Part One - Every School on the Planet Should Implement PBIS Methods


Dr. Clay Cook

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) is an organizational model that helps people be successful in the environment in which they regularly function within. PBIS methods work in nursing homes for elderly people, Fortune 500 companies, and in elementary and secondary schools. PBIS methods ensure that all individuals; including staff and students, are crystal clear about the behaviors that help co-create a school environment that is orderly, peaceful and enables people to get the most out of their experiences. In this way, both staff and students take responsibility for the part they play in being a member of a broader school community and working with others to create a healthy environment in which everyone is able to succeed. 
PBIS adopts a similar approach to teaching academics, as it involves establishing very clear expectations for success. 

  • Teaching and revisiting those expectations
  • Modeling what it looks like to exhibit the expectations
  • Providing students with opportunities to practice
  • Providing feedback over time to students based on how they are doing with performing the expectations. 

Steps to Implementing PBIS:
Given the importance of those who have authority and power getting on the same page to build a consistent and predictable environment, PBIS begins with the staff working with students and families to identify 3-5 common behavioral expectations.  The behavioral expectations are then broken down into specific behavioral examples that describe what it looks and sounds like to exhibit the expectations in each and every setting students navigate in school. Expecting students to read educators’ minds is untenable. Instead, it is important to teach the behavioral expectations so students comprehend “what their job” entails at school, which is to exhibit behaviors that enable everyone, including themselves to get the most out of their experiences in school. 
PBIS involves methods of reminding students and staff to exhibit the behavioral expectations through cueing, precorrection, and prompting methods. Often individuals need to be reminded more than they need to be re-taught, so methods to remind and encourage the behavioral expectations are critical to the success of PBIS. One misconception of PBIS is that it is “soft” and simply lowers accountability for behavior by letting students get away with things. This could not be farther from the truth. PBIS also involves developing clear definitions of minor AND major problem behaviors, and how the adults will respond consistently, compassionately, and in a solution-oriented way when students exhibit behaviors that warrant correction. 
When it comes to behavior problems, the emphasis is also like handling academic mistakes, as the aim is to identify the root cause driving the problem and select solutions that aim to address the root cause for the problem. Depending on the behavior, there may also be disciplinary actions but the goal from a PBIS is for the student to learn from the behavioral mistakes to ultimately decrease the future likelihood of behaviors happening again.

About the Author: Dr. Clay Cook is the John and Nancy Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing at the University of Minnesota and Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program. He has extensive research and practical experiences involving the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to promote children’s social, emotional and behavioral wellbeing as the foundation for academic and life success.

Read Part 2 of this blog