What is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support anyways?

What are Positive Behavior Support and Intervention Systems

Some of you might know what Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is, it’s been around for around twenty years now and its even part of the law. However, maybe you’re new to education, or maybe you’ve been implementing PBIS your whole life but never really knew what it was called.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or as abbreviated, PBIS, is defined as a “positive and proactive system-level approach that enables schools to effectively and efficiently support student and staff behavior.” Woah, that’s a bit of a mouthful, so what does that mean exactly?

Let’s break that down a little more:

1. Positive: PBIS stresses positivity when dealing with students’ problems. While that certainly doesn’t mean you can only be positive (discipline is allowed) it stresses treating students not as potential rule-breakers, but as someone who might have done a temporary wrong.

2. Proactive: PBIS attempts to solve problems before they even happen. Rather than punishing students and hoping that they won’t do it again, PBIS thinks of all the things that lead to a student breaking a rule or acting out, and attempts to fix those problems first. The idea here is that, once you fix the starting events, students won’t have a chance to misbehave or act out.

3. System-level approach: You might already be using some behavior management strategies at the micro level. Maybe you’ve developed a way of dealing with outburst in class or goofing off in the hallways. These are great steps, but what happens when your student leaves your reach and joins another classroom? Those earlier systems could be followed by a new teacher, or they could not be.

PBIS brings the school together, reminding teachers and administrators that they work together as a team, and using that teamwork to inspire campuses to create unique behavior management systems that work for their school and student needs.

4. Effectively and efficiently support student and staff behavior: This is a long one, but a rather simple one to explain. By working together as a team, PBIS eases the individual burden of teachers by creating a framework everyone can follow. Sure, you’ll have your own additional tips and tricks, but by sharing and collaborating together, everyone involved has a clear image of the who, what, when, how, and why of behavior management.

How to use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?

It would be ridiculous to try and fully explain PBIS in one blog post, especially since PBIS is customized to your school, not a one-size-fits-all model. However, the basics of PBIS are centered around four elements.

PBIS flow

When starting your implementation of PBIS, take a step back and ask yourself “why” you’re wanting to use PBIS on your campus. By developing outcomes before diving into data, practice, or systems, you can determine what problems you’re trying to solve on your campuses.

Maybe you’ve got social problems, or behavioral problems, or academic problems. By focusing on the why, you can see which things work and don’t work on your campus and tailor your PBIS to those topics.

Look at the data you have. Many people will focus on obvious data like behavioral referrals, but don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. Think of all the data points you can. Are teachers missing a lot of school? Low campus morale? Is your nurse handing out too many band aids? All of these points can give you a clearer picture of your campus climate.

Look into the practices you use day to day. How do you deal with behavior problems campus wide? What initiatives have you started or do you follow? How is behavior handled at a class level, a department level, a school level, or a district level? What other practices feed into the way you handle behavior too? Do you have things which set up your students to misbehave?

An example of a practice that might feed into higher levels of misbehaving, but seems innocent at first, could be as simple as having a playground built for 40 students but sending 7 classes to recesses at the same time.

With double the amount of students, there’s less room for everyone which might lead to more tense and harmful behavior.

Zoom out and take a look at your systems as a whole. How do your school systems help behavior or hurt behavior?

Take the example of an 8th grade English teacher who has bus duty and a class at the end of the day. As the bell rings he tries to get to the bus stop before the kids, but he’s (of course) at the other end of the school, has to gather his things up, and has students asking him questions after class. By the time he’s arrived at the bus stop students have been at the bus stop for a while unsupervised. Those few minutes might not seem like much, but as you know, it only takes a few minutes for students to act up.

By looking at the systems currently in place, you can come up with more proactive changes. Maybe assigning additional help on bus duty, or giving that duty to someone closer to the bus stop. Small changes can have a drastic effect on student behavior.

PBIS outcomes


It’s important to note, that while these are presented in a progression, the four elements are not successive, but work together. The above diagram helps you understand the flow of PBIS: thinking broadly and acting specifically, but PBIS implementation isn’t a flow chart, it’s a Venn diagram, with pieces overlapping and intersecting.

Why use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?

As you’ve learned above, PBIS makes things easier and more efficient. But it also has the added bonus of decreasing behavior problems and building happier and healthier schools and students.

In a broader sense, PBIS helps create a more connected school. When everyone is working together to improve student behavior, everybody wins. Teachers have the support of administration, and administration has the support of their teachers. Nobody is going into battle alone. By working together as a team, schools can be transformed and strengthened, and that strong and positive energy is recycled back to students. When there’s a system in place to deal with student behavior, no one student slips through the cracks, boosting their happiness, decreasing their misbehavior, and increasing their academic success.


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