Unpacking PBIS: An exploded view of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support

An office chair is depicted with all the parts disassembled. Title text: Unpacking PBIS-An exploded view of positive behavior interventions and support.

-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a common framework for supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic success. However, few district leaders, school principals, or teachers ever have an opportunity to learn what fully-implemented PBIS’ looks like.’

This article is like the exploded view of this office chair: Once we build the chair, we usually just sit in it. Ideally, the chair was built when we got here. But should we suddenly need to know how the chair works (or discover that we are in charge of building chairs), the exploded view helps us understand how everything goes together.

Level 1 PBIS: School-wide

The best place to start implementing PBIS is school-wide. Generally, schools that effectively implement school-wide PBIS have low disciplinary referrals, with 80%-90% of students never interacting with their school’s discipline systems. Imagine a reading or math curriculum that guaranteed 80%-90% success.

Level 1 Systems

School-wide PBIS ought to vary school by school because each school team must approach their school’s systems and practices from a culturally sustaining perspective. However, all schools implementing PBIS will have the following systems in place in some form school-wide:

  • Teaching
  • Recognition
  • Accountability
  • Intervention


Teaching systems ensure that every student, teacher, and staff member knows 1) school values and 2) how to live values out loud. Schools with active teaching systems will have their values and expectations posted throughout the school. Also, teachers will lead specific instruction for how to live values out loud at least twice a year for every student in every area of the school. This means writing lesson plans and creating a teaching schedule.

Teaching systems include ongoing professional learning for school adults as well.


Recognition systems are how schools provide in-the-moment positive feedback when students live a school value out loud. For example, if a student is compassionate by including others during playtime, a school adult might say, “Thank you for being compassionate by including new friends in your game!” Often, schools pair this recognition with a ticket or an electronic point. The essential component of your school’s recognition system is genuine and generous feedback when we see students living values out loud.


Often, people believe that PBIS doesn’t allow consequences for unexpected behaviors. This is untrue. When students act contrary to school values, accountability systems ensure that school adults know how to respond. Moreover, accountability systems help students find the other side of their mistakes, repair harm, and take personal responsibility for their actions.


School-wide PBIS is also about responding in real-time to unexpected behavior patterns. Using referral data (SWIS through PBISApps is an outstanding resource), schools create precise problem statements and develop interventions to prevent unexpected behavior, reteach expectations, recognize students when they get it right, and—when necessary—address unexpected behavior with a practical corrective consequence. Your school’s intervention system is where PBIS ‘sings’ and begins to make a difference for your students.

Level 2 PBIS: “A little extra.”

Level 2 PBIS builds on effective School-wide systems. When I work with schools, I have them think about the 5% -10 % of students who may need extra love and support to be their best in school. 

Level 2 Systems:

Below are standard systems I see at schools effectively implementing Level 2 PBIS:

  • Check-in/Check-out (CICO)
  • Breaks are Better (BrB)
  • Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO)
  • Social/Academic Instructional Group (SAIG)

Check-in/Check-out (CICO)

Check-in/Check-out (CICO) is one of the most commonly used Level 2 PBIS Interventions. Students participating in CICO meet with a coach at the beginning of their day. The coach helps students visualize having a successful day and sends them to class with positive, encouraging words. 

Throughout the day, the student’s teacher (or teachers) provides positive, values-centered, brief feedback. Often, teachers document this feedback on a daily point card. However, when CICO works, everyone involved is far more focused on the quality of conversations than on the point card. The goal is that warm, supportive, and positive interactions with students happen more frequently than corrective interactions.

Breaks are Better (BrB)

Breaks are Better (BrB) is a form of CICO that provides students with structured breaks within the classroom. Sometimes, students don’t respond well to extra adult attention. When they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, taking a brief break in the classroom can be a better choice.

The key to BrB is to train students and staff how to ask for a break, what the break will be, and what to do when the break time is over. Common approaches are to allow the student to put their head down on a desk, sit in a quiet corner, or doodle for 3-5 minutes. Then, when the break is over, students are often better able to engage in classroom tasks.

Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO)

Academic Check-in/Check-out (ACICO) is a form of CICO that specifically supports academic and organizational skills. Sometimes, students can struggle in class without being disruptive.

