PBIS Positive Behavior Intervention Supports

During the 2010-2011 school year, I had the opportunity to be part of an inquiry team through the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project. The team focused on Positive Behavior Intervention Supports. As a group, we learned about assessing and addressing behavior using various PBIS systems. The teachers involved chose students from their classroom to focus on as case studies. We shared ideas and implemented various PBIS systems in our classrooms. My inquiry will share my journey using PBIS systems in my classroom as well as provide you with some background information on PBIS.

For the “Expanding Mindsets/Transforming Practices Conference at Teachers College” on June 9th, 2011, I created a presentation entitled, “Everyone Needs a Break: Self-Regulation and Break Systems.” My presentation focused on the behaviors often seen when a student struggles with self-regulation. I included three examples of break systems I used in my classroom with one of my students who struggled with self-regulation. I described how each system worked and shared the successes and failures of each. I also emphasized the importance of always “tweaking” our systems to meet the changing needs of our students.

This resource is designed to give you information and resources that may be helpful in managing difficult student behavior and supporting positive behavior. You will find the following in this resource:

  • A snapshot of my 10-month journey through an inquiry team at Teachers College
  • A definition of PBIS
  • Examples of behaviors displayed by a student who struggled with self-regulation
  • Tools and examples of how to assess student behavior
  • Examples of PBIS break systems used to support students who struggle with self-regulation
  • A simple PBIS system
  • A hands-on visual PBIS tool
  • A PBIS system focused on 3 specific triggers of behavior
  • A description of a school-wide PBIS system to address behavior in the school cafeteria
  • PBIS Resources

What is Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS)?

PBIS is a new way to work with student behavior. Since every school year, I have worked with students with behavioral challenges, I was excited to try out a new way to work with and hopefully help these students who often are the ones who “slip through the cracks.” One important lesson I learned about PBIS is that it is educative. In other words, behavioral expectations need to be taught. We cannot assume that students know how to behave appropriately when at school. We also need to realize that students do not want to misbehave. Most of the time they do not “choose” to act up. There is a misconception that the misbehaving student is just seeking attention, knows how to control the behavior, and is choosing not to. This is usually not the case. The reality usually is that the student does not know how to behave appropriately. Consequently, we must teach students how to behave at school to ensure that they make better choices.

PBIS views inappropriate behavior as similar to the way we think about problems in academic subjects like reading and math. When a student struggles in reading or math we must first assess to find out what the particular problem is. The same is true regarding behavior. We need to assess in order to zoom in on the target behavior the student is struggling with. We need to identify patterns and possible causes of inappropriate behavior. If you would like to learn more about how to assess behavior and view some of the tools used to assess behavior, click on the following link, Assessing Behavior.

PBIS is a process, it is not a program or a curriculum. It is a proactive model that not only teaches behaviors but also reinforces and recognizes students who are able to model appropriate behavior. In addition, an effective PBIS model needs to have systems in place to support students who have a more difficult time or may present with more challenging behaviors. These systems will change based on individual student needs. In the past, school disciple has focused primarily on reacting to misbehavior by implementing punishment such as reprimands, loss of privileges, suspensions, and expulsions. PBIS takes a different approach by teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding students for following them.  Also, PBIS uses the information obtained by assessing the behavior to help develop effective interventions to decrease inappropriate behavior. PBIS does not wait for misbehavior to occur and then respond. The “positive” in PBIS refers to a change in focus from reactive (focusing on what students do wrong) to proactive (teaching and recognizing what students do right). The purpose of PBIS is to create an environment in which appropriate behavior is the norm. The goal is to create a school environment in which students and teachers feel safe, appreciated. and respected.

A Tiered Process

PBIS can be implemented as a school-wide system. These systems will usually reach about 80% of students. Teachers can also implement PBIS systems made for their entire class. School-wide and classroom systems may not meet the needs of all students, as some students will require individual PBIS systems. For more information, please read this article, “Applying Positive Behavioral Support and Functional Behavioral Assessment in Schools.”


