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What is PBIS in school?

Brianna RichardAugust 3, 2022

What is PBIS in school?

School climate and student behavior are areas in which teachers and administrators can encounter many challenges. PBIS is a data-driven solution to positively encourage students and give schools the tools they need in order to succeed.  

What is PBIS in school? 

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an evidence based system that schools can use to promote positive behavior and a healthy school climate. PBIS is backed by data and evidence. This three-tiered framework strives to integrate data, systems, and practices within a school. PBIS creates a positive school climate by making positive behavior a classroom and schoolwide norm. 

What is the focus? 

The focus of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is prevention instead of punishment. Schools focus on preventing problem behavior through positive motivation. Traditionally, many schools wait for negative behavior to happen and then resort to punishment. PBIS breaks away from this traditional mold, instead focusing on preventing unwanted behavior in the first place. PBIS creates a school climate where the norm is for students to strive to be their best. This eliminates many unwanted behaviors so teachers can focus on teaching and students can focus on learning.

What are the benefits? 

There are many benefits to implementing PBIS. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports works to set students, teachers, and administrators up to succeed. It encourages student responsibility and rewards great choices made by students. 

Students are more likely to succeed when clear expectations are laid out for them. PBIS gives school staff and teachers the tools to make behavior expectations clear. When students are aware of expectations, they know how and how not to behave. This creates an environment where students are supported and feel encouraged to make great choices.  When PBIS is implemented consistently, unwanted behavior decreases, which creates a school climate where students and teachers can focus on academics. 

What are the elements of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports? 

There are three main elements of PBIS — practices, systems, and data. 

School PBIS practices

PBIS practices are the nuts and bolts of PBIS. They are evidenced-based and preventative. These practices assist teachers in classroom implementation. 

These practices should include: 

  • Clear classroom expectations 
  • A consistent classroom schedule with routines 
  • Student supervision
  • Recognition of positive behavior

School PBIS systems

PBIS systems are put in place in order to support practices and implementation. For PBIS to be carried out effectively and with fidelity, school staff and administration need to put systems in place to support practices in the classroom.

School PBIS systems include: 

  • Schoolwide classroom implementation 
  • Resources to support classroom teachers
  • Training for teachers and school staff
  • Ongoing access to grow professionally 
  • Clear expectations for school communities 
  • Continuous support and coaching

School PBIS data

PBIS data helps to support implementation and decision-making in classrooms. In order for PBIS to reach its full potential in schools, it needs to be examined regularly. Data is a key component of this examination. Data should inform decisions and be observable and measurable. All data should be objective, accurate, and give key information on students, teachers, and the school. 

School PBIS data includes: 

  • Assessment of implementation
  • Working through areas of growth 
  • Creating plans for areas that need improvement
  • Working to support all school personnel 

The three tiers of PBIS

In addition to the three main elements of PBIS, there are three tiers. These tiers set a framework so that the needs of all students can be met and school personnel feel supported. 

Tier 1 – Universal 

Tier 1 works to meet the needs of most students within school communities, including students who may need extra support. At this tier, students are set up for success by learning all expectations. These expectations can include being considerate of fellow students and treating others with kindness. The entire school staff works towards recognition of desired behavior and students can be rewarded for choosing to make excellent choices. 

In this tier, classroom teachers can work towards creating a positive classroom environment.  The routines and practices within a classroom should be predictable and clear. This can include having a daily schedule for students to follow and a poster in the classroom that indicates clear expectations. This also includes looking at expectations and guidelines regularly, not just during the first week of school. 

Teachers can also deliver powerful instruction, provide engaging lessons, and ensure students are always being supervised. Students should consistently be praised for their great choices.  When students make a mistake, problems should be acknowledged and corrected. Tier 1 generally meets the needs of 80% of the school population. 

Tier 2 – Additional targeted support 

Tier 2 aims to provide extra targeted support for students in need. Any classroom is going to have a group of students in need of additional support in order to meet expectations, regardless of how hard a teacher works to set students up for success. Tier 2 supports these students by providing interventions and additional instruction. For example, if a student gets into an argument during recess and is struggling with socialization, this tier can provide additional instruction and guidance on socializing with others. Teachers and school staff can provide this instruction and guidance so students can grow and learn from their experiences. 

For this tier, it is important that the school administration provide tools for teachers so that they can provide this additional support. This tier is meant to serve the needs of 10-15% of the school population. 

Tier 3 – Individualized support

Tier 3 is the most intensive tier, which works towards meeting the needs of students who need individualized help. This support is targeted and specific to individual students. This can look like a behavior support plan, redirection plan, or specific strategies. Around 5% of students will have their needs met in this tier. 

Where do students with 504 plans and IEPs fall? 

Students with 504 plans and IEPs can fall into any of the above tiers. Many of these students will have their needs met in the first tier. If they need additional support they can receive it with tier 2 or 3. School staff can look at the three tiers and discuss a plan for individual students during IEP and 504 meetings. 

How to get started with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

PBIS has countless benefits for classroom teachers, students, and school staff. So how do you get started? 

Begin by developing a schoolwide implementation plan. PBIS will work best when it is implemented throughout the school. Expectations should be similar in all classrooms so students have consistency year to year. This also creates consistency for the school day. If classroom teachers have the same expectations as specialty teachers like PE or art, students will have a better experience, since they know that behavior expectations are the same regardless of what room they are in. 

How to strengthen the school-family PBIS partnership 

Educating the whole child is all about teamwork and is best done with schools and families. When it comes to PBIS, many parents may not have heard of it or experienced it before. A great way to get families in the loop is to have a PBIS information night at the beginning of the school year. Explain to families the different tiers and plan on meeting the needs of all learners. Communication is also key! Students need to know what is expected of them, but so do families. Let families know what is expected of students so that they can reinforce PBIS at home. When students are rewarded, let families know so they can celebrate their success. 

What do rewards look like? 

Rewards are an integral part of PBIS. When students have extrinsic motivation like rewards, they try their best to meet expectations. After a while, the motivation becomes intrinsic and awesome behavior becomes the norm. Rewards do not need to be something teachers spend a lot of money on and can be totally free. Here are a few examples. 

  • Lunch with a teacher
  • Permission to take shoes off in class 
  • Permission to sit next to a friend for the day
  • Classwide activities 
  • Extra recess
  • Pajama day


Luckily, there are a number of resources for teachers and schools when getting started with PBIS. For an overview of PBIS and implementation, check out the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.


There are so many benefits to effectively implementing PBIS in schools. Using PBIS with fidelity is an evidence-based approach that will improve student behavior and school climate. The three tiers will help to meet the needs of all students and setting clear expectations sets students up for success. When implemented well, PBIS cuts down on unwanted behavior so that academics can be the focus and both students and teachers can make the most of their school day. 

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


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