I often talk about PBIS on Instagram and to teachers I connect with. As I share about what PBIS looks like at our school, teachers often ask for information that they can share to consider implementing it at their own school. It is for this reason that I am going to put down in writing our experience, our reward incentives, the results we have seen according to our data, and how we raise funds to support our program. For anyone who is not sure if you should take the time to read this post, know that I was a PBIS skeptic. I was someone who was not thrilled to be on another committee and I was very apprehensive to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. Like many teachers at our school, I believed PBIS was just another program promising to change our school culture, but more than likely was just a business trying to make some money and I would have to suffer through meetings that would never bare any fruit. Our school culture has dramatically shifted in our first year of PBIS and our parents and community have been very excited about the new things that we have going on at our school. In parent meetings, they have commented on what a difference this program has made in their student’s behavior and how they view school. The local news even came to our school to share with their viewers how this program was impacting our students. Looking back, I cannot express to you how wrong I was and how differently I feel about PBIS today.
Before I get to the part where I explain how we have reduced office referrals by over 40% every single month in our first year of the program, I should explain the concept behind PBIS. PBIS stands for positive behavioral interventions and supports. PBIS aims to have schools create expectations for students to follow that are posted, modeled, and reinforced through a variety of methods. When thought and consideration are put into to developing clear and concise expectations for behavior and students are thoroughly educated about these expectations, it is common for 85% of your student population to abide by the established behavior expectations. PBIS calls this the pyramid, with the majority of your students falling into the bottom tier category.
Oftentimes in a school, we assume that our students understand basic behavior expectations and social norms; however, we cannot assume that every student knows what we expect or that every student would have the same perspective on acceptable behavior. What is appropriate in the classroom? What is appropriate in the bathroom? How should we act when we are in the cafeteria and what is appropriate and appreciated in each of these areas? If you were to ask students and teachers, you will find that you will have a wide array of answers. It is important that schools come up with their own set of behavior expectations that are clear, concise, and highlight the most important desired expectations in each area of the school. The PBIS committee begins to create these behavior expectations; however, the entire staff of the school should be involved in providing feedback to help create this important backbone of your PBIS program.
How did PBIS start at our school? The state of Georgia has made PBIS a state-wide initiative and has implemented the program in many counties throughout Georgia. Our county included PBIS in their school improvement plan and set a goal to eventually implement it this program in all of our schools. Last school year, we were chosen as one of the schools to pilot this program. My principal came to me to tell me that the county office was launching a new program focused on positive behavior reinforcement and they asked him to pick teachers to serve on this committee. He said that he had chosen teachers who had positive relationships with their students and fostered a positive classroom environment and I was flattered to be chosen. I will be 100% honest with you and tell you that I was flattered, but also overwhelmed and serving on many other committees and had a lot on my plate–as most teachers do. Although I was honored, I was not thrilled to be adding something to that list and I will also admit I am not a teacher who enjoys anything that takes me away from my classroom.
Through many trainings, away from my classroom, the committee was immersed in PBIS and we set out to develop our school-wide expectations and learn about how we would use data to target specific problem areas in our school each month. We established roles on our committee and learned the responsibilities of each one. I was chosen to oversee the data for our committee. Tasked with the responsibility of drilling down specific school-wide trends, I present data-driven information to our committee every month. We use our data to discuss behavior trends occurring in our school. We drill down and look into the information to see what we would like to target with interventions and supports each month to help address issues at our school. Through our PBIS online platform, we input all office referral information. At our school, the attendance secretary inputs all of this information daily.
Before PBIS, what we knew about our office referrals was very limited. We knew how many we referrals we had the previous year, we knew how many office referrals each student had, and why the student was being referred. That is about it. With vague information and a lack of detail, we really could not do much to address problem areas at our school. We did not have the information to actually know, for certain, what they specifically were. Even worse than creating solutions to problems we weren’t even sure existed was the fact that we couldn’t be sure that our solutions were having the desired impact to address these issues.
All of those problems have vanished now at our school thanks to PBIS. Because of the detailed nature of office referrals that are input into this database, we are able to view the school-wide information in many different ways. We can look at grade level trends, times of the day they are occurring, days of the week, problem locations in the school, problem behaviors, perceived motivation, and much more. Oftentimes, we find specific trends occurring at our school. Sometimes, these trends lead us to have discussions about what is causing the problem. As a committee, we brainstorm how we can create meaningful and specific targeted behavioral interventions and supports to help reduce the trend. We launch our initiatives each month and reconvene the following month to see if our interventions and supports helped to reduce the trend.
