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What is PBIS?

Last week a friend asked me, “What is PBIS?” in 5 minutes or less! So I created a video and wanted to share just the basics of what PBIS might look like on a schoolwide level.

PBIS Stands for Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports. Also called PBS, it's probably the most widely used school climate and behavior program in the world because it reduces problem behavior and increases student and teacher well-being, it moves a school from being punitive to more positive. Often a school will see a 60% reduction in problem behavior in just the first year!

The reason you want to use Schoolwide PBIS is that it prevents problem behavior in the first place so we can help kids and teachers build better relationships and we can increase learning.

PBIS is a framework developed by researchers from the University of Oregon and they studied what works in school and classroom discipline - where were the safest schools, the best classrooms - what did they have in common? And they came up with basically a list of what to do.

Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) isn’t a ‘program’ or a kit you can just buy - its a list of best practices that lead to safe, positive schools with happy kids and teachers. PBIS can get a bit more complicated than what I describe below, because it also takes into account that not all students will respond to this and will require increased interventions and supports. That is why you often see it represented as a pyramid, a multi-tiered system of support.

The Tier 1, schoolwide level, is what you would see immediately if you walked onto a school campus and is what most people consider when they think of PBIS. On the list you’ll find these 4 important components:

The first thing you do is Establish Schoolwide Expectations to create a consistent system across the school. Research shows that we need to narrow these down to 3-5 in order for them to be memorable. The expectations you choose should target all forms of behavior. The most common example is Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Kind. Then you define what those values look like in action by explicitly describing the guidelines for every setting in your school. How do you want kids to behave in bathrooms, hallways, and in classrooms? And when making the rules or expectations, we state them positively: it is better to say “Keep your hands, feet to yourself.” than it is to say, “Don’t hit”. That's because research shows we are more likely to comply with do requests than don’t requests. When we say, “Walk Please,” we are telling students exactly what we expect.

The next thing to do is Teach the expectations directly to the students. Ideally you would have more in depth teaching at the beginning of the year and after winter, spring breaks like a Rules Roundabout, then follow up with weekly review lessons throughout the year. The very BEST way to teach something is On location taught by the staff member who will be there to monitor them (librarian teaches the library lesson, yard supervisor teaches playground lesson). Another great way to teach students is through classroom circles, particularly for expectations and rules that kids have a lot of opinions and emotions about - like cell phones. Circles help students feel like they are part of decision making and that they helped create the rules so they are more likely to follow them. The more consistent staff are, the less stressful the school environment is because teachers are more predictable and less reactive.

After students know what is expected of them, Create a Positive Reinforcement System - Most schools have a ticket system with lots of verbal praise to reinforce the positive behaviors. We should strive for 4 positive comments to every correction, 4 to 1. What is really important to remember is that when you teach an expectation, be ready to give lots of positive praise when kids are doing the newly learned appropriate behaviors. That is how we get new behaviors to stick. We use positive reinforcement systems because research shows you get more of the behavior you pay attention to.

And then, Respond to Challenging Behavior with Consistent Consequences that are restorative and reteaching in nature. When they don’t demonstrate the right behaviors, give useful corrections and provide practice. Instead of sending them away with suspensions and detentions, you want to provide interventions and support to help them change their behavior. Use restorative practices so they can accept responsibility, repair harm and restore relationships.

Schoolwide PBIS is about first coming to agreements as staff - what are the expectations in our school? Then teach your expectations regularly and in different ways. Offer lots of praise and create a positive reinforcement system for your schools. When students make mistakes, give useful corrections, and provide opportunities to practice in order to build the culture you want.

Research shows that effective Behavioral Expectations makes schools safer, and makes kids and staff happier because they create a culture of consistency and positivity.

For more on how to implement PBIS at your school, go to and check out my other Youtube videos and subscribe to my channel.

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