When students are learning how to read, add, or how to spell, we teach them. That same principle must apply to how students behave throughout the day at school. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a “philosophy intended to guide the behavioral support and social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional, and academic success.” It is a school-wide framework that focuses on the positive things that students are doing. This is an examination of what that looks like at Edwards Elementary School.
School discipline has traditionally responded to specific student misbehavior by implementing punishment-based strategies that may include reprimands, loss of privileges, and office referrals. This approach, especially when applied inconsistently and without other positive strategies, is proven to be ineffective. With PBIS, consequences will still occur, but are not the focus; teaching expected behavior and rewarding those behaviors consistently is the focus. PBIS looks to establish a climate in which safe and appropriate behavior is the norm.
Last year, the District began training on PBIS that is now being implemented across the District. PBIS is not a consequence system, but a way to close the gap and align buildings with a common message throughout the District. Edwards Elementary Principal Kristi Mixdorf said, “If a student comes in and struggles with reading, we put in a system of support for them and develop an intervention. The same applies to behavior. We have resources we utilized for reading (FUNdations and Reading Units of Study), math (enVisions), and now we are able to use PBIS to teach our expectations throughout the building.”
The PBIS team at Edwards started by identifying locations within the building where expectations should be taught to students. Classrooms, hallways, and the cafeteria were obvious examples, but the list also included the playground, the bus line, and other common areas. District leaders identified that students should understand how to be thoughtful, safe, and responsible in these areas. A matrix was developed, and from that specific lesson plans were created to teach these skills. Thanks to creative services at Heartland AEA, large posters were designed, printed and posted throughout the building as reminders to students.
PBIS is not just about student behaviors. The success of the PBIS implementation is predicated on teacher and staff consistency. Developed by the PBIS team at Edwards, each teacher received a packet that outlined teacher and staff responsibilities and examples of classroom strategies. The packet includes notes on active supervision (scan, interact, and move) and to “never assume that a student will know what you expect from them.”
Beyond consistency, establishing relationships with students is vital to student success and PBIS. “You Must Connect if You Want to Correct,” notes the packet. It also reminds teachers to do things like smile and greet each student by name as they enter the classroom, a small gesture that has the potential to change the trajectory of a student’s day.
If a student does need a break, they can utilize a relax and return space that is available in each classroom. Like all things PBIS, this space is organized and structured the same way across the classrooms and teachers, staff, and students were trained on how to use it. Students who need a break can use this space to draw or use some of the tactile toys in the area. A sand timer is used as a prompt for the student to return to the class activities.
PBIS recognizes the positive behaviors in all students and a recognition system provides opportunities to offer positive feedback to students. At Edwards, they are using a colored ticket system. Mixdorf said, “Tickets should be given to any student who is seen exhibiting the ‘Edwards Way’ throughout the day. This can be in your classroom, in the hallways or common spaces.”
The ticket system has a variety of different ways to monitor its success. With a number of tickets in every teacher’s pocket, those individual student tickets go into a classroom container. If a teacher starts with 20, it is also a barometer for the teacher to know how many they have distributed. In the classroom, once the container is full, it gets funneled into a larger building container. When that gets full, the students and staff have a school-wide celebration. Additionally, on a weekly basis, Principal Mixdorf announces students who earned a certificate for living the “Edwards Way.” Classrooms are also acknowledged on a weekly basis with a traveling doormat. Lastly, once each month, one student that consistently demonstrates being thoughtful, safe and responsible at school is teacher nominated from each classroom, and sent a postcard in the mail inviting them and their family members to a Lil’ Cyclone Celebration for breakfast at school.
Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports provides a common language and framework on expectations so that everyone within the school is clear. It is not a cure-all for every student behavior, but it focuses on the positive and “catching” kids doing the right things by acknowledging and reinforcing their behavior through feedback. Mixdorf, who has experience working within a PBIS school, loves the framework. Expectations are taught through lessons and reinforced throughout the day by teachers and with visual poster reminders. At the end of the day, week, month, and throughout the year, these behaviors are supported and celebrated, and it has already positively impacted the culture at Edwards.