Building a Foundation with School-wide PBIS

Editor’s Note: Kevin Boling is writing today in a reference to a recent blog post by Jim Dillon, director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention. Mr. Dillon wrote about how Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports can be effective as a short-term solution to fixing student behavior problems that can disrupt schools. He goes on to say that PBIS is not a long-term solution. Instead, he suggests schools need to develop an environment of learning that focuses on three areas: Autonomy (students feeling like they can act to meet their needs), Belonging (the importance of community) and Competency (students learning from their mistakes).

Jim Dillon’s post can be read here.

A couple of months ago, a friend sent me a link to a post written by Jim Dillon called “A problem with success.” My friend knows that I’ve spent much of the past thirty years working as a teacher, administrator, and coach helping schools to implement the strategies now known as PBIS. He suggested I write a blog post. His question…what did I think? Well, I must confess that after reading the article and comments that followed, I thought, “Oh darn, another rehashing of the constructivist/behaviorist conflict.”

On my subsequent reads I became more impressed with Mr. Dillon’s well-written article. He gives credit where credit is due and has a brief but relatively complete summary of the key concepts behind PBIS plans. Mr. Dillon goes on to say that schools must do more than just get control of behavior and lists three areas that he believes are essential to the development of a sound, effective learning environment, Autonomy/Agency, Belonging, and Competency. I couldn’t agree more. Many folks have similar criticisms, although the essential things that folks believe are left out vary.

That said, I have the same concern with Mr. Dillon’s comments that I have with some of my friends in the PBIS world. Mr. Dillon and others appear to think that the primary purpose of PBIS is to gain control of “out of control” behavior and is a separate thing from the rest of the work of the school. Since, in recent years, a great deal of work has been put into plans to intervene with children with very challenging behaviors, I can understand how this belief came to be.

12However, I believe that the greatest power of the collection of strategies now known as PBIS is what can happen for all children and adults that inhabit the school. These common practices can form a foundation upon which a school culture that supports high levels of pro-social behavior and outstanding academic performance can be built. Like Mr. Dillon, I would hope that a school implementing these strategies would have a much broader view of the purpose of their work than simply squashing inappropriate behavior.

I believe that PBIS, if not all teaching, boils down to three basic things:

  1.  Decide what the students need to learn. (Either academic or social, process or content.)
  2. Teach it. Reteach as often as needed. (Don’t assume that they already know how to do it or“should be able to figure it out”.)
  3. Notice when they do it. (…as opposed to reprimanding and nagging when they don’t or can’t do it. It is time for the red ink check mark and its verbal equivalents to be banned.)

Hall Grp Any skill or value that we wish to pass on can be developed in this way, including Mr. Dillon’s suggested big three; Agency, Belonging, and Competency.  Considerations of these values and skills should be core part of the initial planning for a school-wide PBIS plan, not an afterthought.