School-Wide Behavioral Management Systems

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC/OSEP Digest #E563
Author: Mary K. Fitzsimmons
February 1998
For over a quarter of a century, the number one concern facing America's public schools has been discipline. What educators are finding, however, is that the root of the problem goes beyond rule-breaking. Many of today's students need more than just sound and consistent discipline policies they also need positive behavioral instruction.

Consequently, educators have been seeking new ways to move beyond traditional "punishment" and provide opportunities for all children to learn self-discipline. Simultaneously, researchers have begun to study and advocate for broader, proactive, positive school-wide discipline systems that include behavioral support. One promising avenue for achieving the dual goals of teaching self-discipline and managing behavior is school-wide behavior management.

While there are different variations of school-wide systems of behavioral support, most have certain features in common. The emphasis is on consistency both throughout the building and across classrooms. The entire school staff (including cafeteria workers and bus drivers) is expected to adopt strategies that will be uniformly implemented. As a result, these approaches necessitate professional development and long-term commitment by the school leadership for this innovation to take hold. A few examples of promising behavioral management systems follow.

Common Features of School-Wide Behavioral Management Systems

Effective Behavioral Support

Effective Behavioral Support (EBS) refers to a system of school-wide processes and individualized instruction designed to prevent and decrease problem behavior and to maintain appropriate behavior. It is not a model with a prescribed set of practices. Rather, it is a team-based process designed to address the unique needs of individual schools. Teams are provided with empirically validated practices and, through the EBS process, arrive at a school-wide plan. Steps in the process include:

  1. Clarify the need for effective behavioral support and establish commitment, including administrative support and participation. Priority for this should be reflected in the school improvement plan.
  2. Develop a team focus with shared ownership.
  3. Select practices that have a sound research base. Create a comprehensive system that prevents as well as responds to problem behavior. Tie effective behavioral support activities to the school mission.
  4. Develop an action plan establishing staff responsibilities.
  5. Monitor behavioral support activities. Continue successful procedures; change or abandon ineffective procedures.
According to researcher Tim Lewis of the University of Missouri, several factors foster EBS success:

Expanding Placement Options

As part of an OSEP research project designed to support systems change strategies for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, researcher Doug Cheney of the University of Washington and his colleagues are studying school-wide management plans that (a) teach and support prosocial behavior and (b) identify consistent school-wide responses to challenging behaviors.

Initial findings are encouraging: The implementation of school-wide structures appears to add to the presently existing continuum of services, which increases the school's ability to expand placement options for students with severe emotional disturbance.

One school in the process of implementing this model began by developing a unified code of conduct. When a child does not follow the code, teachers use a standard set of school-wide disciplinary procedures. When the behavior escalates above typical, low-level classroom violations, the procedures include a social cognitive problem-solving component.

School-Wide Code of Conduct

Developed by Fuller Elementary School, North Conway NH

Unified Discipline

As part of an OSEP-funded primary prevention project, Bob Algozzine and Richard White, at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, are studying a school-wide approach to behavioral management called Unified Discipline.

Four objectives drive the efforts to implement this system:

Is a School-Wide System Right for You?

Clearly, from a preventive standpoint, researchers would agree that all schools can benefit from having in place a clearly defined, consistently enforced behavioral management system that is designed to support students in controlling their own behaviors.

In cases where school staff have significant concerns about discipline, a school-wide system may be a welcome solution. For a fuller look at the research discussed in this digest, the reader is referred to Research Connections, Fall 1997, published by the ERIC/OSEP Special Project.


Cheney, D., Barringer, C., Upham, D., & Manning, B.(1995). Project DESTINY: A model for developing educational support teams through interagency networks for youth with emotional or behavioral disorders. Special Services in the Schools, 10(2), 57-76.

Colvin, G., Kameenui, E. J., & Sugai, G. (1993). Reconceptualizing behavior management and school-wide discipline in general education. Education and Treatment of Children, 16(4), 361-381.

Jones, V. (1993). Assessing your classroom and school-wide student management plan. Beyond Behavior, 4(3), 9-12.

Lewis, T. (1997). Responsible decision making about effective behavioral support. Available through the ERIC Clearinghouse.

Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education. (1995). Guidelines: Effective behavioral support. Harrisburg, PA: Author.

Reavis, H. K., Kukic, S. J., Jenson, W. R., Morgan, D. P., Andrews, D. J., & Fister, S. (1996). BEST Practices. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Publishers.

Sugai, G. & Pruitt, R. (1993). Phases, steps and guidelines for building school-wide behavior management programs: A practitioners handbook. Eugene, OR: Behavior Disorders Program.

Taylor-Green, S., Brown, D., Nelson, L., Longton, J., Cohen, J., Swartz, J., Horner, R., Sugai, G., & Hall, S. (in press). School-wide behavioral support: Starting the year off right. Journal of Behavioral Education.

Thomas, A., & Grimes, J. (1995). Best practices in school psychology - III. Silver Spring, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Walker, H., Horner, R., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J., Bricker, D., & Kaufman, M. (1996). Integrated approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among schoolage children and youth. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 4, 193-256.

This digest was adapted from an article by Warger, Eavy and Associates.

ERIC/OSEP Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, under Contract No. RI93002005. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OSEP or the Department of Education.

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