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Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities, 600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI 02908, 401-456-8072
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Frequently Asked Questions

How is PBIS different from other approaches to student behavior and school discipline?

PBIS encompasses all children in a school or pre-school through a 3-tiered approach to discipline. The prevention of problem behavior is emphasized at all three levels - school-wide, targeted (at-risk) and intensive (chronic or severe). When problem behavior does occur, the response is consistent and is based in many cases on an understanding of the function of the behavior. PBIS also addresses appropriate behaviors in every area of a student's day - the classroom, the cafeteria, the bus, assemblies, hallways, recess and so on.

Why is it important to recognize good behavior in students? Shouldn't they already know how to behave?

When students don't read well, we teach. When students don't know their times tables, we teach. When students don't know expected behaviors well, we should teach. Traditional approaches have often used punishment or consequences with the idea that children should already have good behavior mastered. These approaches often don't work well on their own, however, because the expectations have not been clearly established to the point that children can see and understand the difference between correct and incorrect behavior. "Be respectful" may mean little to a child unless they know what being respectful looks like. This is doubly difficult when different teachers or adults have varying levels of tolerance for the same behavior, or when adults tell children to "be respectful" in a loud, angry tone.

Doesn't recognizing positive student behavior make them dependent on rewards?

The goal for all behavior and discipline systems should be to strive for an internal, intrinsic sense of "doing the right thing." This does not happen for some children, however, until they have sufficient practice. And students are more likely to practice correct behaviors if they receive frequent and specific positive feedback. Verbal praise is fine, but many of us forget to acknowledge correct behaviors specifically and frequently. Tangible rewards do not need to be large, fancy or expensive, but visible recognition can often supplement verbal recognition very effectively. The goal over time is to reduce the frequency of tangible rewards so that behavior does become internalized. Verbal acknowledgement and encouragement, however, should consistently be given on average at least four times for every correction or reprimand.

What consequences are used in PBIS for students who don't behave?

The first consequence of minor misbehavior is to re-teach the desired behavior to ensure the student knows what is expected. Further consequences are dependent on the child's age and the nature of the misbehavior. A central tenet of PBIS is that continued misbehavior by children generally serves some purpose or function for them, and a "standard" consequence may be unwittingly rewarding that behavior. For instance, if a student misbehaves in the classroom during time for independent math work and the consequence is to be sent out into the hall, the student gets what he or she wanted in the first place - to avoid math work. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the function of behavior - what is the student trying to get or avoid - and then establishing a consequence that brings the student closer to the behavior that is expected.

How will we know if PBIS is working?

An effective and fully implemented PBIS system should affect the behavioral atmosphere for every child. In general, PBIS schools find that there are fewer referrals to the office for problem behavior, more time for productive instruction in class and fewer distractions for all students. School climate is calmer, more predictable, more family-friendly and more inviting for students, staff and parents alike.

Is PBIS directed mostly at students with emotional or behavioral disabilities?

Positive behavioral supports were initially developed for students with behavioral or emotional disorders. Over the past decade the approach has been increasingly recognized as an effective tool in reaching all students.

Is PBIS a new idea? Has it been tried successfully in other states?

PBIS was originally implemented in New Hampshire in 2001. Currently, more than 3,000 schools across the country are implementing PBIS and nearly every state has a PBIS coordinator or state-wide initiative underway.

Questions/Comments contact Mary Anne Pallack | Rhode Island College | ©2016 Sherlock Center on Disabilities

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