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How to build a PBIS behavior plan

Timothy MugabiMarch 31, 2021

Teacher showing something on an interactive board

So, your school has decided to implement Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions (PBIS), and you’ve managed to get buy in from your staff. Now the question is, where do you begin?

The best place to start is with the foundation of your PBIS initiative: your behavior plan. This will outline:

  • all the behaviors you want your students to adopt
  • how you’ll teach these behaviors to students
  • how you’ll reward them for demonstrating good behavior

Additionally, your behavior plan needs to detail interventions to support students who struggle to behave well in school.

With that goal in mind, let’s look at how to build a PBIS behavior plan for your school.

7 steps to building a PBIS behavior plan

Step 1: Identify key behaviors to focus on

The first step in creating a PBIS behavior plan is identifying the goals that you want your students to achieve. This will allow you to create your positive behavioral support plan with the desired outcomes in mind. Ideally, this desired outcome will be in line with your school’s overall improvement plan, as well as that of your entire district.

After establishing a series of goals, you can determine which positive qualities and constructive behaviors your students will need to develop to achieve those goals.

These behaviors could include:

  • Consistent attendance 
  • Punctuality and timekeeping
  • Increased class participation
  • Effective communication
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Displaying kindness and consideration toward classmates
  • Leadership
  • Proactivity
  • Critical thinking 
  • Creativity
  • Improved conflict resolution
  • Preparedness and organization
  • Perseverance
  • Self-reliance
  • Taking greater pride in one’s work
  • School pride

Depending on how many desired behaviors you select, you may need to prioritize them and start by focusing on your top 3 or 4. When your school successfully implements a process for teaching those behaviors, you can then turn your attention to the rest of your objectives. 

Step 2: Think in terms of routines

As well as deciding which individual behaviors you’d like your students to adopt, you could also base your PBIS behavior plan on the various routines that students perform each day.  

Each of these routines encompasses a series of desirable behaviors. When you frame PBIS in the context of familiar routines, students are encouraged to behave well, but also understand why these requirements exist. This is particularly helpful for younger students. 

Classroom routines could include:

  • Entering the class
  • Completing a daily warm-up activity
  • Exiting the class (for recess, lunch, bathroom breaks, etc.)
  • In-class participation (answering questions, working in groups, etc.)
  • Getting the teacher’s attention when needed

Step 3: Fine-tune your students’ learning environment

When building your PBIS behavior plan, you’ll want to consider whether your students’ environment is helping them to adopt the appropriate behaviors. Ask yourself what changes you can make to your classroom to encourage students to adopt the desired behaviors. Even small amendments can make a significant difference. Here are some examples:

  • Spacing: Is everything optimally positioned in the classroom to minimize distractions? Do students have enough space to focus on the tasks at hand without disrupting one another?
  • Strategic seating: Place disruptive students next to classmates who have shown themselves to be a positive influence. Similarly, separate students who have negative influences on each other.
  • A cool-down space: Consider creating a space for students to go if they’re not behaving appropriately, or if their emotions are running high. Depending on the details of your behavior plan and the specific interventions you’ve chosen, students may choose to visit the cool-down space themselves.

Step 4: Decide how will you incentivize your students

The current paradigm for correcting  problem behavior involves reprimanding students for not behaving appropriately. On the other hand, a PBIS behavior plan rewards students for correctly adopting a set of desired positive behaviors. This begs the question: How will you incentivize your students to learn and display the right behaviors? How will you reward them when they do so?

Rewards can be broken down into individual rewards and whole-class rewards.

Individual rewards recognize the efforts of particular students and demonstrate to the class the benefits of behaving appropriately. Individual rewards give other students something to aspire to, encouraging them to step up and apply themselves a little more in class.

Additionally, or alternatively, you can offer class rewards, which reward all students for their collective behavior. This can increase students’ sense of accountability, teaching them that other people are depending on them to behave appropriately. In this way, you can create a system and practices of positive peer pressure, where members of the class encourage each other to behave well. Class rewards are preferable if you want your students to adopt behaviors related to teamwork and cooperation. 

