Monday, November 28, 2011

PBIS: Inherently bad, or just badly implemented?

I received this email today from Dan Howard:
Hey Chris....Originally intended this as a comment on the blog, but it was too long:

I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and have been meaning to comment on many of your posts, and to thank you for creating a great forum that points out many of the problems with “rewards” based systems like PBIS. Having worked in many schools that utilize this model, and also having been a part of the early development of PBIS back when it was used primarily in organizations that provide services to people with intellectual disabilities, I have some insight into how and why PBIS has developed into something that it was never intended to be in the first place. Your assertion that it circumvents moral reasoning and fails on many levels is completely and sadly accurate. But if people understood what PBIS was really intended to do and be, it would be different.

PBIS was never intended to be a “system.” When it was first put forth back in the late 80’s, it was intended to help instill a set of *values* that would guide the actions, responses, and priorities of the *adults* and other people providing services-i.e., teachers. It was a simple introduction to the notion that it’s important to focus more on what kids are doing right than on what they’re doing wrong. The whole “5 positives to 1 negative” thing. And most importantly, it was designed to break negative behavioral patterns of the adults who were getting more and more frustrated by the behavior of their students, and reacting in an angry manner that virtually always made things worse.

Unfortunately, over the years, a few things have happened that have shifted the focus of PBIS onto student behavior. First, in every school that I’ve ever worked in (and that number is well into the dozens now), there exists a core group of teachers/staff who simply do NOT want to hear that the behavior of teachers has anything to do with the problems that exist. They are completely and utterly unwilling to listen to the idea that if they were to actively change the way they approach students, they might experience positive results. Instead, they choose to believe that all of the problems come down to the students themselves, their families, and/or lack of administrative support for the old, “tougher” policies that used to govern student behavior. They see this whole “positive behavior support” stuff as utter nonsense, and they refuse to integrate it into their way of doing business. The program is undermined before it even starts.

Secondly, PBIS is its own worst enemy because it selects the wrong metric by which it measures “success.” Specifically, it looks at out-of-classroom referrals as an indicator of whether or not the program is having a positive impact. This is absolutely a ridiculous barometer. Many teachers, who don’t buy into the program, know that they’re being evaluated on the number of students that they send to the office, so they simply “go underground” and refuse to ever send anyone down, even when the behavior merits such an action. This skews the data in a way that makes it impossible to reach meaningful conclusions, and it also leads to an increase in the amount of time lost to behavioral intervention in the classroom because those students are no longer being removed when appropriate. A better metric would be “academic time lost to behavioral intervention,” but that would be another discussion entirely.

PBIS, in and of itself, has the potential to do wonderful things for schools, staff, and most importantly, students. But it has to be implemented in a manner that’s far more sophisticated than what most schools are doing today. And sadly, I believe that most schools lack the capacity to implement it in a truly meaningful way.

Ultimately, is it harmful? Probably not. Most of us that get upset by the way it’s implemented are the parents of kids who don’t need a system like this in the first place. We find ourselves most upset by the inequity of the reward system. How can my daughters, who haven’t been “in trouble” a single time in their entire school careers, have fewer of those stupid reward bracelets than the juvenile delinquent that sits next to them? It’s maddening, and it creates a situation where the parents who are most likely to become active and involved are furious about the program before they even have a chance to understand its intent.

But that doesn’t harm *our* kids. The kids that pay the price are the ones who really need to be integrated into a system that focuses exclusively on teaching what positive behavior looks and feels like-which is what PBIS was intended to be. Unfortunately, we’ve stopped focusing on the more sophisticated aspects of behavior (in large part because we simply don’t know how to teach it), and have instead resorted to the notion that simply “following the rules” is what constitutes good behavior.

It’s sad, because PBIS has so much more potential than that. It’s really the people that are implementing the program that are to blame, not the program itself......

All the best....
A lot of interesting material to discuss in there. Some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. First, I want to thank Dan for that thoughtful and informative email. Needless to say, I share a lot of his concerns – though not his enthusiasm for the basic PBIS concept. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to the interaction he describes between teachers who are willing to consider whether their own conduct toward the kids might have an effect on making the situation better or worse, and those who aren’t. On the other hand, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have some sympathy with people who see “positive behavior support” as utter nonsense, and I suspect that some of those resistant teachers might have some good points – especially about whether PBIS is more “positive” in any meaningful sense.

2. Dan’s point about the spuriousness of “office referrals” as a measure is one I’ve wondered about myself. Any genuinely scientific approach to evidence would be concerned with ruling out plausible alternative explanations for the data. How can any of the empirical studies about PBIS rule out the dynamic that Dan identifies: teachers naturally referring fewer kids for office referrals if they know that’s what the boss wants?

