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How to implement PBIS in schools

Mary DeanApril 23, 2020

Two students seating down in the corridor of their school

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Many schools are moving toward a new behavioral management initiative called positive behavioral supports and interventions (PBIS). PBIS involves teachers and administrators rewarding positive behaviors, and shifting the focus from the traditional approach of punishing students for misbehavior. This encourages a more open and friendly environment that supports students and entices them to follow the rules and expectations set forth by their teachers.

If you’re ready to start implementing schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports (SWPBIS), you’ve probably realized it’s a bit more complicated than patting a child on the back for a job well done. PBIS is a systematic and comprehensive approach to behavior management and must be implemented correctly in order to be successful. In this article, we’ll look at the most important things you can do to implement PBIS in your school successfully.

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7 steps to implementing schoolwide PBIS successfully

1. Create a team

The first and most important step for implementing PBIS initiatives at your school is to have a team responsible for this transition. The team can be made up of administrators, teachers, and other school staff members. You can also create a team of parents who can provide valuable input into student behavior and rewards. 

Once you’ve created your team, your next step is to convene your very first meeting. Be sure to take some time to educate each team member on:

  • what PBIS is all about
  • what it can do for the school
  • and what their role will be in the process

When you have a well-informed team, PBIS incentives will be much easier to implement in your school.

You should hold these team meetings for the duration of the school year at regular intervals. 

During PBIS meetings, you can talk about:

  • progress levels
  • best practices
  • anything that isn’t working well
  • any goals you’d like to set for the future

Another key to PBIS success is to never stop training your team. There are always new things to learn and new PBIS incentives to try. The best way to build a robust PBIS system within your school is to invest in making it stronger as often as possible.

2. Know the data

When implementing PBIS in your school, you shouldn’t just go about the process blindly without understanding the data. You should know if the rate of misbehavior is actually declining among your students, for example. Chances are you already have a behavioral system in place at your school. Whether that is office referrals, behavior cards, or star charts, use this data to your advantage to monitor your PBIS initiative’s effectiveness.

When collecting this information, what you are looking for is trends. Is there a particular behavior that is causing a widespread problem across different classrooms? If so, what can you do to curb that behavior and make students interested in behaving well? A big part of PBIS is identifying undesirable behaviors and creating reward systems that motivate students to improve themselves.

Additionally, each teacher should keep some sort of written record of the behavioral changes they notice under your new PBIS system. This will help your team to identify the incentives that are working best so you can strengthen the system as a whole.

3. Understand the needs of your school

PBIS incentives are not a one-size-fits-all approach. You must understand the needs of your students when implementing a strategy like this. If you want to create the most effective system for your school, you will need to take into account: 

  • Students’ age
  • Backgrounds
  • Interests

Perhaps the most efficient way to do this is to hold a schoolwide PBIS assembly. Invite all students to join this and ask questions to your student body about what incentives they want to see for this new system. Take a look at these non-junk food rewards for some inspiration.

Hold a vote, or gauge by a show of hands, to learn more about the kinds of rewards your students are interested in. This way, you won’t waste time with rewards your students won’t appreciate, and your students will actually be motivated to earn them.

4. Set attainable goals

The biggest mistake some schools make when implementing PBIS for the first time is setting unrealistic goals for their students. Although this system has a high success rate, it cannot work miracles. It is crucial to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your students.

The best approach to PBIS is to take baby steps toward improving the behavior of students at school: 

  • Start with two or three target behaviors and work on them until you see significant improvement
  • Be careful not to move on to new goals too quickly
  • Introduce goals, incentivize them, and develop them into habits
  • Pay close attention and give students lots of time to learn the basics through repetition and reinforcement

Once a student has conquered a goal, reward them! Make an announcement or hold an assembly where you praise your students for a job well done. Never stop shedding a positive light on behaving well in school and meeting expectations. That is the heart and soul of PBIS and needs to be made a top priority if you want to get the results you seek.

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5. Know when it’s time to re-evaluate

Like we discussed in an earlier section, not all incentives will be right for every student. There will be times when you need to sit down and re-evaluate your approach. No matter how solid your plan is or how great your team is at solving problems, there will inevitably be problems that present themselves. These problems could include:

  • A failed incentive
  • Worsened behavior
  • Students’ disinterest in participating in PBIS

Sometimes, students will not succeed if you set up a generic PBIS system for your entire school. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that PBIS is ineffective; rather, it means that you need to add some extra support for specific students and tailor PBIS to their needs. The PBIS structure includes Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions that you can employ when you run into a situation like this. Be sure to do your research on these systems and evaluate students who fall behind the curve.

The solution to your problem could be as simple as giving a little extra attention to struggling students or redirecting their misbehavior. Having systems in place to help struggling students could be the answer to eliminating frustration within your team and your PBIS system school wide.

6. Don’t get discouraged

The truth about successful PBIS initiatives is they don’t become successful overnight. It could take weeks or months to get your staff accustomed to the new way of doing things. Students also need time to acclimate to new procedures, so they may not respond right away. Rest assured that you aren’t doing anything wrong. Keep pushing forward until you see the results you want — they are within your reach!

7. Don’t forget to celebrate

When children meet goals that have been set for them, it’s a big deal. Don’t forget to celebrate the victories you achieve, no matter how big or small they may be. Children deserve to know their efforts are being recognized and that they’re a cause for celebration. Motivation can be as simple as giving a high-five in the hallway or saying a few kind words about how well they’re doing in following the rules. You might be surprised at the response you get even from the smallest of gestures.

Implementing PBIS at your school 

When you decide to implement PBIS, you need to be prepared and open to being flexible. If you take the time to build the right team, collect the data, and pay attention to your students, the reward will be well worth the effort. Gone are the days where reprimands and detentions are the sole disciplinary action in schools. You can reduce misbehavior by reinforcing positive behaviors instead. Praise your students when they do the right thing, and watch as your school behavior changes for the better.

Photo: Google Edu

Bring good behavior to life, in any setting.

Virtual PBIS. What is it and how does it work? Get the answers and more in our Playbook.

Learn more
Virtual PBIS Guide on a tablet

MTSS - PBIS - Virtual PBIS