More on PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or just Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is finding increasing use in the U.S.A. The approach was established by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education for students having severe disabilities who engaged in extreme forms of self-injury and aggression.

A basic rationale of PBS is that it is necessary to understand the “why” of a behavioral problem in order to “fix” the behavior. However, it is nearly impossible to articulate with certainty the underlying reasons for behavior. And even more important, although finding the rationale or reason for a behavior may be interesting, it has no effect on changing the behavior.

My personal life attests to this little acknowledged fact. I attended speech classes all the way through elementary, junior high, and high school. When I graduated high school, I still had a severe stutter. Although much research and study gave me great insight into the cause of my behavior, it had absolutely nothing to do with “fixing my problem.” In order to change my behavior, it was necessary for my brain to establish new neural patterns. Although at the time I did not know how the brain operates, I did know that in order to change behavior, it would be necessary to participate and experience new behavior patterns in order to replace my current pattern. In college, therefore, I decided to participate in new experiences such as impromptu and extemporaneous speaking, debating, and radio broadcasting.

The major point here is that when you focus on attempting to understand the reason that prompted the behavior, you are focusing on the past and simply revisiting memories. The more you stay in the past, the more you avoid working in the present. The past cannot be changed. It is useless to water last year’s crops. Dr. William Glasser put it succinctly: “We do not need to find the pothole that ambushed the car in order to align the front end.”

An integral part of the PBIS is based on schools’ developing rules. But rules are meant to control, not to inspire. Establishing rules to have teachers reward students is counterproductive to the goals of the system—a critical factor the developers of the approach do not realize.

Rewards aim at obedience. They do not foster values of character education such as responsibility, integrity, honesty, empathy, or perseverance.

PBIS is based on the “critical importance of consistency among people.” But people differ in a myriad of ways. A focus on consistency fosters the factory approach of the 19th and 20th centuries—certainly not one for the 21st century where success is increasingly based on individual creativity and personal responsibility.

The developers of PBS state that it may take a school 3 – 5 years to fully implement. A person wonders, with the turnover of so many principals in so many schools these days, how practical this approach is especially when an approach exists which can find immediate results and have long-lasting changes. Learn more about how a school can conduct its own discipline and learning staff devleopment.

WHAT SHOULD A SCHOOL DO IF PBS IS MANDATED? The first step would be to present a better approach and ask for a waiver. The case would be presented by asking whether the district is willing to allow the school to try something different that the school believes will reach the objectives of PBS without using the PBS approach.

FOR AN INDIVIDUAL TEACHER WHO HAS THE APPROACH MANDATED, have a class meeting. Put the problem on the table and let the students determine the criteria to be used for the reward, and then have the students choose on a rotating basis which students will do the rewarding. In all of my studies of PBS, I have not seen anything that mandates the TEACHER to do the rewarding.

Two final thoughts: (1) Experience shows that rewards punish those who believe they have deserved the reward but were not rewarded. (2) Rewards change motivation so that students soon start competing to see who receives the most number of rewards.

PBS is another case of using a misguided approach based on external agents to promote responsible behavior—which is always an internal decision.

For those interested in a personal experience and a quicker, more effective approach to promote responsible behavior and learning, download this article to read at your convenience.