When I was first going to look at schools in our school district when my son was about to start kindergarten, I was asked the question, “What are you looking for most in a school?” I pondered the question for a moment and then the image of my small child, whom I cherish, came to mind. I replied, “The most important thing to me is that from 8:30-3:30 each day my son is safe, physically and emotionally, and an adult knows where he is.” With my husband and I both being educators, great academic instruction is undoubtedly high on the list, but we also want our children to develop, socially and emotionally, and to learn to be good citizens while being kept safe.
School safety and effective learning environments have been high priorities of parents and educators for decades. A recent focus on the use of suspensions and expulsions in schools has put a national spotlight on the approaches schools use to handle problem behaviors. With absent preventative strategies, schools may turn to the use of punitive practices such as detention, suspension and expulsion to try and eliminate behavior problems. These approaches may serve to stop a problem in the moment, but do little in the long run to decrease problem behaviors from occurring in the future or to create safer educational environments.
To address both the prevention of problem behaviors and the creation of safer school environments, many schools across the nation and in Oregon are implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). The belief of PBIS is that all students in school are capable of learning and using socially meaningful and productive behavior that creates a safe and effective learning environment. PBIS is not a program but a multi-tiered framework of support in which the level of support for students increases at each tier. Within this framework schools have preventative supports such as clear expectations, high rates of positive feedback and equitable discipline practices that are consistently applied. This helps schools move away from the use of suspensions for minor problems. Additional interventions are then put into place that support students whose needs may be greater. We know that for many students, the display of problem behavior may be the reflection of unaddressed needs in their overall life. Not only does addressing these needs decrease the occurrence of problem behaviors, it also provides needed supports for those students.
Schools implementing PBIS are encouraged to not only involve the school personnel, but also the students, the cultural communities and other stakeholders, to contextually define the values of the school. Schools implementing PBIS not only see decreases in problem behaviors, suspensions and expulsions, staff and students also report an overall safer school climate. With reduced problems come increased academic gains as students are in their seats, not in the principal’s office. I am glad that my son is at a PBIS school and I see the dedication that the staff put into creating a safe and positive environment.
This article was originally posted on Chalk Bloggers