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What is a PBIS behavior plan, and how do you create one?

Morgan HugoboomNovember 10, 2022

What is a PBIS behavior plan, and how do you create one?

Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based framework that promotes positive behaviors in the classroom and school. A successful program often involves a comprehensive PBIS behavior chart. This chart defines the PBIS goals and provides the blueprint for the rest of the program’s development.

Whether you are implementing PBIS in schools or in the classroom, your initiative begins with the behavior plan. Let’s review how to create the best one possible to set your students up for success.

What is a PBIS behavior plan?

Sometimes called a PBIS behavior matrix or a behavior management plan, a PBIS behavior plan acts as a guideline for your entire initiative.

It outlines:

  • Goals and expectations
  • Examples of positive behaviors
  • Incentives and rewards
  • Supports for negative behaviors

PBIS matrices in schools can also work at the classroom level. If a school implements a PBIS matrix, teachers have a framework they can follow when designing their own classroom PBIS chart. Details of the classroom behavior chart will vary according to the unique needs of that classroom. However, the overall goals and language will follow those of the school’s PBIS chart. This allows for smaller populations to customize their plans for a targeted approach while still creating continuity within the overall schoolwide program. 

How to create your PBIS behavior chart

Identify your goals

A successful program depends on a clear direction. Before doing anything else with your PBIS matrix, you need to first establish specific behavioral goals. 

Some important questions to ask include:

  • What are some problem areas to address?
  • What values do you want to promote?
  • What behaviors can you foster to achieve those values?

For administrators implementing a school-wide PBIS behavior plan:

This is a great opportunity to encourage teacher buy-in. Their time in the classroom can provide valuable insights as to which positive behaviors are needed, which on the list you should prioritize, and what is needed to support adoption in the classroom. PBIS depends on a comprehensive support system. Inviting teachers to collaborate in creating the behavior plan will strengthen this network.

For teachers creating a classroom PBIS behavior plan:

Inviting students to create the plan with you is also a great way to foster buy-in. Working together on the plan gives students a sense of ownership over their success. The focus becomes less about rules imposed by teachers and more about a mutual set of expectations shared by the entire class. Students are also more likely to understand the expectations because they helped to create the guidelines. 

Visualize how PBIS goals will look in the school

Once you’ve identified the goal behaviors, it’s time to visualize how they should look in practice. What would examples of that positive behavior look like in different settings around your school?

Imagine various scenarios where that particular positive behavior could be demonstrated. Now, include them in your matrix. This will give students relevant examples of situations and their corresponding expectations.

Provide students with examples that apply to environments such as:

  • The classroom
  • The cafeteria
  • The hallways
  • During recess
  • On the bus
  • During after school programs
  • During virtual learning

Make sure that examples of desired behaviors are direct and specific. Assume that you’ll need to teach students the appropriate behavior — don’t assume that they already know the desired action. Set your students up for success by giving them clear examples to follow.

For example:

Instead of saying, “Display a positive approach to peer learning”, say

“Help your classmate work through a challenging problem or class exercise.”

Share your matrix with the school

Once the PBIS behavior chart is finished, display it in your hallways, school website, or classrooms. 

Featuring it prominently helps strengthen the sense of community around the initiative. Teachers and staff can follow a common language and set of guidelines. This continuity results in less confusion and miscommunication while also speeding up the program adoption process.

Displaying the PBIS matrix also keeps students informed of the expectations. Students are more able to meet expectations if they know what those parameters are in the first place. 

Determine how to incentivize positive behaviors

Now that your expectations are outlined, it’s time to determine how you’ll incentivize students to meet them. The reward system is only one of the tools for promoting positive behavior, but it can be a powerful one. Rewards can be implemented on an individual, classroom, or schoolwide basis depending on the PBIS scope.

Examples of incentives for positive behavior include:

  • Points that can be redeemed for items in a school store
  • Extra computer time
  • A special treat or snack
  • Free time
  • A pizza party for the class (or the entire grade level) 

Identify how to measure PBIS success

With goals in place, how do you know whether or not you’re meeting them?

Data provides valuable insights about PBIS in your school or classroom. It gives a snapshot of the health and efficacy of your efforts and highlights necessary areas of focus. If your program is successful, data also provides clear evidence that you can share with teachers, parents, school boards, and more.

You don’t want to invest six months of PBIS implementation without any way to review progress. As part of creating your PBIS behavior plan, include ideas for how you will track its performance. 

Will you review rates of behavioral incidents like detentions in a given period? Will you provide surveys to teachers or students? Will you use a platform to motivate students and track their progress?

Whatever method you decide, use it at the start of your PBIS behavior chart to create a baseline data set. As the program develops, collect follow-up data to review the successes and challenges in your school or classroom’s PBIS program.

Not sure where to begin? Try this free PBIS self-assessment survey and measure the effectiveness of PBIS in your school! 

Supporting your PBIS behavior chart with tiered systems of support

Not all students will respond to the above components of your PBIS behavior chart. This is why the program relies on a tiered system of support. A tiered system provides different levels of support to students according to their specific needs. The vast majority of students will succeed in Tier 1 with a universal level of support (like the steps mentioned above). However, students who don’t respond to the PBIS approaches in Tier 1 can then receive appropriate support in subsequent tiers. 

Tier 1: Universal (all students)

Tier 1 is the baseline for the entire PBIS program. All students, regardless of tier placement, receive the support found in Tier 1.
Examples of Tier 1 support include:

  • Positive greeting or routine when entering the classroom
  • Classroom cool-down space
  • Using the PBIS behavior plan to outline expectations and incentives

Tier 2: Small group interventions

Students who face behavioral challenges and don’t respond to the interventions of Tier 1 will move to Tier 2. Here, the focus shifts from classroom-level support to small group interventions. 

Examples of Tier 2 support include:

  • Behavior expectations contract
  • Check-ins and closer observation
  • Setting-based interventions (small changes made to the environment to mitigate behavior triggers)

Tier 3: Individual interventions

Students who don’t respond to Tier 2 interventions and need one-on-one support will move to Tier 3. These students typically need individual support from a specialist, counselor, or designated professional. 

Examples of Tier 3 support include:

  • Individual or family counseling
  • Literacy, speech, or language support
  • Creation of an Individual Behavior Support Plan


PBIS has been shown to create a more inclusive, robust, and positive learning environment for students and teachers. At the center of every successful PBIS strategy is the behavior plan. The behavior chart establishes specific goals, outlines expectations, and provides a strong foundation upon which the program can grow. By incorporating the points above, you’ll have the beginning of an effective and targeted support system for your students. 

Photo credit: Google Education

Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE PBIS TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

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Your toolkit for a successful year

FREE PBIS TEMPLATES to lighten your workload and effectively manage your classroom

Download now