So now that we have this fabulous approach called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), what must be done to assure that teachers are offering a culturally responsive approach to address the changing demographics of schools?

What is School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (SWPBIS)?

SWPBIS is a tiered intervention system that assures that behavior is addressed in a scientific, data-driven and organized approach to motivate positive behavior in our students. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is the only approved, funded and researched framework to behavioral change in schools today. Although researchers and policymakers believe wholeheartedly in SWPBIS, it is only as good as the team that designs it and the staff that implements it. Although SWPBIS focuses on promoting positive behavior, it also takes into account the formation of clear behavioral expectations, norms, and values.

Designing a PBIS Plan

When designing a PBIS plan, school leaders, teachers, and counselors think about the changing demographics in our schools. Systems for motivating student behavior must include culturally responsive approaches. They must take into account not only student needs but unique values, perspectives, personal preferences based on culture, as well as the linguistic and learning styles of each student. These approaches also must be in alignment with an asset-based, person-centered approach that serves to enhance the instructional program. Since the inception of the SWPBIS model in the late 1980’s, it continues to be a mainstay of behavioral change within schools. PBIS is not just for students with disabilities, but are meant to shift the entire school community.

Recommendations for a PBIS Program

Here are some specific recommendations for consideration when thinking about a PBIS program.

  • Listen to the voices of the students and families within the school learning community.
  • Find out what motivates and engages students.
  • Think beyond the superficial. While external motivators will promote temporary cooperation, the long-term goals for buy-in from students include the promotion of positive behaviors that are based on intrinsic motivators.
  • Cultural values and norms differ within each learning community. For example, some students are motivated by specific praise while others may not want to be praised in front of the class.

Promoting Positive and Inclusive Practices

Part of the process is to carefully reflect on the culture within a school community. This is not the most straightforward process, but it can begin with an honest conversation about behavior and how teachers might be treating their students differently. The PBIS system is based on promoting positive and inclusive practices that will build a different culture within a school. First, teachers must take a daring look at faulty systems within the learning community. Part of this includes in-depth discussions about race, culture, gender, and ethnicity. Kramer, E. and Bennett, K. (2015) urge teachers to look at themselves.

Assumptions on what will motivate students, how to keep students engaged or make them feel a part of the community cannot be made. Students must be part of the process.

Successful Programs Use Multiple Means of Engagement

Some of the most successful programs involve multiple means of engagement for students. This means that not all students will be motivated by similar external rewards, nor will they respond to reinforcement in the same manner. For example, while free tickets to a baseball game will motivate some students, others may want to see a show in their native language. In one school the principal brought in a rap singer who also spoke to the students about financial literacy.

SWPBIS is one of the most promising behavioral interventions that we can implement in our schools. When planned with a culturally competent approach, it has the potential to make a vast impact on school culture.

Elizabeth Klein

Elizabeth Klein

Elizabeth Klein is a Clinical Professor of Childhood Special Education in the Behavior Disorders program at Hunter College of CUNY in New York, New York. She is also the developer and coordinator of the Behavior Disorders online program and currently is in the process of publishing a book on classroom management.