Step 5: Create clear instructions

Now that you know what you want your students to learn, you need to determine how they’re going to learn it. One of the basic principles of PBIS is that educators should teach students the appropriate way to behave instead of assuming they already know how. For students to learn proper behavior, they need to receive clear instructions. The clearer and more explicit your instructions are, the easier your students will learn those behaviors, and the fewer referrals you’ll have to make.

Step 6: Create a multi-tiered system of supports

Once you know which behaviors you want to target, you can start to arrange them into tiers. A PBIS behavior plan should be arranged as follows:

  • Tier 1: For all students, a foundation for everything else
  • Tier 2: Smaller groups
  • Tier 3: Individuals

Tier 1

Tier 1 instruction is aimed at all students; it’s the foundation for your entire behavior plan. It represents the bulk of your PBIS behavior plan and includes:

  • All of the chosen behaviors you want your students to adopt
  • The rewards students will receive for successfully displaying those behaviors
  • The interventions you’ll employ when students misbehave

The chief concern with Tier 1 is how to structure it to support as many students as possible. As Tiers 2 and 3 are more personalized forms of intervention, they require more of your school’s limited resources and your faculty’s time.

Carry out a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

When a student is referred to Tier 2, you may decide to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). This will help you to identify the potential reasons why a student may be consistently failing to respond to Tier 1 interventions. This allows you to develop strategies for how to best support them.

Here are some factors explored in an FBA:

  • When and where is this behavior happening?
  • How often does the behavior occur?
  • What usually happens right before and after a student displays good behavior?
  • Does the student ever demonstrate the desired behavior? If so, under what circumstances?

Additionally, within an FBA, student behavior can be classified by the acronym CASE, where the behavior is said to be caused by one of four factors:

  • Communication: The student is unable to express themselves properly, leading them to act out
  • Acknowledgment: The student exhibits undesirable behavior in an effort to be noticed
  • Sensory needs: The student has additional sensory needs, as a result of a learning disability, that aren’t being met
  • Escape: The student misbehaves to avoid doing something they don’t want to

As well as collecting data within a learning environment, it’s usually helpful to gather it from other sources, such as a school counselor and, where possible, students’ parents.

Tier 2

Tier 2 of PBIS is aimed at small groups of students who didn’t respond to Tier 1 interventions. 

Examples of Tier 2 interventions include: 

  • Behavior expectations contract: An agreement between students and their teachers on how they should behave.
  • Check-in and check-out (CICO) meetings: Students check in at the beginning of the day to set goals for their conduct. At the end of the day, they meet with their assigned staff member to see if they have achieved their goals for that day.
  • Break passes: Give a student a “pass” that grants them permission to visit a safe space to cool down if they’re misbehaving.

Tier 3

Tier 3 of PBIS is aimed at individual students who didn’t respond to Tier 2 interventions.

Examples of Tier 3 interventions include:

  • Individualized behavior plans: Creating a personalized behavior plan can make it easier for students to behave well or succeed in class. 
  • Regular counselling sessions: Providing a safe, private environment in which a student has an adult’s undivided attention can help students to understand the root causes of their misbehavior. 
  • Modified schedule: Consider providing a higher-risk student with a personalized schedule that allows them to more easily maintain their focus and stimulation while in school.

Know where your students are 

Building an effective PBIS behavior plan is all about knowing where your students are now, in terms of their behavior, and where you want them to be in the future. For that reason, it’s important to create a clear set of goals and to carefully work your way through each one. One of the biggest challenges you’ll likely face during this process is maximizing the effectiveness of your instruction so your students understand the behaviors they’re being taught. Then, once you’ve finally developed your behavior plan, pay close attention to how well it’s working, according to your objectives, and be sure to adapt it as you go.

Photo: Google for Education


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