What is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)?
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based tiered framework for improving practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone – to create the kinds of schools where all students are successful.
PBIS isn’t a curriculum you purchase or something you learn during a one-day professional development training. It is a commitment to addressing student behavior through systems change. When it’s implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.
At its heart, PBIS calls on schools to teach kids about behavior, just as they would teach about any other subject—like reading or math. PBIS recognizes that kids can only meet behavior expectations if they know what the expectations are. A hallmark of a school using PBIS is that everyone knows what’s appropriate behavior. Throughout the school day—in class, at lunch, and in the hallways —kids understand what’s expected of them.
A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a data-driven, problem-solving framework to improve outcomes for all students. MTSS relies on a continuum of evidence-based practices matched to student needs. PBIS is an example of MTSS centered on social behavior.
Three Tiers of Support
Tier 1: Universal Prevention (All Students)
Tier 1 supports serve as the foundation for behavior and academics. Schools provide these universal supports to all students. For most students, the core program gives them what they need to be successful and to prevent future problems.
The core principles guiding Tier 1 PBIS include the understanding that we can and should:
- Effectively teach appropriate behavior to all children
- Intervene early before unwanted behaviors escalate
- Use research-based, scientifically validated interventions whenever possible
- Monitor student progress
- Use data to make decisions
Tier 2: Targeted Prevention (Targeted Students)
This level of support focuses on improving specific skill deficits. Schools often provide Tier 2 supports to groups of students with similar targeted needs. Providing support to a group of students provides more opportunities for practice and feedback while keeping the intervention maximally efficient. Students may need some assessment to identify whether they need this level of support and which skills to address. Tier 2 supports help students develop the skills they need to benefit core programs at the school.
Tier 2 practices and systems provide targeted support for students who are not successful with Tier 1 supports alone. The focus is on supporting students who are at risk for developing more serious problem behavior before they start. Essentially, the support at this level is more focused than Tier 1 and less intensive than Tier 3.
Specific Tier 2 interventions include practices such as social skills groups, self-management, and academic supports. Targeted interventions like these, implemented by typical school personnel are likely to demonstrate positive effects for up to 67% of referred students.
Tier 2 interventions are:
- Continuously available
- Very low effort by teachers
- Aligned with school-wide expectations.
- Implemented by all staff/faculty in a school.
- Flexible and based on assessment.
- Continuously monitored
Tier 3: Intensive, Individualized Prevention (Individual Students)
Tier 3 supports are the most intensive supports the school offers. These supports require the most intensive resources due to the individualized approach of developing and carrying out interventions. At this level, schools typically rely on formal assessments to determine a student’s need and to develop an individualized support plan. Student plans often include goals related to both academics as well as behavior support.
PBIS’ framework doesn’t just work with school-wide and targeted supports. It’s also an effective way to address sometimes dangerous, often highly disruptive behaviors creating barriers to learning and excluding students from social settings.
Key PBIS Tier 1 Practices
School-wide Positive Expectations and Behaviors are Defined and Taught
Rather than establishing specifically what not to do, schools define and teach the behaviors and expectations they want to see. Schools should identify 3-5 positively stated, easy to remember expectations. These should align with creating the kind of positive school climate the school wants to create. Anyone should be able to walk into the school at any time and ask 10 random students to name the school-wide expectations. At least 80% of the time those students should be able to say what they are and give examples of what they look like in action.
For students to know the expectations, they must be taught. The Tier 1 team should decide how students will learn expected behaviors across various school settings.
Procedures for Establishing Classroom Expectations and Routines Consistent
with School-Wide Expectations
Students spend the majority of their day within classroom settings. It’s critical the expectations in the classroom align with the broader school-wide systems. This consistency supports better behavioral outcomes for all students. Teachers explain what the school-wide expectations look like in their classrooms during specific classroom-level routines.
Continuum of Procedures for Encouraging Expected Behavior
A school’s Tier 1 team determines how to acknowledge students positively for doing appropriate behaviors. Schools adopt a token system in addition to offering specific praise when students do what’s expected. No matter the system, it should be:
- Linked to school-wide expectations
- Used across settings and within classrooms
- Used by 90% or more of all school personnel
- Available to all students within the school
Continuum of Procedures for Discouraging Problem Behavior
All discipline policies should include definitions for behaviors interfering with academic and social success. They offer clear policies and procedures for addressing office-managed versus classroom-managed problems. Defining both the behaviors and the procedures promote consistent application of Tier 1 across all students and school personnel.
Procedures for Encouraging School-Family Partnerships
Teams should solicit stakeholders, including families, for input on Tier 1 foundations. Opportunities to provide ongoing feedback and direction should happen at least once a year, if not more regularly. This input ensures Tier 1 is culturally responsive and reflects the values of the local community.
Key PBIS Tier 2 Practices
Tier 2 practices start with a strong Tier 1 foundation. In addition to these Tier 1 practices, key Tier 2 practices include one or more of the following:
Increased Instruction and Practice with Self-Regulation and Social Skills
Regardless of the intervention, Tier 2 supports include additional instruction for key social, emotional, and/or behavioral skills. An important outcome of Tier 2 interventions is when students can regulate on their own, when, where and under what conditions particular skills are needed and can successfully engage in those skills. Once data indicate a positive response to the intervention, students learn how to monitor and manage their own behavior.
Increased Adult Supervision
Tier 2 supports include intensified, active supervision in a positive and proactive manner. For example, adults may be asked to move, scan, and interact more frequently with some students, according to their needs. This can be accomplished with simple rearrangements across school environments.
Increased Opportunity for Positive Reinforcement
Tier 2 supports target expected behavior by providing positive reinforcement for often. For example, students who participate in a Tier 2 Check-in Check-out intervention engage in feedback sessions with their classroom teacher and other adults in the school as many as 5-7 times per day. Many students view this positive adult attention as reinforcing and as a result may be more likely to continue engaging in expected behaviors.
At this level, another key practice to prevent problem behaviors is to anticipate when a student is likely to act out and do something to get ahead of it. For example, specifically reminding students of classroom expectations. These pre-corrections might be gestures or verbal statements delivered to an entire class, a small group of students, or with an individual student. Pre-corrections set students up for success by reminding them, prior to any problem, what to do.
Increased Focus on Possible Function of Problem Behavior
It is important to consider why students engage in certain behaviors in order align Tier 2 interventions best suited to their needs. When they know what motivates students to behave a certain way, teachers can help them find alternatives to their unwanted behavior.
Increased access to academic supports
Some students receiving Tier 2 behavior support may need additional academic support, too. Often challenging behavior serves the purpose of allowing students to avoid or even escape academic tasks that are beyond their skill level. Academic intervention along with behavioral supports may be needed to improve student success.
Key PBIS Tier 3 Practices
Tier 3 practices start with strong Tier 1 and Tier 2 foundations. In addition to these practices, the key practices involved in Tier 3 supports are:
Cultural and Contextual Considerations