3. When Dan talks about teachers “getting more and more frustrated with the behavior of their students,” I’d like to hear his thoughts about why that’s happened. Have kids fundamentally changed? Or have schools’ expectations of them ratcheted unrealistically upward? Given the increasing pressure the government has put on schools to “show results,” the latter strikes me the likelier explanation.

4. I can’t agree with Dan that PBIS in its originally intended form would be a beneficial program, though I can’t know for sure what everyone’s original vision for the program was. In my view, PBIS is simply too inextricably tied to the use of extrinsic motivation – i.e., obtaining the desired behavior through the use of material rewards – and thus too divorced from actually engaging the students’ minds about their own conduct.

5. I have heard other people make Dan’s point that PBIS is really there to get the teachers to change their behavior toward the kids. I can see how this is a (relatively) enlightened take on the program, but it’s not borne out by what the program actually does, even in its ideal form. If all we cared about was trying to get the teachers to be more positive toward the kids, why all the emphasis on material rewards to the kids? Why wouldn’t verbal praise – in particular, a genuine “thank you” – be enough? Why the weekly prize lotteries, and why focus the kids on accumulating as many rewards as they can? Why wouldn’t we just keep track of how positive the teachers are – why not give them the material rewards and the weekly prizes? In other words, it’s a nice way to put a happy face on the program, but it’s always struck me as more of a public relations talking point than an actual description of the program’s goal.

6. I agree with Dan that PBIS is harmful to kids who have trouble “behaving,” but I can’t agree that it doesn’t do any harm to well-behaved kids. I think it harms all kids because of the authoritarian values that inevitably get taught whenever the school ratchets up its focus on behavior, and because it pays no attention to why the kids behave the way they do, and because of what it models about how to interact with other people, and because of what it teaches about what it means to be “good” (to name just a few reasons!). I think it’s possible to be too “well-behaved” and too mindlessly obedient, and to be well-behaved for bad reasons (such as greed, fear, or excessive deference to authority), and to be too people-pleasing rather than to think for oneself. PBIS encourages and rewards all of those things, and I do worry about the effect it’s having on my kids.

I think we’re too often asked to believe that what schools do well will have a lasting effect on the kids’ lives, but what they do poorly is harmless and won’t make any difference.

7. No discussion of discipline should be allowed to sidestep these two questions: First, are the school’s behavioral rules necessary, realistic, and age-appropriate? Second, what is the school teaching and modeling by the way it approaches discipline? I don’t think that school officials take either of those questions seriously. Dan mentions the staff who refuse to consider that their own conduct can have anything to do with the problems that exist. I think that problem extends to school in general: the assumption is that the problem cannot possibly be with what schools are demanding of kids. If the kids can’t comply with the expectations, the problem is always with the kid, not the expectations. The school’s idea of scrutinizing its own role is limited to examining whether they have made the rules really, really clear -- and the only result is the overemphasis on “expectations” described here.

The school decides that the kids need to eat more quietly, because – well, just because. Then they do whatever they think they can do to make the kids be quiet, regardless of what it teaches.

This post is now officially way too long, but these are great issues to discuss. Again, thanks to Dan for his thought-provoking comments.

For more posts on PBIS, click here.


Chris said...

After getting Dan’s email, I sent this quick response:

Thanks for that great email! My first reaction is that a lot of what you say rings true, though I think PBIS does do harm, even to well-behaved students, because of the authoritarian values that inevitably get taught when the school ratchets up its focus on behavior, and because of what it models about how interact with other people. I also have my doubts about whether I could ever be comfortable with PBIS, even if it’s done right, given its emphasis on extrinsic motivation. But I think your points about its origins and potential are ones that people should hear, and of course I couldn't agree more with the spuriousness of “office referrals” as a measure.

Dan replied:

I hear what you're saying about your basic discomfort with PBIS, even if done “right.” Your point makes a great deal of sense. I guess it comes down to the lesser of two evils (which is a pathetic place for educators to find themselves); either focus on teaching “expectations,” which always amounts to a ridiculous focus on compliance, or don’t teach anything at all. I’m always struggling to get teachers to focus on teaching the inherent benefit of doing “good” rather than such focus on external reward. The problem, as I see it, is that most people lack the skills necessary to articulate that effectively.-or they simply don't understand the concept. That, I think, is about as sad a statement as I can make.

Interestingly, my own daughter is a part of a PBIS focus group in her middle school. I was thrilled when she got involved with it because I knew she would ask questions that would disrupt the flow! All it took was one session, when she stated the following to the guidance counselor who was facilitating the group: “Why is it that, when we spend so much time focusing on our (i.e. students) behavior, that teachers like Mr. X (and she named him out loud!) are allowed to scream at and berate students year after year and nothing is ever done to make it stop? He obviously just makes things worse for everybody and nobody seems to care about that.” To the counselor’s credit, she didn’t defend the teacher. She simply said “I have no idea why that is allowed to continue.”

