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Positive Behavioral Support
Research Connections
Winter 1999

Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) In Action

High Five Expectations

Be respectful.

Be responsible.

Follow directions.

Keep hands and feet to one's self.

Be there and be ready.

"One of the most important things I do as the district PBS coordinator is remind people to think proactively. I say, 'How would we solve this child's problem if we were thinking PBS?' That usually redirects people away from a reactive approach."

Carol Sadler
Tigard-Tualatin School District, Oregon

Functional Assessment

A functional assessment attempts to discover the purposes, goals, or functions of behavior by

Clearly describing the challenging behaviors.

Identifying the events, times, and situations that predict when the challenging behaviors will and will not occur across the range of daily routines.

Identifying the consequences that maintain the challenging behaviors.

Developing one or more summary statements or hypotheses that describe specific behaviors, specific types of situations in which they occur, and the reinforcers that maintain the behaviors in that situation.

Collecting directly observed data that support these summary statements.

[From: Families and Disabilities Newsletter (Winter 1997), Beach Center on Families and Disabilities.]


Researchers are finding that PBS is effective with general education and special education students. Following are a few examples of researchers who are expanding our understanding of PBS.

Implementing PBS in Schools for All Students

George Sugai and Robert Horner are researchers at the University of Oregon, where they direct the OSEP-funded Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. The Center's goal is to increase the capacity of schools, families, and communities to support and educate children with significant problem behaviors.

With funding from OSEP over the years, Horner and Sugai have studied PBS in over 65schools in Oregon, Hawaii, Texas, and British Columbia. Their schoolwide approach (which they call Effective Behavioral Support) defines, teaches, and encourages appropriate behavior in children in elementary and middle schools. "Effective Behavioral Support is based on the fact that about 85% of students have the social skills to do quite well if placed in a reasonable environment," Horner explains. "With our approach, schools establish an effective environment, which frees teachers to devote special attention to the students who have more challenging behavioral problems."

To address the behavioral needs of all students, Horner and Sugai suggest an approach that considers support from four perspectives:

  • Schoolwide support - procedures and processes that are intended for all students, all staff, and all settings. The most important element of support is a building-wide team that oversees all development, implementation, modification, and evaluation activities.

  • Specific setting support - a team-based mechanism for monitoring specific settings that exist within the school environment. In settings where problem behaviors occur, teams should develop strategies that prevent or minimize their occurrence.

  • Classroom support - processes and procedures of the individual classrooms where teachers structure learning opportunities. They should parallel the features and procedures that are used schoolwide.

  • Individual student support - immediate, relevant, effective, and efficient responses to students who present the most significant behavioral challenges; processes and procedures for high-intensity, specially designed and individualized interventions for the estimated 3 to 7percent of students who present the most challenging behavior.
Strategies for the schoolwide, specific setting, and classroom levels include having:
  • A clear, positive purpose

  • A set of positively stated expectations for prosocial behavior.

  • Procedures for teaching schoolwide expectations.

  • A continuum of procedures for encouraging students to display expected behaviors.

  • A continuum of procedures for discouraging violations of schoolwide expectations.

  • A method for monitoring implementation and effectiveness.
At the student level, procedures include functional assessment strategies, social skills instruction, self-management training, and direct instruction. For implementation of the procedures at the individual student level to be effective, schoolwide PBS must be in place and functioning efficiently. However, Sugai adds, "students with significant challenging behavior most likely will need special attention."

A Schoolwide Plan for PBS

Imagine experiencing a 42% drop in office referrals in one year's time! That's what happened at Fern Ridge Middle School in Elmira, Oregon, when Principal Susan Taylor-Greene and her staff implemented Horner's and Sugai's PBS approach. They emphasized:

  • Defining and teaching expected behaviors.

  • A structured process for rewarding appropriate social behaviors throughout the school year.

  • Office referral for inappropriate behaviors.

"The staff and I began with a belief that we could make significant changes, but we found that change had to start with us." Taylor-Greene points out that "if you want to approach students from a proactive perspective, then the staff must work as a team-which means being consistent in their expectations and reactions to students' behaviors."

Staff at Fern Ridge put the three levels of PBS recommended by Horner and Sugai into place. The first level is preventive and, according to Taylor-Greene, provides the necessary supports to 80% to 90% of the student population. After doing an analysis of the school environment, the staff defined their expectations for student behavior-called "High Five." At the beginning of the year, staff directly taught the skills underlying these expectations (a training manual is available for purchase from the school). Students then practiced the appropriate behaviors with reinforcement and feedback. "To support the students, we have a school widetoken economy which reinforces youngsters for appropriate behaviors throughout the year, "Taylor-Greene notes, and adds that the High Five expectations are posted in every classroom.