This presentation includes information from Ross Greene’s Lost at School.

Assessing Behavior

Step 1: Getting to Know Your Students

As a teacher, I feel that it is imperative to really get to know your students. I try my best to establish and build a relationship with every student in my class. It is important to get to know who your students are as people, not just in an academic sense. With 20 or more students sitting in your class at the beginning of the year, this may seem nearly impossible, but it can be easier then you think!

At the beginning of the year, I always have my students fill out an interest survey. It is a great ice-breaker, and the students usually enjoy opening up and telling me about themselves. Believe it or not, the interest survey my students complete at the beginning of the school year helps me tremendously to meet the needs of some of my most challenging students. I allow students to share their interest surveys with the class if they choose, but then I make sure to collect them and keep them in a binder to refer back to. This is my first form of assessment for the school year and can be used as a starting point to address the behavior. Many times when a student is struggling with behavior, simply asking them to meet you in the hallway for a “chat” is all they really need. A one-on-one teacher/student conversation can work miracles to calm a student who is having difficulties in the classroom. Knowing information such as a student’s hobbies, favorite TV show or favorite food puts you in a better position to connect. You wouldn’t believe how much it means to a student when they find out their teacher has taken the time to get to know them.

Student Interest Inventory

In addition to the student interest survey, I also make sure to start the year off by having parents complete a quick and simple questionnaire about their child. I keep these in the same binder with the interest surveys and make sure to refer back to them throughout the school year. These two very simple forms have given me great insight into WHO my students are, which then helps me to meet their individual needs, both academically and behaviorally.

Parent Questionnaire

Step 2: When Does the Behavior Occur?

Although interest surveys and parent questionnaires are a great start to getting to know who your students are and may aid in addressing student behavior, they are not usually the only tool you need to use when trying to meet the needs of students with challenging behaviors. After the “honeymoon” period, (which occurs at the beginning of the school year when you think every one of your students is perfect and you have no behavior challenges in the room), wears off and there is one student in particular that encompasses the majority of your time, energy and mind-capacity, it is time to get serious. In order to meet the needs of your student who struggles with behavior, you NEED to first assess the behavior. You may start off by simple observation, but make sure to document everything you observe. I like to start by trying to determine if there is a specific time of day or subject area that brings out the challenging behavior. I use the form found below as a simple tool that not only pinpoints the time of the challenging behavior for me but also is “kid-friendly” so I can share the results with the student.

Shorter Behavior Chart

Step 3: Why Does Behavior Occur?

In order to help a student with challenging behavior, we need to figure out WHY he or she is challenging. The best way to assess behavior in this way is to complete an FBA (Functional Behavioral Analysis). An FBA is a process by which we engage in detective work in order to find out why the student is misbehaving. Why does a child keep doing the same challenging behavior over and over? An FBA helps you to determine what the problem behavior is and can help you to hone in on what happens immediately before and after the problem behavior occurs. Below you will find two very simple FBA forms that I have used in my classroom.

Simple ABC Observation Form

This is an example of what an ABC form may look like when completed:

ABC Analysis Form

Step 4: Zooming in on Specific Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems

Ross Greene is the author of a book titled, Lost at School. His book is a great resource for teachers to use in order to gain insight into students with challenging behaviors, and it includes a helpful assessment tool that I have used in my classroom. According to Ross Greene, “Kids with social, emotional and behavioral challenges lack important thinking skills” (10). Greene goes on to say that “If you identify the skills a kid is lacking, you’ll understand why he is challenging. You’ll also know which skills the kid needs to learn, and you’ll be better equipped to anticipate the situations in which his challenging behavior is most likely to occur” (11). In other words, he confirms that assessment is crucial to meeting the needs of students with challenging behaviors. You need to start the process of helping that struggling student by completing some form of assessment. The tool you use to assess is up to you!

Everyone Needs a Break!

