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How to get teacher buy-in for your PBIS programs

Timothy MugabiNovember 25, 2019

Three educators sitting at table at a presentation

Despite the many great benefits that a Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions (PBIS) program offers, some schools have a tough time getting buy-in from their teachers. This makes adoption difficult, as one of the keys to making PBIS work is having continued support: Everyone has to implement it for it to work.

When you have the commitment from all staff to make a PBIS program a success, it’s far more likely that it will be a hit at your school. Staff will stick to the tiered system when addressing student behavior, instead of reverting to their preferred disciplinary methods. Most importantly, the students won’t receive mixed messages, will have the desired behaviors reinforced, and will benefit from PBIS over the long term.

With these outcomes in mind, here’s some advice on getting increased buy-in from your teachers.

Want to access best practices in leadership and collaboration to successfully implement a sustainable PBIS program and nurture-positive school culture? Check out our PBIS Teacher Buy-In Guide.

10 ideas to improve PBIS teacher buy-in

teacher smiling talking to two students with their laptops

1. Highlight the ways it’ll make their job easier

It’s human nature to resist change, even if it’s for the best. To support PBIS, your teachers need to understand how it will benefit them. A successful PBIS program results in fewer disruptions in class and fewer student referrals. This leads to more instructional time, increased student engagement, and greater academic success. Ultimately, this will make your teachers’ jobs easier and contribute to their job satisfaction. Download our free PBIS toolkit of ready-to-use templates, contracts, and check-in sheets to help your teachers today!

2. Use data to underscore the need for change

Support your school’s case for a PBIS program with cold, hard facts. This may involve comparing test scores and referral rates of PBIS schools to other schools in your district. You could also emphasize the improvement made by similar, preferably local schools after adopting PBIS. Doing so may shed light on a problem that the teachers didn’t know existed. Learn how one school uses data to increase student engagement, enrollment, and program funding.

3. Involve them in the implementation

One of the most effective ways to ensure buy-in is to make teachers part of the process. When you ask for teacher input, they won’t feel imposed by this new initiative.

An important way you can involve teachers is by having them suggest which behaviors should receive the most emphasis in your school. If many teachers are in agreement about this and feel they’ve had their say, they’ll be more likely to recognize and reward those behaviors, making the PBIS program successful.

Many schools achieve this with a PBIS school leadership team/committee consisting of a wide variety of faculty members. However, it’s a good idea to have a couple of “town hall” meetings that everyone can attend to add their two cents.

4. Recognize teachers’ improvement efforts

Highlight and praise staff who are genuinely striving to make PBIS work in their classrooms. This starts with simple recognition through internal communication and in meetings, but you can also offer tangible rewards to further incentivize your staff. PBIS Rewards has a list of great ideas, but if you can create a selection of more enticing and meaningful incentives, all the better. Doing so gives you a fun way to ease the transition, as instructors get used to implementing the program and enjoy rewards for doing so.

5. Highlight positive changes early and frequently

When recognizing teachers’ efforts, be sure to highlight specific achievements, such as decreases in referrals or increased test scores. Better yet, if possible, hone in on the positive changes in students who’ve had a history of behavioral issues, especially if they’re well known among staff. Such examples increase faith in PBIS and are particularly helpful for warding off skepticism in the early days.

Group of teachers working together
Photo: Google Edu

6. Make time for staff concerns

Implement a way for faculty members to share their concerns about your PBIS program, where they can air their frustrations and explain where the program is working for them and where it isn’t. This could, for instance, take the form of the town hall meetings, one-on-one drop-in meetings, or an online forum, on which staff could even share their successes.

The reality is that if your team is not convinced of the advantages of a PBIS program, they’re going to complain among themselves. However, by allowing your instructors to openly communicate their feedback, you can ensure that issues don’t fester and undermine your efforts. More importantly, teachers will feel heard, giving them greater cause to cooperate and make it work.

7. Secure buy-in from senior and administrative staff

The successful implementation of PBIS, like any other change, has to start at the top before trickling down to the rest of your faculty. Consequently, it’s crucial that your administrative staff understand how the program works, know the benefits of it running smoothly, and be on board with making it work.

On the other hand, if your administrative staff doesn’t know how your PBIS program works, when asked by someone that reports to them or is critical of it, they won’t know how to respond — and that will undermine your program.

8. Clearly explain how it works

When your teachers understand how PBIS actually works, especially with respect to discipline, they’ll be more likely to implement it correctly and successfully in their classrooms. But if teachers are unsure of how the tier system works, they may feel disempowered — especially if they feel supported with current, traditional disciplinary procedures at your school. At worst, they may feel resentful.

To prevent this, take the time to clearly explain the different tiers and to clarify that discipline is still a part of PBIS, where necessary. The more informed and competent that instructors feel, the more consistent they’ll be and the less inclined they’ll be to revert to their prior way of doing things.

9. Educate parents

An alliance between reluctant teachers and ill-informed parents is not at all conducive to schoolwide buy-in, so be sure to educate parents on how PBIS works at every opportunity. Not only will you clear up many misconceptions about PBIS, but you’ll also create many supporters among parents. Well-informed parents will have a better frame of reference when their child shares what they’ve been learning at school about behavior, and excited — not upset — to hear about such achievements.

10. Offer ongoing training

As well as quickly and consistently handling any issues that arise, you need to have a framework in place that provides ongoing training and support to those that need it. Your team’s confidence in PBIS connects to their competence in its different aspects, so make sure they have a place to go where they can sharpen their knowledge and skills. Discover our Getting Started with PBIS Training blog to learn about the extra support that you can offer teachers when you’re setting up PBIS.

Photo: Google Edu

Emphasize that it’s all for the students

I began this article by advising you to highlight how PBIS will make your teachers’ jobs easier — appealing to good old human self-interest. I also suggest speaking to the part of them that caused them to become a teacher in the first place by emphasizing that the biggest beneficiary of a successful PBIS project is the student.

Students enjoy fewer distractions in class, fewer referrals to the principal, higher engagement in class, higher test scores, and more academic success. However, by learning about their own behavior and its potential consequences, students will also develop greater self-awareness and reflection skills. All these will prepare them to become better, well-adjusted adults — the greatest gift we can give students in our role as educators.

Photo: Google Edu

Better middle school PBIS begins with better implementations

Download your free PBIS implementation guide to access best practices and an implementation checklist to build a better program in your middle school.

Download the guide now

MTSS - PBIS - School & District Leadership

Better middle school PBIS begins with better implementations

Download your free PBIS implementation guide to access best practices and an implementation checklist to build a better program in your middle school.

Download the guide now