Academic CICO aligns school values to specific academic habits that students can work on to improve academic success. Even better, ACICO provides teachers with scheduled opportunities to make sure their student always leaves class equipped to complete assignments and be successful. Coaches support ACICO by ensuring students arrive to class prepared in the morning and, if necessary, run back to class to get what they need before leaving. Students with ADHD, in particular, have the most to gain from ACICO.

Social/Academic Instructional Groups (SAIG)

Social/Academic Instructional Groups (SAIG) is another example of an ordinary Level 2 PBIS system. SAIG groups are brief and time-limited groups that focus on a specific skill. Common SAIG topics are:

  • Accepting a consequence
  • How to advocate for yourself and others when treated unfairly
  • Avoiding fights
  • Getting started with work right away
  • Organizing backpacks and assignment notebooks

A SAIG group aims to teach students a skill that will support social, emotional, and academic success in the classroom and throughout the skill. I recommend not keeping students in a SAIG group indefinitely. Ideally, students would participate for 20 minutes a day for no more than 5-10 school days. Then, teachers can reinforce the skills students learn in groups with the school’s recognition system.

Level 3 PBIS: Always on your mind & heart.

Level 3 PBIS systems support the children and youth who are likely always on your mind and your heart. Sometimes, student needs emerge and intensify gradually. For example, perhaps a student participates in Level 2 PBIS for a few months and isn’t making the progress they need to succeed. More commonly, however, a student enrolls and communicates their need for support quickly. Schools that address both situations effectively build systems in advance.

Level 3 Systems

Below are systems critical to Level 3 PBIS:

  • Functional Behavioral Assessment
  • Behavior Support Plan
  • Family-Led Support

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

Functional Behavioral Assessment within a PBIS framework looks similar to the more comprehensive process a school psychologist might undertake. However, an FBA within a Level 3 PBIS framework is meant to move quickly from data to action. The main components of a PBIS FBA are a structured interview with family, staff, and the student, as well as a review of disciplinary data. If necessary, a Level 3 PBIS team member might complete a confirmatory observation in class. In practice, however, classroom observations yield skewed data (the youth always seem to know why we’re hanging out that day…). In my experience, schools that have accurate referral data and train teachers to document perceived motivations for behavior already have the ‘observation’ data complete in that the observations for the unexpected behavior happened right then.

Behavior Support Plan

If you google “Behavior Support Plan Template,” you’ll find hundreds of handy examples, including mine. However, the goal of a behavior support plan should never be to complete the template. If skipping portions of the template allows your team to focus on strategies you can 1) realistically implement and 2) are likely to work, then less truly is more.

Regardless of your template, behavior support plans fail when any of the following occurs:

  • We focus only on behavior and not the child’s/youth’s overall wellness.
  • Our strategies are impossible to implement.
  • The youth and family don’t participate in developing the plan.
  • No one is really in charge.
  • We expect dramatic change in a short time.
  • We ignore the emotional toll of addressing significant behavioral challenges.

With anything in PBIS, and especially at Level 3, it’s people, not paper. Your team’s behavior support plan comes alive when caring people choose love, patience, and professionalism to support students with the most to gain.

Family-Led Support

In traditional PBIS frameworks, family-led support is known as Wraparound Support. TGS Educational Consulting uses family-led support instead to communicate the point better: Schools don’t “wrap” services around families. Rather, families share their needs, ideas, and goals with schools, and we work together to build a long-term support plan with the family at the center.

Often, family-led support requires community partners that we may still need to meet. Outside behavioral health services, rent/food assistance, glasses, and dental care are common resources in family-led support plans.

While family-led support plans are highly tailored to what emerges from the dialogue between family and school personnel, there are common processes that help to build trust and support implementation. Done well, family-led support plans can be a beautiful way to build relationships in challenging situations.

Putting it all together

Like looking at a set of instructions for the first time, the “exploded view” of PBIS can feel daunting. There truly is a lot more to PBIS than tickets, incentives, and stores, and most of what schools need to build focuses on support systems that might not exist yet.

If you are in charge of PBIS for your district or school, read this article as many times as you need, and look around our blog for other articles that explain some of these systems in detail. Also, consider giving yourself the gift of time and join us 19-23 June 2023 for a week-long knowledge-building session guaranteed to expand your expertise. You can learn more by clicking here. 

One thought on “Unpacking PBIS: An exploded view of Positive Behavior Interventions and Support

Leave a Reply