PBIS – Is It Working?

PBIS. One of the fairly new buzzwords in education. It stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports.  Our schools have been practicing this method of behavioral management for several years now. During the same time, I worked as a very occasional substitute teacher at the elementary level, as well as voluntarily led students groups.

I have been interested in PBIS since its implementation in our school district. My opinion isn’t favorable. The reason it is not favorable is that I still see many instances of mis-behavior where there should not be any. For the substitute, for the licensed classroom teacher, or for my own student enrichment groups, I am still seeing a lack of respect exhibited through student behavior.  Management of classroom or group behavior can be exhausting. I stopped substituting approximately a year and a half ago. The poor student behavior I had to deal with during the course of my occasional day as a teacher was part of my decision. I questioned then, as I still question now, should not the behavioral expectations put in place remain in place no matter who is leading the group, substitute or not? I find that the expectations do not transfer. They should.

In April, I had a chance to speak with a local teacher support leader through our cooperative educational service agency (CESA). While I was supposed to be interviewing her about models of teaching being used locally, I asked her opinion about PBIS.  She was overwhelmingly supportive of this strategy of behavior management. When I expressed doubt and concern, coupled with specific examples, she held fast to her faith in PBIS.  Although, she did state that everyone, from the custodian to the building administrator must be on board with what student expectations are for behavior at school.

Our system works on a mantra of respect, responsiblity, and safety.  You cannot argue with the premise.

However, within the last week, I had a couple of occasions to revisit my opinion of PBIS. Last Friday, while I acted as a guest speaker at Environmental Day, most student behavior met expectations. Yet, there was the group of second grader’s who had to be reminded to  sit up and not lay on the floor during my presentation. Their teachers decided not to stay in the room as I spoke.  At my garden club meeting yesterday, I only had 13 of 22 students. Still, students had to be reminded to sit and not lay while we gathered to discuss butterflies. These same students had to be reminded to keep their hands to themselves on more than one occasion. Body basics went out the window.  By the end, dirt and seeds had been spilled. There also was a lot of chatter while I was speaking, as well as when their peers were speaking.

So, why are these disrespectful behaviors still happening if PBIS is so great and we are spending so much time on it during our school year? The students are told the expectations up front, ad nauseam, at the beginning of the school year. Assemblies are conducted on it. A full week of class time is spent on it at our middle school. The students can recite the expectations. And yet, they are not acting respectfully. Should not the behavior management expectations be exhibited no matter who is leading or facilitating the group, be it in an enrichment group, special presentation, or classroom? I would think so. Yet, this is not what is experienced. It is frustrating.

I love students and engaging them in enriching material. And, I don’t expect perfection. But, I have to wonder if a behavioral management system is working when there is much evidence that it is not. What is the solution? Are there other student behavior management programs available that are working? I would respectfully like to know.

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