In the course of our work, we get many inquiries about "positive behavior support." Questions range from, "What do you mean by 'positive behavior support'?" to "How does Safe & Civil Schools fit into the PBS picture?" We hope to clarify these questions in this discussion paper.
Positive behavior support is not a specific program, but a broad, generic term that describes a set of strategies or procedures designed to improve behavioral success by employing non-punitive, proactive, systematic techniques. The U. S. Department of Education (2000) supports this definition with its view of PBS as “a general term that refers to the culturally appropriate application of positive behavioral interventions and systems to achieve socially important behavior change.”
A PBS approach to behavior change incorporates proactive, positive (non-punitive), and instructional strategies exercised over time with consistency. These strategies involve establishing settings, structures, and systems to facilitate positive behavior change. The emphasis is on, "How can we change the system, setting, or structure to help Johnny stop talking out in class and learn to be academically and socially successful?" rather than, "What can I do to Johnny to make him stop talking out in class?"
PBS as a construct is not new. It has roots in psychology via the theory of applied behavior analysis, but it has progressed from special education settings to general education [for an interesting historical view see B.F. Skinner’s Technology of Teaching published in 1968].
By the early 1970s, a few teachers working with students with behavioral challenges started using applied behavior analysis methods in their classrooms—restructuring systems, consistently reinforcing positive behavior, and teaching students how to act appropriately. Beginning his career in education at that time, Randy Sprick had the good fortune to work with and learn from several of those teachers.
By the late 1970s, pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Oregon, he integrated what he learned from them with his study of behavior analysis and, in 1981, he published these ideas in his seminal work, The Solution Book. The success of this initial volume triggered another book, Discipline in the Secondary Classroom (1985), and a more comprehensive schoolwide program, Foundations (1992). In these books and programs, Randy offers guidance to teachers on how to structure a classroom to ensure student success, how to set classroom goals, motivate students, deliver effective consequences, and how to develop an effective schoolwide discipline policy by using proactive, positive, and instructional techniques.
Since then, Randy’s theories, and those of the other researchers working in this area, have evolved into what we now call positive behavior support, or PBS.
Today, schools employ PBS models on the schoolwide level, in the classroom, and when working with individuals. And, there are many such programs available for implementing PBS strategies—most notably programs from Safe & Civil Schools and Positive Behavioral Interventions Strategies (PBIS).
The primary feature shared by these programs and all PBS models is that more time, effort, staff development, and financial resources are placed on proactive, positive, and instructional approaches than on reactive and exclusionary approaches (Sprick, Knight, Reinke, & McKale, 2007). Common elements include:
As we have seen, the term PBS describes a set of ideas rooted in a broad research base stemming from early studies on behavior and how we influence it. As such, it is a generic term.
Programs and services from Safe & Civil Schools, PBIS, and others, while issuing from the same research base, are proprietary and employ somewhat different approaches.
Safe & Civil Schools offers a variety of programs, services, and materials to deliver positive behavior support strategies at schoolwide, classroom, and individual levels. Foundations, the schoolwide component of the Safe & Civil School’s collection, was initially developed by Sprick in the 1980s and published in 1992. Since then, Randy and his associates have developed over 20 additional programs ranging from computer assisted instructional courses for training playground supervisors and bus drivers to evidence-based professional development resources for teachers and administrators.
Fifteen years of program evaluation data and project investigation evidence demonstrates the strong effects of implementing programs from Safe & Civil Schools. Over one million students and 100,000 teachers benefit each year from the Safe & Civil Schools approach to PBS, and this from only seven of the 20 biggest districts in the nation. Currently, schools, districts, and regional service centers in 49 states and six Canadian provinces are using these programs as their curriculum for implementing PBS.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Strategies (PBIS) is a specific schoolwide program that uses PBS. In the late 1990s, George Sugai and Rob Horner, researchers from the University of Oregon, developed the Effective Behavior Supports (EBS) program, which has since come to be known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Strategies (PBIS).
PBIS promotes schoolwide positive behavior support (SW-PBS) and has many of the same features as Foundations, one of the programs offered by Safe & Civil Schools.
Districts and schools across the country use PBIS as the schoolwide component of PBS, however, at this time, PBIS does not offer a cohesive classroom component. Some PBIS schools choose to use CHAMPs for the classroom piece. Since both PBIS and CHAMPs derive from the same research base and share a common philosophy, they fit well together.
There is a broad and ever-increasing body of evidence that PBS works. Countless schools, districts, and educational service districts across the country have implemented PBS models with great success as measured by reductions in referrals, suspensions, and expulsions, and increases in student and staff attendance and connectedness.
It is important to note, however, that, while the research indicates the effectiveness of positive behavior support, or PBS, there are no data to support one PBS model over any other PBS model.
Both of the Safe & Civil Schools and PBIS approaches have amassed substantial amounts of data on efficacy for their schoolwide approaches, yet neither can point to randomized control trial data for demonstrating effects at the schoolwide level. Safe & Civil Schools does have longitudinal data for schoolwide implementations and randomized control studies on other programs (e.g., On the Playground and In the Driver’s Seat).
PBS strategies work. However, there are many PBS models available and educators should be careful not to associate the concept of “positive behavior support (PBS)” with any one program.
Safe & Civil Schools (SCS) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Strategies (PBIS) are PBS models and, as such, both have the potential, when implemented with fidelity, to improve school climate, reduce negative behavior, strengthen responsible behavior, and increase academically engaged time.
References for this article are available.