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If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we… teach? …punish?

Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?

— Tom Herner (NASDE President, 1998)


We have different beliefs and different styles dealing with misbehaving students.  To teach or to punish comes advantages and disadvantages.  And we are entitled as for whatever we believe in just as long as we abide by the law.  Every school though bears different culture and climate but faces the same problem for students who misbehave.

Traditionally, when students act up the teacher reacts by scolding the students or sending her to the principal’s office.  But it’s no longer the case for all the schools.  Because of a framework called PBIS or “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.”

What is PBIS?

  • PBIS comes directly from the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • PBIS is used interchangeably with SWPBS, which is short for “School-wide Positive Behavior Supports.”
  • PBIS is based on principles of applied behavior analysis and the prevention approach and values of positive behavior support.

“PBIS is not a treatment or therapy.”

  • PBIS is a framework or approach for assisting school personnel in adopting and organizing evidence-based behavioral interventions into an integrated continuum that enhances academic and social behavior outcomes for “ALL” students, whether or not they receive special education services.

PBIS is not…

  • A packaged curriculum
  • Abandonment of discipline
  • Bribery for good behavior
  • Ignoring inappropriate behavior
  • A quick fix
  • Just for one type of school

Principles of PBIS

PBIS has a few important principles:

  • Every child can learn proper behavior.
  • Stepping in early can prevent more serious behavior problems.
  • Each child is different and schools need to provide many kinds of behavior support.
  • How schools teach behavior should be based on research and science.
  • Following a child’s behavioral progress is important.
  • Schools must gather and use data to make decisions about behavior problems.

”According to several studies, PBIS leads to better student behavior.”

In schools that use PBIS, students receive fewer detentions and suspensions. There’s less bullying. Students also have better grades.

Goals of PBIS

The goal of PBIS is to create a positive school climate, in which students learn and grow.  Positive school climate includes:

  • A feeling of safety
  • Respect
  • Engagement in learning
  • Involvement in school life
  • Shared vision
  • Involvement of teachers, students, and families

The key to an effective PBIS implementation is an “all-in” mentality among teachers and administrators in a school. For PBIS to produce positive change in a school’s climate, it needs to be employed school-wide and with consistency.

“Regardless of socioeconomic status, students in a positive school climate are more likely to have higher test scores and greater academic success.”

How PBIS works?

In a school using PBIS, the focus is on preventing problems. From the start, students learn about what behavior is appropriate, just like they learn math or science. Students are taught social skills, including how to act in different settings, such as the classroom, on the bus or with friends. They may learn through role-playing or through actual lessons.  Staff at the school regularly praise kids for good behavior.

With PBIS, teachers look for minor issues and prevent them from becoming bigger behavior problems. Before a spitball is thrown, a teacher might notice the student who is craving attention. The teacher might address that need positively before it grows into a need to throw a spitball.

If a student acts out, the school creates a strategy to prevent the behavior from happening again. The strategy might include things like a break time to cool off or a peer mentor. The school may even provide training for parents.

The school follows the student’s progress in managing behavior issues and may change strategy if something’s not working.

“In PBIS, discipline is used, but punishment isn’t the focus.”

Implementation of PBIS

PBIS is a complete change in how schools employ interventions and discipline. It is more accurate to call PBIS a framework focused on prevention and instruction.

“PBIS represents a radical change in thinking about behavior and discipline. Instead of allowing poor behavior to escalate into disciplinary measures, the focus is on teaching and promoting positive behaviors. By building on these positive behaviors, escalations into discipline are reduced.”

Tiers of Implementation


  • Tier 1 – Most Students

The bulk of PBIS supports fall within Tier 1. Schools begin at Tier 1 by creating a behavior matrix outlining the positive behaviors that they wish to establish school-wide. Depending on the school, positive behaviors might include simple actions such as walking calmly in line, throwing away trash in the cafeteria, or keeping a neat and tidy locker. As the school staff and students focus on these behavioral goals, negative behaviors begin to lessen. And because teachers are spending less time in disciplining students, instructional time increases.

Approximately 80% of students never need to move beyond Tier 1 in interventions and support.

