If your child struggles with behavior, you may worry about her getting in trouble at school. Some schools have tried to be proactive and encourage good behavior through an approach called positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). Here’s what you need to know about PBIS.
The Principles of PBIS
PBIS is an approach that schools can use to improve school safety and promote positive behavior. It’s also a way for schools to decide how to respond to a child who misbehaves.
PBIS has a few important principles:
- Every child can learn proper behavior.
- Stepping in early can prevent more serious behavior problems.
- Each child is different and schools need to provide many kinds of behavior support.
- How schools teach behavior should be based on research and science.
- Following a child’s behavioral progress is important.
- Schools must gather and use data to make decisions about behavior problems.
Keep in mind that PBIS is not a treatment or therapy. It’s more like a framework for teachers, administrators and parents. And it’s used with all students in the school, whether or not they receive special education services.
According to several studies, PBIS leads to better student behavior. In schools that use PBIS, students receive fewer detentions and suspensions. There’s less bullying. Students also have better grades.
How PBIS Works
In a school with a traditional approach to discipline, teachers may try to correct behavior through punishment. Here’s a typical example:
A student sitting in the back of a classroom throws a spitball. The teacher reacts by scolding the student or sending her to the principal’s office. After the student is punished, she’ll return to class and be expected to behave. All students follow the same rules. Punishment is the same for any child who breaks the rules. If there’s more bad behavior, the punishment might be increased.
By contrast, in a school using PBIS, the focus is on preventing problems. From the start, students learn about what behavior is appropriate, just like they learn math or science. Students are taught social skills, including how to act in different settings, such as the classroom, on the bus or with friends. They may learn through role-playing or through actual lessons. Staff at the school regularly praise kids for good behavior.
With PBIS, teachers look for minor issues and prevent them from becoming bigger behavior problems. Before a spitball is thrown, a teacher might notice the student who is craving attention. The teacher might address that need positively before it grows into a need to throw a spitball.
If a student acts out, the school creates a strategy to prevent the behavior from happening again. The strategy might include things like a break time to cool off or a peer mentor. The school may even provide training for parents.
The school follows the student’s progress in managing behavior issues and may change strategy if something’s not working. In PBIS, discipline is used, but punishment isn’t the focus.
You may want to ask your child’s school to explain its approach to discipline and behavior. You could ask the principal or your child’s teacher if there’s a way to reinforce what the school is doing at home. To help schools implement PBIS, the U.S. Department of Education has created a center with training and information on PBIS.
If your child is acting out in school, use these conversation starters to discuss your child’s behavior with teachers. Learn how a behavior contract can help. If your child has an IEP, you may also want to learn about behavior intervention plans (BIPs). And read about your child’s legal rights when it comes to school discipline.