I would like to welcome you into my 5th grade Integrated Co-Teaching Classroom. In this part of my inquiry, you will be able to:

  • View pictures of my classroom
  • Learn about a simple and fun ice-breaker you might like to use at the beginning of the school year
  • See what a “leveled library” looks like
  • View a behavior system that focuses on consequences (this is an example of a NON-PBIS system)
Positive Behavior Intervention Supports – Individual Systems

Below you will find the PBIS break systems that I implemented in my classroom. PBIS systems do not wait for misbehavior to occur and then respond. The positive in PBIS refers to a change in focus from reactive (focusing on what students do wrong) to proactive (teaching and recognizing what students do right.) Break systems are a great tool to use with students who struggle with self-regulation. The break systems are listed in the order in which I tried them out.

Break System 1

Break System 1 is a very simple system to use in your classroom. The set up is simple and you can get it started right away. Break System 1 did not work for long with my student because he needed more support than this system provided. This does not mean this system won’t work with a different student.

How It Works
  • A system designed to meet the needs of students who struggle with self-regulation
  • The student is given 3 “break cards” per day
  • When the student feels he/she needs a break they leave the lesson/activity, hand the teacher a break card and move back to their seat
  • At their seat is a “choice bin” filled with fun, calming, educational activities
  • Student chooses an activity
  • Break is limited to “5 minutes”
  • The student must return to lesson/work after 5-minute break is over
Break System 2

In order to meet the needs of my struggling student, I tweaked System 1 and was able to create a second system. Break System 2 is a hands-on visual tool that can be teacher prompted. Break System 2 was a huge success!

How It Works
  • Teacher prompted, visual hands-on tool to address self-regulation
  • The teacher notices when the student needs a break
  • The teacher approaches the student with the break board and tells him/her, “You need a break”
  • The student has 4 choices (get a drink of water, take a walk with a teacher, write in feelings notebook, draw in sketchbook)
  • The student chooses what he/she needs and takes a 5-minute break
    The choice can be made by a student simply moving card choice to designated break area (cards are stuck to board with velcro so they are easy to move)
  • This system works well with students who have a hard time expressing what they need
Break System 3

After some time I needed to change it up again. Therefore, I created Break System 3, which is more targed. Through observation and assessment, I was able to identify 3 specific triggers for the student’s behavior. The third system focuses on these three triggers. This system was a success as well!

How It Works
  • Another system used to address self-regulation
  • Through assessment I identified 3 triggers of misbehavior: the student was tired, the work was too hard, or the student was upset
  • Chart was displayed at the student’s desk
  • Chart gave the student the choice of what to do when something was wrong
  • If the student returned to work or to the lesson then he earned points

PBIS as a School-Wide System

Lunchtime: A Whole School Positive Behavioral System

It seems that the cafeteria is a breeding ground for problems at many schools. As a teacher, you may work very hard to organize structures, routines, and rules in your classroom, and then you drop the kids off at lunch, and when you return, your class has somehow transformed into “wild animals.” You walk into the room and three kids run up to you informing you of the massive food fight that occurred. Suzy is bleeding because Johnny pushed her into the garbage can. The lunch-aids are screaming and blowing whistles, they are totally frazzled! You look at your watch and ask yourself, “how am I going to get these kids focused on the great math lesson I have awaiting them on the smartboard upstairs?” This is where PBIS can come into play, and help to solve some of these problems.

Since the lunchroom is a problem at many schools, my inquiry team through Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project decided it would be a great idea to come up positive behavior system specifically for the lunchroom. In going along with the theory of PBIS, teachers would need to be proactive and would need to put systems in place to support positive behavior, rather than waiting to respond to misbehavior with consequences.

Our Vision

As an inquiry team, we decided that our vision was the following: “Lunch is a peaceful, joyful, clean, enjoyable, social, relaxing time when we have pleasant conversations while eating.”