While this level is very effective, some students need more structure to help them solve problems and set goals. These students attend daily morning check-in and afternoon check-out sessions with counseling staff. Students carry a point card on which teachers can award points when the youngster demonstrates the High Five expectations. The card is brought to the counselor at the end of each day and sent home to families. An individualized behavioral education plan (BEP) is also developed for these students.

"Even with this additional structure, some kids still aren't making it," Taylor-Greene confides. To support these students, amore intensive BEP is developed.

Responding with Support: The Think Time Strategy

According to Arizona State University researcher Ron Nelson, the consistent, systematic interpersonal response to disruptive behavior is also critical in providing PBS and goes hand-in-hand with a schoolwide discipline policy. "We found that despite the implementation of proactive strategies, some students still exhibited disruptive behaviors, "Nelson explains. "With these students, typical classroom management approaches that rely on repeated warnings are problematic for three reasons: they often reinforce the disruptive behavior; they do not help the student distinguish the appropriate behavior from the inappropriate one; and they can result in power struggles between teachers and students."

With OSEP support, Nelson developed and researched the Think Time Strategy, a cognitive-behavioral time-out strategy designed to:

  • Enable the teacher and student to stop a negative social exchange.

  • Provide the student feedback and an opportunity to plan.

The Think Time Strategy requires teamwork between two or more teachers and the establishment of a Think Time area in each teacher's classroom. Teachers teach all students the strategy, using these steps:

  • Teacher catches the disruptive behavior early. In a calm manner, the teacher requests or prompts the youngster to adjust the behavior. If the student does not comply, the teacher directs the student to the Think Time area in the cooperating teacher's classroom. The student moves to the designated Think Time area. Routines are put into place to support students in moving appropriately to the area in the other classroom.

  • The teacher in charge of the Think Time area debriefs with the student. After the student has thought about the behavior and gained self-control, the teacher asks the student to describe the behavior. If the student complies, then the he or she is given a debriefing form to complete (e.g., identify the inappropriate behavior; identify appropriate behavior). If the student does not comply, then the teacher calmly responds with, "I'll be back to you." The teacher returns later and resumes the process.

  • The teacher in charge of the Think Time area checks student's debriefing responses. If correct, the student goes back to the classroom; if incorrect, the teacher responds with, "I'll be back to you." The teacher returns later and resumes the process.

  • Student rejoins the class. The teacher reviews the behavioral debriefing form. If it is correct, the student joins the classroom. If it is incorrect, the student returns to the Think Time area.
"We studied the effects of the Think Time strategy on 25 students over the course of a year, "Nelson reports. "The results showed significant changes in the youngsters' academic performance, school survival, and social adjustment." Additionally, Nelson found that office referrals for disruptive behavior decreased from over 700 annually to 71 in one year.

Suzanne Schmick, Principal of Endicott Elementary-St. John Middle School in rural Washington, attests to the usefulness of the approach. "In conjunction with our schoolwide discipline plan, the Think Time strategy helps us reduce problem behaviors and prevent those that do occur from escalating."

Schmick and her staff introduced the strategy to students during the first few weeks of September and reinforced it throughout the year. Teachers directly taught the steps and routines to students. "It is important to be very clear and consistent about expectations," Schmick points out. "This means that the staff must have conversations about the approach throughout the year. "To support teachers, Schmick recommends the following:

  • Make sure staff agree philosophically with the approach and see a real need for it.

  • Provide sufficient time for training and follow-up support.

  • Limit other initiatives so that teachers can become proficient.

  • Encourage sharing with teachers in other districts who are using the strategy.

  • Provide incentives.

Using Functional Assessment with Young Children

With OSEP support, researcher Debra Kamps, at the University of Kansas, has been studying the use of functional assessment with young children. "Experienced teachers can learn informal functional assessment techniques and use the results to determine the best targeted intervention," Kamps asserts.

In one project, case studies were conducted to improve the social and behavioral performance of young children identified as having behavior risks in Head Start and kindergarten classrooms. According to Kamps, the functional assessment of environmental events allowed researchers to determine the functions and maintenance of inappropriate behaviors so that interventions could be prescribed.

The results of the case studies were encouraging: children's behaviors improved over time. These changes were a result of environmental manipulations including:

  • Increased teacher praise and reinforcement for appropriate behavior and peer interaction.

  • Decreased teacher attention for inappropriate behavior.

  • More structure in classroom routines and rule following.

Kamps recommends that practitioners consider incorporating the following positive supports when addressing challenging behaviors:

  • Direct instruction of appropriate behavior and social rules.

  • Use of behaviorally appropriate role models.

  • Use of concrete, visual examples of positive interaction and play.

  • Consistent, frequent reinforcement of prosocial behaviors.

  • Incidental teaching and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors; redirection of antisocial behaviors.

Next: Views From The Field

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