. Focusing on teaching students desired, positive behaviors can positively impact a school’s culture and climate, making it a more pleasant place to both study and work. Sometimes, this change occurs in a relatively short period of time — much to the delight of students, teachers, and parents.

However, making a PBIS program successful requires many different elements to be in place, which takes careful consideration, consistent effort, and cooperation. Let’s look at what it takes to create a successful PBIS initiative.

8 components of a successful PBIS initiative

Three educators working together, team work
Photo: Google Edu

1. Put together a winning PBIS team

The first step in rolling out and maintaining a successful PBIS program is creating a team, or committee, that’s tasked with overseeing its implementation and continued support. This committee should ideally consist of senior faculty members, administrative staff, teachers, and members of the counseling team. 

Ownership is powerful — with such varied representation, you can ensure that any decisions made with regard to PBIS receive sufficient input from different perspectives. Even better, if your PBIS team allows parents and students to participate — such as including a representative from the PTA and student council — then everyone involved will benefit from your initiatives.

2. Get staff buy-in

For PBIS to prosper, it needs as much buy-in as possible from members of staff from every department, as they’ll be the ones administering those practices on a daily basis. Like any other kind of organizational change, PBIS buy-in needs to come from the top and work its way down. So, with that in mind, it’s crucial to make sure that senior staff, such as department heads, are on the same page about PBIS efforts at your school.

Most importantly, buy-in is unlikely to be universal and instant, so you have to give your staff time to adjust to changes and to see the benefits for themselves.

3. Set clear goals

With a committee in place and growing buy-in from your staff, you need to set expectations for what you want your PBIS initiative to actually achieve. “Improved student behavior” is a very broad goal. What specific problems have you or your staff observed among the student body? Is bullying an issue? Are students disengaged from lectures?

Without clear, tangible goals to reach for, how can you even measure the success of your PBIS program? With well-defined outcomes and a vision of what you’d like your school’s culture to look like, you’ll have a much easier time identifying and reinforcing desirable behaviors. Some schools go as far as to include these desired outcomes as part of their mission statement to remind everyone — students, staff, and parents alike — what the school strives to achieve.

If you’re worried that this may be a hassle or delay your PBIS initiative until your ideas have matured, know that it’s more than worth your time. Conveniently, Classcraft allows you to set your PBIS goals at a school or even district level, before rolling them out to each class.

Student with hand up
Photo: Google Edu

4. Define desired behaviors that match goals

With goals and outcomes in mind, you can now decide which positive behaviors you’re going to promote and teach students. As well as the behaviors themselves, you need to define in-class procedures for encouraging students to adopt those behaviors. This includes how to teach them and to recognize for their achievements.

Naturally, this requires a paradigm shift, as you’re now focusing on reinforcing good behavior instead of looking for ways to punish misbehavior. But it’s a necessary step if you want your PBIS program to succeed.

5. Create a system of recognition

What incentives will you offer students to learn and consistently display the desired behaviors? For some students, the mere joy of learning something new and gaining approval is enough — but what about the rest? To this end, you need to establish a schoolwide system for recognizing and rewarding good behavior, including how you award points and what students can do with them. Classcraft, for instance, provides a built-in framework for awarding and deducting experience points (XP) that students can spend to customize their digital characters with school-friendly, appropriate cosmetics. This approach is gamified PBIS.

However, a system of recognition isn’t limited to students; you should also establish one for your staff. As suggested in this post on improving teacher buy-in, you should reward faculty members for their efforts in helping to implement your PBIS initiative, especially in those early days when there’s greater skepticism surrounding the program.

Dealing with discipline

Adopting PBIS doesn’t mean doing away with disciplining students entirely, so having procedures in place to handle misbehavior can be helpful. A set of accepted disciplinary measures can actually increase support for your PBIS program, as teachers won’t feel like their hands are tied when dealing with particularly difficult students.

6. Evaluate the success of your PBIS program

How can you tell if your PBIS initiative is actually working? Do you just wing it and use your subjective impression? Of course not! Schools have lots of data at their fingertips — make the most of it! For example, if you record each disciplinary incident, like the number of visits to the principal’s office, you can observe trends over time to see if there’s an overall decrease in misbehavior.

Armed with the right data, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement, support initiatives that are working well, and help your staff where they need it.

Additionally, you can use the collected data to tell a story about your PBIS program’s successes and failures. If you can use the numbers to show that the initiative is working — based on a decrease in office referrals or an increase in test scores, for example — then you may consider publishing a PBIS case study to inform your staff, parents, and community of your initiative’s success. Staff and parents will be more willing to support PBIS if they can see that it’s making a difference.

Educators learning
Photo: Google Edu

7. Offer ongoing training and development

As PBIS is an ongoing process, it’s best to create a framework that develops your staff right alongside it. This should include reinforcing how to teach the right behaviors, how to recognize and reward students, and when and how to resort to disciplinary measures.

Data collection will certainly help identify any areas that are lacking, but it’s not nearly as valuable as direct feedback from your staff. To get this feedback, you need to solicit it — and you can do that by holding administrative “office hours,” designating a PBIS representative to whom instructors can reach out with concerns, and perhaps creating an online forum for submission and answering of queries.

8. Be consistent

There is arguably nothing more important than consistency when it comes to ensuring the success of a PBIS initiative. For PBIS to work, your teachers need to consistently recognize and reward desired behaviors among students, as well as practice restraint when met with particularly troublesome students to avoid doling out harsh punishments. Similarly, administrators need to consistently monitor the program to identify areas for improvement, and senior staff need to evaluate and act on that data accordingly.

Your staff can either claim to support your PBIS initiative while quietly resenting it, or they can become champions of its success. Which would you prefer? If your PBIS practices are not consistent, instructors will view it as more of a hassle than a serious and worthwhile endeavor.

Rolling out a PBIS initiative isn’t always smooth sailing, but when everyone involved cares about its success, achieving your school’s desired outcomes and creating an excellent school culture is nearly assured.

Photo: Porapak Apichodilok/Pexels

The powerful impact of motivation in your PBIS program

How did Broadview Middle School lower their referrals by 33%?

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The powerful impact of motivation in your PBIS program

How did Broadview Middle School lower their referrals by 33%?

Learn how