This vision may sound ideal, but if your cafeteria is currently anything like the one described above, then this vision may not seem very realistic to you. I will now provide you with some examples we came up with to help make this vision come true. I have not yet had the opportunity to try out any of these ideas for my own, but hope to implement a positive behavior system in my school cafeteria in the upcoming school year (2011-2012).
How to make our vision a reality…

Just like we set expectations in our classrooms, the same needs to be done in the cafeteria. We need to make clear to the students what we expect of them and what our goal is. We came up with the following expectations:

  • Sitting
  • Walking
  • Inside Voices
  • Having conversations about age-appropriate topics
  • Using problem-solving skills to hand conflict effectively
Environment Changes

After creating expectations and making them clear to students, we decided that there would need to be some changes made in the actual environment, routines, and activities that were occurring in the lunchroom. We felt that round tables would create a more “family-style” feel and that students would have an easier time talking with their peers. We also hoped that round tables might eliminate students screaming to get a peer’s attention who is at the other end of the long rectangular table, which many of our cafeterias currently have. Of course, buying new furniture may not be an option at every school, so we did come up with some other ideas.

Some schools have parent volunteers at their schools that are more than willing to lend a helping hand. Having parent volunteers sit at each lunch table to model desired behavior can be an easy and effective option. This idea definitely buys into PBIS because we would be teaching the behavior.

Another easy environmental change to the environment could be creating visual reminders in the cafeteria such as charts or table-top frames of what to do during lunch. These could be created by teachers, parents, or even students. If your school has snack-time in the classroom, having guided practice of appropriate meal-time behavior could be an option.

Lastly, we discussed how many of our students have a hard time sitting down at lunch and having an appropriate conversation. Therefore, modeling how to engage in a conversation or providing students with conversation topics with verbal prompts about conversation starters and ways to disagree is another great option.

Lessons that Need to be Taught

Once again, it is imperative that teachers are teaching behavior just as we teach academics. Classroom teachers can be teaching into “how to have a conversation while eating.” Other lessons can be taught in the classroom, such as turn-taking, respectfully disagreeing, and using manners. Manners that be can taught include: chewing with your mouth closed, not touching other kids’ food, allowing personal space, throwing out your lunch tray without making a mess, etc. To involve students in the teaching process, you may have them create role-plays to model these behaviors. You never know what behaviors may be necessary to teach, so observe the cafeteria and learn from what you see there.

Involving Parents in the Process

Just as we need to involve parents in the classroom, we should be involving them in the lunchroom as well. Teachers can send home homework that requires students to practice appropriate mealtime behavior and conversations at home. Emailing or sending home conversation topics once a week for students to practice at home could be helpful. If teachers and staff are willing to, providing parent workshops on practicing how to handle difficult situations during lunchtime could be very beneficial.

Strategies for Feedback

Since our entire vision structures the cafeteria as a classroom, it is also necessary to provide positive feedback, as we do in our classrooms when the students buy into the behavioral system by displaying appropriate behavior. One simple way to provide feedback could be to have shout outs on the loudspeaker that announce the names of students or classes caught doing the right thing in the cafeteria. Paper awards and certificates can be given out by the lunch-aids to students daily, weekly, or monthly. Teachers can simply send home letters or emails to parents when their child is caught doing the right thing at lunch. These are just a few ways to reinforce positive behavior, but I’m sure you can come up with many more!

Zooming In

The last idea we came up with is my favorite. We thought it would be a great idea to create a video modeling what good lunchroom behavior looks like. There is an example of a hilarious video below in which a group of teachers model what misbehavior in the cafeteria looks like and then the students model appropriate behavior. I would love to create a similar video at my school this year! It is a fun way to model for students our vision of a positive behavior lunchroom system.

Check out the video of PBIS in the lunchroom!

Here is a condensed chart version of what is discussed above:

More about the author: Danielle Vega

Danielle Vega is a 5th grade Special Education Teacher currently working in an Integrated Co-Teaching Classroom in the South Bronx.