PBIS for a more Peaceful School Environment

POSTED ON BEHALF OF MARG BRENNAN

For my final blog post, I wanted to share something that I’ve been working very closely with since beginning at my middle school, and up until this semester, I had been chairing. Since starting at my school, one pervasive and difficult issue has been the culture of the school and community – it’s an understatement to say that neither is conducive to learning.  Two years ago, we began to integrate PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports – into our school and I’ve noticed the difference that it’s made.

The basic idea of PBIS is that behavior is taught like any other subject – through explicit instruction, modeling, reinforcement, etc. and that positive and/or appropriate behavior should be recognized, rather than solely punishing negative or inappropriate behavior. Additionally, programs are put into place to support students at all levels (or Tiers) of functioning – the idea being that roughly 85% of your student population are Tier 1 students, who will respond to school-wide supports, roughly 10% need Tier 2 small group support and roughly 5% will need focused individual support at Tier 3. General information on the program can be found at its website: http://www.pbis.org/. All behavior data is tracked through an online system to consistently monitor success of the program and make adjustments.

I was able to work with several of my colleagues over the summer to further develop our PBIS program and I wanted to share part of our lesson plans that we created. Our school-wide expectations are that all students are ready, responsible, and respectful. We spent the entire first week of school working with climate and culture building and explicitly teaching expectations.  I’m including the lesson plan for Be Responsible, but if anyone is interested in PBIS material, please just let me know!

We specifically designed this lesson (and all others) with our middle school students in mind, but the content and activities could be modified for any grade level. As PBIS is a very structured program and designed to be implemented in a school setting, I would say the materials are designed for a formal classroom setting. These lessons could also be incorporated into any subject, as the types of behaviors being addressed are applicable in all areas.

PBIS has been incorporated in ways that connect to peace education throughout the past couple of years. Students develop conflict resolution skills through working with teachers and mentors. Other students learn more about emotions, emotion regulation, and interpreting others’ emotions accurately through our social skills groups.  Lessons are reinforced in classrooms throughout the year. Last year, I ran a student leadership committee, where students were able to organize the field trips, activities, and build some of the community partnerships that we established throughout the year.

My one issue with this program has been the amount of extrinsic motivation that we provide to students (field trips, school currency, shout-outs on morning announcements, etc.) for displaying appropriate behaviors, as opposed to attempting to cultivate an intrinsic motivation in students. However, from where we started, which was at one of the highest suspension rates in the state of Maryland for many different issues, to where we are now, I definitely argue that for us the program works. We still have a long way to go, but we are making progress.

One pillar of peace education that is definitely supported by PBIS is skill building. The program is designed to work with the students who most need support in the areas of conflict resolution, developing knowledge of appropriate behavior and interactions with others, relationship building (with other students, staff, and families), managing more responsibilities, and multiple other skills that help the student become more ready to learn and often times, much less violent or aggressive and much more respectful in their interactions with others.

Another pillar that is supported, and is especially important for our Tier 2 and 3 students, is nurturing emotional intelligence. Many students are bringing issues to school with them that they do not know how to or are not capable of dealing with in a non-aggressive way. These students are often pegged as the “behavior problems” from the first day of school and then have one more aspect of their lives to struggle with. Our Tier 3 students actually have daily check-ins (sometimes multiple times per day) with our crisis intervention specialist or student advocates and they learn ways to express how they are feeling and have trusting relationships with those adults. They practice in situations with other students where they are able to model appropriate social interactions and emotion regulation. Some learn strategies for going home and talking with their parents or bringing skills back into the classroom in their interactions with other students and teachers.

PBIS Sample Lesson Be Responsible (.pdf)

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