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Friday, February 7, 2014

What Is PBIS? How Will It Help My Child and Improve School Discipline?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By NCLD Editorial Team
February 4, 2014

School discipline is a big concern for parents of students with learning and attention issues. As recent guidelines from the Department of Education point out, schools are suspending minority students and students with disabilities at unreasonably high rates. But how can people change school discipline for the better?

One promising framework is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Here, Professor George Sugai of the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a nationwide initiative, answers questions parents may have about PBIS and how it can be used in schools to improve discipline policies and school climate.

What is PBIS and why should parents be excited about it?

PBIS stands for “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.” PBIS is a structure for making sure that all students can be successful at school—academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally. PBIS is a way for schools to make good decisions about selecting and using effective social and behavior practices so that students can learn and teachers can teach in a safe, respectful and responsible environment. PBIS is not an intervention, treatment, therapy or curriculum.

Across all 50 states, more than 21,000 schools have received direct support from the PBIS Center. Many more schools have used the resources at the PBIS Center website to help them implement the PBIS approach.

What is the difference between PBIS and traditional school discipline?
Here is a chart summarizing the general differences between the PBIS framework and traditional school discipline.

Traditional School Discipline vs. the PBIS Approach

Traditional: Students receive punishment when they break a school rule.
PBIS: Students are taught how to follow the rules to show better behavior; similar to how they are taught academic skills.

Traditional: Punishment for rule violations is given after the rule is broken.
PBIS: Classrooms are set up to promote appropriate behavior and prevent problem behavior.

Traditional: Inhibiting problem behavior is emphasized.
PBIS: Promoting the social, emotional, and behavioral success of all students is emphasized.

Traditional: All students have the same rules and punishments.
PBIS: Students who need extra behavior supports get what they need to be academically and behaviorally successful.

Traditonal: Parents are blamed and held responsible when their children get in trouble.
PBIS: Parents and teachers work together to support the social, emotional, and behavioral needs and success of all students.

Traditional: Principals and administrators use more punishment when students are not compliant.

PBIS: Teachers continuously keep track of their students’ behavior to prevent minor problems from becoming major problem behaviors, and use different strategies instead of repeating unsuccessful ones.

What does PBIS look and sound like in a classroom or school?

When PBIS is being implemented well, you will notice students and teachers doing and saying the following:

  • Students can say the three to five positive behavior expectations used by the school.
  • Students can describe and show an example of appropriate behavior for those expectations wherever they might be in the school.
  • Teachers are actively and positively supervising all classroom and school settings to make sure students use safe, respectful and responsible behavior.
  • Teachers are actively and sincerely recognizing students for displays of appropriate behavior.
  • Teachers, Principals, and other school staff are meeting regularly to see if students are doing well academically and behaviorally.
  • Students who struggle with behavior challenges receive individualized behavior supports to help them succeed in school.

Does PBIS work for schools and for kids with behavior issues?

PBIS is an approach that is used school-wide for all students, not only those students who have behavior challenges or are frequently disciplined. When implemented well, PBIS becomes a key part of the school culture and environment and helps to improve social skills and emotional success for all students.

When implemented correctly, schools using the PBIS approach are more likely to see some of these great results:

  • Students have fewer major disciplinary referrals, detentions and suspensions.
  • Students do better academically.
  • Students show fewer aggressive and bullying behaviors.
  • Students concentrate better, regulate their emotions more, and show more prosocial behavior.
  • Teachers report less bullying behavior and peer rejection.
  • Students and teachers say their school and classrooms are better organized and safer.
  • Students and teachers say the school climate is more positive.

The Department of Education recently released guidance on school discipline. In light of it, schools will need to examine and improve their discipline policies. How can PBIS be a helpful tool in changing school climate and aligning disciplinary policies with the Department’s guiding principles?

The PBIS approach is based on several guiding principles that are very similar to the ones the Department of Education recently asked schools to adopt in their discipline policies.

  • PREVENTION is about establishing high quality classroom and school environments that teach and encourage appropriate behaviors and promote academic success.
  • The CULTURE and diversity of students, families, and communities within school practices and systems must be considered and celebrated to improve the quality of school climate and discipline.
  • SOCIAL SKILLS INSTRUCTION is equally important and similar to teaching academic skills.
  • High quality RELATIONSHIPS are the result of establishing and maintaining positive, authentic, and meaningful student-to-student and student-to-adult communications and interactions.
  • INDIVIDUALIZATION is about accommodations and adaptations for the unique learning needs and characteristics of all students.
  • High levels of ACADEMIC SUCCESS for all students are linked with effective, positive, and safe teaching and learning environments.
  • A TIERED CONTINUUM OF SUPPORT begins with an effective universal foundation of positive school climate for all students and enables more specialized support for students with behavior need and challenges.
  • Local DATA and information are essential for making actionable decisions for important educational questions for all students.

How can parents get involved or even help to bring PBIS to their schools?
Parents with children in a school that is already using PBIS have many ways to get involved:
  • You can learn and use the school’s three to five positive behavior expectations with your child.
  • You can ask your child to describe and show their classroom and schools positive expectations at home.
  • You can acknowledge your child at least daily for showing positive behavior expectations at home and school.
  • You can communicate weekly with teachers to celebrate their children’s academic and social behavior successes and have early discussions about academic and social behavior difficulties before they become more challenging.
  • You can actively participate in PBIS related activities at your child’s school.
  • If your child is struggling, you can actively participate in meeting and conversations that lead to individualized behavior support plans.
  • You can share your family values, perspectives, history and culture with your child’s teachers.
  • You can do things early and differently in difficult situations to prevent your child from using problem behavior at home and school.
  • If your child’s school does not already use PBIS, you can ask your school if they are familiar with PBIS and direct them to the PBIS Center, a national center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, which collects and organizes effective behavior and classroom management strategies and practices and their effective use. The website also has a map that gives the PBIS contact for each state. Schools use the information and resources provided by the PBIS Center to bring PBIS to schools around the country.


Professor George Sugai is co-director of the national Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. The Center was established by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education to help schools build capacity and provide technical assistance on effective school-wide disciplinary practices.

At the University of Connecticut, Professor Sugai is the Neag School of Education Endowed Chair in Behavior Disorders, and professor of graduate level special education courses in applied behavior analysis, emotional or behavioral disorders, behavioral consultation, social skills instruction, and classroom/behavior management. He also is Director of the Center for Behavioral Education and Research in the Neag School of Education.Professor Sugai received his M.Ed. in 1974 and Ph.D. in 1980 at the University of Washington.

Also contributing is Laura Kern, a University of Connecticut graduate student and a parent of a son with autism, who provided Professor Sugai with an excellent parent perspective.

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