Characteristics of Tier 1 – Universal or Primary Prevention:


  • For all students, staff members, and settings
  • Designed to reduce problem behaviors
  • Increases instructional time

Tier 2 – Some Students

For that subset of students (roughly 15%) who struggle with the Tier 1 interventions and supports, Tier 2 addresses at-risk behavior. The specialized interventions and supports at the Tier 2 level help to prevent the worsening of problem behaviors.

These efforts focus on specific groups of students and the underlying issues that may be causing the behavior. Disruptive students may be dealing with social, emotional, or academic issues that result in poor behavior in the classroom. Tier 2 interventions parse out the hidden causes behind negative behavior and provide support in changing those behaviors.

Characteristics of Tier 2 – Secondary Prevention:

  • Group supports for some students
  • Specialized interventions for students demonstrating at-risk behavior
  • Prevents worsening of problem behaviors
  • Tier 3 – Few Students

Students who do not respond to the interventions and support in Tier 2 receive further individualized supports in Tier 3. These interventions target students who exhibit high-risk behavior. Such interventions might take the form of an individual plan created to address specific academic or behavioral concerns.

The individualized plan for each student at this level may include efforts by special education teachers or school psychologists. Typically, less than 5% of students require Tier 3 interventions.

Characteristics of Tier 3 – Tertiary Prevention:

  • Individual support for a few students
  • Specialized interventions for students with high-risk behavior
  • Designed to reduce severity of ongoing problem behaviors

Establishing PBIS School-wide

Each school must identify the behavior expectations they want to develop among their students. Ideally, this is a short list of three to five behaviors. As the school identifies these core values, it also decides how those values might look in a variety of settings. For example, showing respect might mean that a student raises his hand in the classroom, follows rules on the playground, and uses table manners in the cafeteria.

The next step in the establishment and identification of these values is instruction. This is accomplished by posting setting-specific actions that align with the behavior expectations as well as intentional instruction in behavior that reflects these values. When students exhibit the desired behaviors, teachers offer recognition of these actions by awarding points. Students can redeem their accumulated points for rewards and/or privileges.

As the school moves through the instructional year, they consistently assess the effectiveness of their PBIS framework. This can include analysis of data such as office discipline referrals, teacher commitment to the program, attendance, and academic achievement.

“A successful PBIS framework relies on a commitment from the entire staff, from administration to educators to support staff.  When used school-wide, PBIS changes the focus of discipline from punitive measures to positive interactions between students and staff. The positive interactions transfer into stronger relationships between the student and teacher and thus a better learning environment for all students.”

Benefits of School-wide PBIS

  • Improves school culture
  • Builds social skills
  • Reduces office discipline referrals
  • Reduces suspensions
  • Increases instructional time
  • Improves social and emotional development
  • Improves school safety
  • Increases student engagement
  • Improves academic performance
  • Increases family involvement
  • Improves faculty retention
  • Improves classroom management

Assessing the Effectiveness PBIS

As a school implements PBIS in all areas, a wealth of data begins to accumulate. As is the case with most sets of data, there are dozens of ways to parse out the information provided. All assessment should be stacked up against a central question: is our PBIS framework delivering the results we anticipated?

“Most schools using a PBIS framework enter into it with the twin goals of improving school climate and reducing office discipline referrals.”

(Source and References: PBIS: How Schools Can Support Positive Behavior by understood.org

What is PBIS? By pbisrewards.com)

Some schools that implemented PBIS shared how it positively impacts their students, teachers, administrators, and their school itself.  Like the story of Ja’Vonie of Mission Elementary School when system of positive rewards to reduce student discipline takes off in California.

Other school like Goldsmith Elementary launched “The Golden Spatula.” The program was designed to improve behavior in the cafeteria during lunch breaks.

Today schools are facing more severe and dangerous problem that even took away not just student’s bright future but their precious lives too – school mass shooting.  Experts say that the school can prevent the next shooting.  But how? Read the entire article here: Here’s How To Prevent The Next School Shooting, Experts Say.

Other Helpful Links

We are not affiliated with any organizations mentioned in this article.   But their act of spreading awareness is admirable.  And we want to help their advocacy by sharing it with you! Prevention still is better than cure.