Stop treading water.

Dr. Tim Grivois and Tiffany Emerson standing in front of a desert background. Mountains and green saguaro cactus in the background

by Dr. Tim Grivois and Tiffany Emerson

PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support. PBIS is a schoolwide system for increasing the good we see in our students, reducing unexpected behaviors and helping everyone live our values out loud. Specifically, schools implementing PBIS build systems that make school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood. Most importantly, their PBIS practices operate at the right depth for every student.

Imagine that your school was a swimming pool, your students were swimmers, and you were the lifeguard. Having different depths of water for differently skilled swimmers makes your job as a lifeguard much simpler. There might be an eight-foot area where most of our strong swimmers can visit, a four-foot section for swimmers who need a little support under their feet from time to time, and a shallow one-foot area full of life jackets for swimmers who aren’t ready to swim independently. Everyone swims, and everyone has the support they need to be successful.

Most schools, however, approach PBIS as though the entire swimming pool were 12 feet deep, with everyone swimming or treading water for the whole of the 6.5 hour school day. The lifeguard only responds when noticing a problem. It is time to stop treading water, friends! 

Instead of treading water, build a pool (create a system) where all students get what they need. If your school were a swimming pool, Tier 1 PBIS would be swimming lessons and adult supervision. In your actual school, the heart of Tier 1 PBIS is a matrix that makes school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood.

Tier 2 PBIS supports students who need a little extra love to be their best. Usually, this involves Check-in / Check-out, a system for delivering frequent doses of positive adult connection and micro-lessons in critical social skills.

Tier 3 PBIS gathers a team of adults, many of whom the youth chooses. The goal is to take a comprehensive look at why a behavior is happening and what needs the youth is meeting with their behavior. From there, the team can create a realistic support plan.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support is 1) a schoolwide system for making school values explicit, teachable, and universally understood, and 2) a system that operates at the proper depth for each student. While PBIS ultimately is about student outcomes, effective PBIS systems and practices support everyone–swimmers and lifeguards–in spending as much time as possible on the work of teaching and learning.

Get in touch if you feel like you’re treading water–with or without PBIS. It’s free to talk! 

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