What Is PBIS and Why Is It Important?

Accentuate the positive. It’s a simple statement, yet it holds the potential to make a significant difference in children’s lives. This is especially true for younger children as they hone their academic skills and develop social and emotional skills.

All children “act out” at some point. It’s human nature. Some children, however, struggle with behavioral issues more often, for varying reasons. This type of behavior not only disrupts lessons in the course of the school day, but it can pose a danger to the child and his or her peers.

There has long been debate among educators about the methods for addressing behavioral issues. Punishments – e.g. suspensions and time-outs – were a common course of action. Over the years, however, these methods have not proved effective in addressing the behavior itself. Research shows the benefits of using positive reinforcement rather than traditional punishments.

A Better Way to Teach

At the American School for the Deaf, we believe the best way to address behavioral challenges is with positive reinforcement.  We use an evidence-based approach called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a framework that encourages positive behaviors and helps educators and paraprofessionals monitor behavior and collect data on each student. Studies have found PBIS to be effective in improving student outcomes, reducing the need for discipline and increasing academic achievement.

PBIS is used in more than 24,000 schools throughout the United States, but mostly only during the school day. ASD was a pioneer in the application of PBIS to residential settings and we use it and collect data 24/7/365 campus-wide. Our entire team of administrators, school psychologists, counselors, teachers, teacher’s aides and other staff use PBIS throughout our school and residential settings. Since implementing this framework in 2011, we’ve noted a dramatic decrease in unsafe student behaviors in both our traditional academic programs and in PACES – Positive Attitude Concerning Education and Socialization – our residential treatment and education program for students with behavioral and emotional challenges.

How PBIS Works

PBIS is an offshoot of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a scientific-based form of therapy used to address specific behaviors. It has the same goal, which is to change inappropriate behavior and help students experience success; however, PBIS interventions can be best described as “user-friendly” and portable.

PBIS, also referred to as a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), is a framework that provides a way for educators and others to acknowledge students who follow the rules and display appropriate behaviors. It also has a built-in support system that helps educators work effectively with children who demonstrate inappropriate behavior. The focus is on prevention, not punishment. We encourage positive behavior by teaching it, just as we’d teach math or science. Instead of a “suspension” from school, our team may recommend a “therapeutic respite.” There are no “time-out” rooms, as simply placing a child in an isolated room to punish bad behavior does not address the behavior itself. In order to correct behavioral issues, a child needs to have behavioral expectations clearly explained. For the framework to be most effective, everyone within the school needs to reinforce the three school-wide expectations to be respectful, responsible and safe, and use that language regularly.

As with any skill, children can also learn appropriate behavior. Of course, each child is unique so teaching methods are tailored to individual needs. We gather research on student performance and utilize that data to make decisions about prevention and how we tailor our programs to meet everyone’s needs.

Behavioral change requires pre-teaching and re-teaching. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing don’t have the same experiences and influences as hearing children – e.g., they don’t hear what unfolds when a sibling is being disciplined. So, we as educators need to reinforce certain skills. Early intervention is key – identifying behavioral challenges early on can help prevent more serious problems in the future.