Beyond the PBIS store

One popular Facebook group for Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports is full of educators looking for suggestions to adapt their PBIS practices to digital spaces. I would say about half of the posts are about how to convert their school’s recognition system to some kind of digital points, and the other half are looking for ideas for online PBIS stores for students.

The PBIS Store is a strange phenomenon that is thankfully easy to let go.

If I can encourage just one school not to open a PBIS store—digital or in-person—that would almost be enough for a satisfying career helping people learn and grow. The point of PBIS, no matter where you work, is to support each other in living our values at loud. Adding a ‘store’ where students can convert their tickets or points or whatever into prizes is at best an expensive waste of time. At worst, PBIS stores reinforce the worst stories we could possible tell our students about who they are. That will be its own article, though.

An expensive waste of time

At best, PBIS stores are an expensive waste of time. Without even considering the values at stake, to run a PBIS store, you’ll need:

  • Someone to run the store
  • Inventory to ‘sell’
  • A time and place

Someone to run the store

Any staff member assigned to run a store is getting paid to do something other than be a teacher, counselor, or paraprofessional. Any volunteer running the store needs to be trained, scheduled, signed in and out of the building, or taught how to use the online version of the store. Truthfully, the reason most schools stop running PBIS stores is because the people who run it get tired. 

However, it may be that your school has enough staff or volunteers, and you’re also willing to spare their time and expertise from other aspects of your work to help students trade PBIS tickets for Chipotle gift cards, erasers, or free homework passes. You’ll still need inventory to sell, and since students are ‘paying’ for their items with free PBIS tickets/points, the store will depend on donations, money from some part of the school budget, or free items for inventory. Donations require time and effort to solicit, and are notoriously unreliable. Money from the school budget almost certainly belongs to other priorities, especially right now. And if you’re asking students to trade in points for something you’d be willing to give them for free, do you really need a store?

Inventory to ‘sell’

Perhaps your school has plenty of staff and a reliable source of donations or funds to support your PBIS store’s inventory. Whether your store is in-person or digital, you’ll still need a place for your store to do business and time in which students are allowed to ‘shop’ for their reward. Time spent at the store during the school day is time not spent eating lunch, playing at recess, or learning content. Time spent at the store before and after school is time not spent with family or extracurricular activities. 

A time and place

And, your store still needs a place to exist. This will either be physical real estate in your building, some kind of digital storefront, or some kind of hybrid system where students ‘shop’ from home and either get their items delivered to them or pick them up somehow.

And, assuming that a school is completely willing to solve all of these logistical issues, the biggest reason not to have a school store is that it won’t really matter to the overall success of your PBIS implementation. A recognition system is meant to help adults get better at giving students specific, actionable feedback that helps them align their actions and their values. By the time a student takes their tickets or points to a school store, the actions we were hoping to highlight are in the distant past. What matters more is the immediate recognition and celebration, not the chance to turn good behavior into prizes later in the week.

Focus on the feedback

The good news is that building an effective recognition system doesn’t require assigning staff to build, stock and maintain a store. You also don’t need to pay a company to run a store for you. The best practices that I’m seeing are free:

  • Smiley emojis
  • Blank piece of paper 
  • Sticker on a Trello board
  • Smiley on a class Jamboard

Once your team has decided on a system, all you’ll need to do is settle on the words. Usually, it’s best to connect feedback to shared values:

  • I notice you being compassionate by thinking of your classmate’s feelings.
  • When you kept working on your project even when I was in a breakout room, that showed responsibility.
  • You kept trying to log on even when your device wasn’t working right! Thanks for being resilient!

To be honest, a PBIS Store is a lot like the ‘store’ at a Chuck-E-Cheeze. The point might be to encourage positive behavior, but instead we end up with a system that reduces our relationships to transactions that hold far less value for children and youth of any age. And you don’t really need it to implement PBIS anyway.

PBIS for Digital Spaces is a great way for your team to get a comprehensive look at adapting your Tier 1 PBIS approach to digital learning spaces. You’ll learn to adapt all aspect of your approach to PBIS for remote learning. No stores, though.

3 thoughts on “Beyond the PBIS store

  1. I agree. What’s worse than having a PBIS store? When the school decides to do PBIS tickets and store and not all of the staff participate, thereby creating inequity. This is especially true when some of the adults think that the students ‘don’t deserve it’ because they don’t want to reward students who typically display what they consider to be misbehaviors. I admit that I have often had a store in my classroom…but I typically have run it differently. I have a drawer full of knick knacks, pencils, stickers, and the like – most of which I collect from conferences or which parents’ donate. I also have special privileges, like sitting at my desk or in the comfy chair, or running the presentation or be the video controller or choosing the Go Noodle break. I teach kids to recognize when others are doing well on the goals that we set as a class. Students reward each other when they see positive things happening. One would think that some students would abuse this system, and some have tried, but the other students are quick to keep them in line. In encouraging empathy, I have even had students help other students to meet their goals so they can visit the drawer. And I have had kids tell me they met their goal but they don’t need a reward. Just as in the Five Love Languages, everyone is different. We don’t need to buy positive behaviors, but we do need to recognize that everyone needs different levels or types of reinforcement, and they don’t need to be expensive or take a lot of time.

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