Go All-In on PBIS

Kurt Hatch
Nov 15, 2018


I was inspired to write this after attending the first annual MTSS-Fest conference lead by OSPI’s Kelcey Schmidtz and Andrea Cobb. They both work at the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning (ClSL).

The conference was fantastic and included a keynote address by Dr. Brandi Simonsen. Nationally recognized as a specialist in Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS), Dr. Simonsen made a comment that stuck with me. It explained why, at times, the conversation around PBIS can be tricky. To be honest, after experiencing the results of leading the implementation of PBIS at three schools in three distinctly different districts and hearing testimony about how PBIS has transformed the climate of countless schools and retrieved numerous hours of learning time, I’ve often wondered why debates still linger about PBIS. I’m also puzzled why there is still evidence of partial PBIS implementation when full benefits are reaped only after specific protocols designed for comprehensive implementation are followed (there is no such thing as “PBIS-lite”).  

It is abundantly clear implementing PBIS with fidelity throughout all facets of the system (district office, schools, classrooms, transportation, food service etc.) results in unprecedented changes in the culture, systems and learning of any school-community. PBIS is a tool designed to create equity-centered proactive systems for monitoring and responding to the needs of students and, importantly, the needs of adults...and this is where the conversation tends to get tricky.

As Dr. Simonsen also stated, “there is a science to managing behavior.” Embedded in this assertion is the notion that there is a right way of doing this work, a best way, a proven way.  True, managing behavior is nuanced, quite complex and, well, tricky. However, there are proven ways of doing it, and without question, PBIS is the best system to implement the science of managing behavior.

However, there is a specific protocol for installing PBIS. Sustaining PBIS in classrooms, not just throughout the halls of the building, is one of the key elements. But why might this level of specificity of implementation be tricky? Well, just like student behavior, it requires the adults in the school to change their behavior and replace it with a different, more impactful behavior.

In order for students to respond to the science of behavior management and systems implementation, the adults must do it too. PBIS requires a change in systems AND a change in practice. This can be especially challenging because maladaptive behavior is often confusing, as well as emotionally and mentally taxing for students and adults. Also, unlike instructional coaches, there are typically not "behavior coaches" readily available. Because of this, Dr. Simonsen points out the importance of professional development that features specific modeling and explanation of the science of managing behavior. This stuff takes time, but it can and should be done according to the implementation protocols provided.

In the span of a brief moment, adults in a school have a choice to react in a manner to de-escalate or escalate a student's behavior. We also have the decision-making ability to put proven systems in place designed to extinguish maladaptive behavior, increase pro-social behavior, and recapture hundreds of hours of learning each year. Multiple evidence-based practices can be started right away as your district plans comprehensive PBIS implementation, such as:

  • Greet students at the door, recognize them by name, and say something positive.

  • Catch kids doing the right thing...often.

  • When kids make mistakes – rather than punish – remind them what to do and make sure they know how (what it looks and sounds like) to do it (reteach if needed).

  • Let parents know how their child is doing in a manner they can understand and follow through upon.

  • Emphasize and teach self-management.

Behavior for students and adults can be tricky to alter. However, the good news is there is a proven science to managing, monitoring and teaching it. There are research-based practices, and when it comes to PBIS, proven implementation protocols, vetted training modules, and tools for measuring the depth and fidelity of implementation at the district, building, and classroom level. PBIS has it all and, fortunately for us, there are highly regarded people in the field, including right here in Washington, to provide guidance and support. So as you initiate conversations with other leaders in your district about a full-on, comprehensive adoption of PBIS, check out this implementation blueprint and consider having your school leadership team explore the following resources:

Looking for even more proven strategies to address specific behaviors? Try pbisworld.com and begin developing systems for supporting and monitoring the implementation of critical classroom features, like:  

  • Maximized structure and predictability.

  • Established, taught and monitored positively state expectations.

  • Actively engaged students.

  • Behavior expectations taught (pre-taught) at the beginning of lesson.

  • Multiple opportunities for students to receive praise on their behavior.

  • behavior
  • MTSS
  • PBIS
  • Professional Learning

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