As a committee, we also established certain incentives at our school to reinforce positive behaviors at our school. Our school mascot is a warrior and we decided we would collectively call our behavior expectations “The Warrior Way.” We created areas in our school that we could use to support our behavioral supports and interventions each month. We surveyed our school to find areas that were being under-used or not used at all. Outside of our cafeteria, we have a large grassy area that seemed perfect to create an outdoor cafe. As you leave the cafeteria, there was a large empty classroom that was being used as a meeting room. With a lot of begging and pleading to our principal, we relocated this meeting room and created our Warrior Way Game Room. As you enter the cafeteria, we have a large lobby that was mostly vacant aside from a few vending machines. This area seemed perfect to create a Warrior Way Store, where students could redeem Warrior Ones–our PBIS currency.
What are Warrior Ones? Well, they’re a currency we created at our school to reinforce positive behaviors as we see students exhibiting them. When we see a student exhibiting the behavior expectations that are posted in the hallway, we may stop them and give them a Warrior One. As students enter my classroom during transitions, I may walk around the classroom and place a Warrior One on the desk of students who are already working on their warm-up. When a student volunteers to answer a tough question in class or I see a student display an act of kindness, I may give them a Warrior One. What is very important about this is it has elevated my classroom management and reshaped how I approach everything. Before PBIS, I likely would have walked in my classroom and asked students to get started on their warm-ups who were not doing what they were asked to do. Conversely, I now walk in and thank students for doing this without even being asked. You would be shocked at how other students are motivated and see these students now as role models. The reinforcement shows other students what the expectation is and instead of negatively addressing those students who are not doing what is expected, I have now fixed the problem using positivity and praise. This will forever change your classroom and the way you approach classroom management.
Before PBIS, we had consequences for students who exhibited specific behaviors that the school deems unacceptable. The thing is, these consequences have existed since schools have been created. So too, have the problems. These problems didn’t go away because a student may have to serve a Saturday school or serve a detention. Does this mean that you get rid of consequences when you implement PBIS? Absolutely not. The goal is to try to motivate students to want to meet behavior expectations. All this time, before PBIS, those students who met our behavior expectations were simply sitting there silently doing what is expected–hardly ever being noticed, recognized, or praised.
Schools should be a place where students should enjoy coming to. My goal is to make my classroom and our school a place that my students are excited about and will one day look back and fondly remember. I have overheard far too many students exclaim that they hate coming to school and that they feel like school is a prison. This is one of the most tragic things to hear as a teacher. Although I do reject these notions, even before our school implemented PBIS, I think it speaks to an important point. Students who dread coming to school, who skip school to avoid being there, who physically show up to school, but mentally are not invested in their education CANNOT and WILL NOT learn as well as students who feel that school is a place where they WANT to be. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I want to scream this from the roof tops until every teacher understands that even though a student has to be at school, we should also hope that they truly want to be there. PBIS has tremendously shifted our students’ views on our school, how teachers interact with them, and how they view their educational experience.
Lastly, I should explain how we have funded our incentives and behavior reinforcements. As we toured schools who had already implemented PBIS, we found one school that had a well established fundraiser that was somewhat like a fall festival. We decided that we would try this as well at our school and created 20 carnival type games that we set up in our gym. Students paid a dollar to get into the “Warrior Wahoo” that was held during their connections period and we sold concessions and tickets for students to use to play the games. Teachers volunteered to be pied in the face–and yes, you guessed it, I was one of them. I will do almost anything for a good cause. Not only did this event raise a lot of money, but our students absolutely loved it! Every single penny that was made from this event went directly towards the reward areas we created in our school and directly back to our students. Since then, we have scheduled one of these events each semester and have added to the games we offer. The teacher in charge of this event is a saint and put in a lot of hard work, but it certainly paid off and is very easy to build upon once you get it established. We also took over the school talent show as our second fundraiser. That’s is all that we do to raise funds and it has been more than enough to keep us going and operational.
I will leave you with a look at our school-wide data so far for this school year and the single most important thing your principal needs to hear. Each office referral takes away precious time from instruction. At a bare minimum, the student who is referred is missing instruction and the teacher is distracted from doing the most important job they are tasked with, teaching. Additionally, other students are at a loss from this interruption during instructional time. Even worse, the principal that must address the office referral is spending his/her time also. This is time that could be used to focus on school improvement, innovative ideas, solutions for their school, supporting their teachers and the other important jobs that they carry out. With a 40% reduction in office referrals, that has also reduced the amount of time our principals have spent this year on handling said office referrals. They are now able to invest that time elsewhere. The image below shows you a year-to-year comparison from last school year, without PBIS, compared to this school year, which is our first year implementing PBIS. I personally never expected to see results right away, let alone a 40% reduction in office referrals every single month of our first year implementing this program. Like the saying goes, seeing is believing. I certainly do see and I am forever a converted believer!
*We launched our PBIS program on September 1st, 2018.