In a nutshell, she identified why PBIS has very little chance of reaching its potential. Like many other situations, the people involved often think that the life lessons that can be gleaned should apply to everybody but themselves. And we lack an effective supervisory structure in schools that would allow administrators to work on these very issues. In *every* school, without exception, the teachers know who among their peers “gets it,” and they know who doesn’t. Unfortunately, the stumbling blocks to dealing with those issues at their core are tremendous and often insurmountable depending on the local culture, the strength of the teachers union, and the ability of the local administration to effectively supervise.

So many issues.......but blogs like yours need to be out there if we’re ever going to make any progress.

Chris said...

In another email, Dan added:

PBIS was never intended to be a program unto itself, implemented in isolation. It was intended to be a complement to a variety of other staff development exercises that would help teachers and other staff members hone their own skills.

Like any decent program of its sort, the rewards portion was designed to be *faded* over time, as students developed strong behavioral momentum toward the positive side. In theory, once you reach a critical mass of your student body moving in the right direction, the rewards become less necessary and the entire social climate changes.

I’ve seen it work, but it’s rare.

Anonymous said...

The idea of PBS is heinous. I am a teacher in an inclusion classroom. I have three PBS kids. One of them does not need to be in the program. My own son was referred to PBS this year, for blurting out too much. It has been a legal battle for years to keep him in the LRE. I finally had to remove him from the school where I taught. I am a teacher. I see the PBS system from the inside out. I know how they treat the children. For that reason, I will never allow a child of mine to enter the program. My child is ADHD, not a monster. His IQ is above average. I work in a school district where I see the destruction that PBS can do to a child. My child is currently being homeschooled, which is not the answer either. So frustrating.

Anonymous said...

pbis u stupid idiot

Anonymous said...

In southern Indiana they are using this PBIS system. I have noticed the behaviour is getting worse at most schools but referrals are down because that is what the administration wants it that way, in fact, they are selling this program to the public by saying just that.... The teachers union has been destroyed in this state and with the union the schools are becoming intolerable, the moral of the teaching staff is at an all time low, and the pay and benefits keeps dropping. I always see people blame teachers unions for all the ills but I have noticed that a lot of states with strong unions are out performing this area. There may not be a direct correlation but I do find it interesting.

Julie VanDyke said...

Good discussion, you know, except for the peanut gallery...and people allege that I'm uncivil ;-)
A "rule" at our house is that if you know what the other person meant when they clearly misspoke a word, you don't correct them because it interrupts the flow of the discussion. Xoxoxo that it did not seem to do so here, one of the better discussions I've seen on the topic of PBIS.

Anonymous said...

My elementary school is setting up their PBIS system this year and beginning to implement next year. I am on the PBIS committee, helping to get all of our matrixes made, our system in place, and our kick off materials ready. I am having a difficult time buying into this program because I feel that the majority of our students are displaying the correct behaviors already. It is just a select few in each grade that do not follow the school rules. I feel as though we are going to begin rewarding the “naughty” kids with the all school rewards, even if some students did not really earn them. Our principal has made it clear, that if it is an all school reward, every student will be participating. One of the benefits to having this system in place, is setting the same expectations throughout the entire school and we will hopefully be eliminating any discrepancies amongst teachers. I am hoping that this system will be able to reach those students with problem behaviors, but we need to come up with enticing incentives that will make the students strive to earn them. If you have any suggestions for our kick off please share them with me so I can take them back to my team.

Chris said...

Kendra -- Thanks for the comment. My suggestion for any school that's considering PBIS is to do some thinking about the differences between intrinsic motivation and externally driven motivation. A big part of what bothers me about PBIS is the utter lack of concern with *why* students do the things they do. A student who obeys the rules is considered "good," even if he or she is doing it out of pure greed for the reward. A student who doesn't obey the rules is "naughty," without any thought given to why that student might have trouble with the rules, or to whether the rules themselves are reasonable or age-appropriate. The whole program is designed to circumvent any kind of thoughtful reflection about right and wrong, and instead to elicit reflexive obedience out of a desire to get a prize. Its implementation also seems designed to circumvent any kind of thoughtful reflection about it by the responsible adults as well.

Trish said...

I completely agree with Chris. My school is "buying into this system." I am not looking forward to being a part of it. I do not believe in rewarding "good behavior." It creates a bunch of Eddie Haskels in our world.

Chris said...

Trish -- Thanks for the comment. Check out this story. Compare that kid to the ones who do what the program expects (i.e., "behave well" out of acquisitiveness). So creepy to put kids in that position.

Anonymous said...

I am new to this conversation, and I am a part of a school that is just starting to implement PBIS, but I felt strongly enough about what I was reading to add to the discussion. My feeling right off of the bat is that if I look at the way adults work, including myself, why wouldn't we see our students in the same light? For example, our "school" that we as adults attend is called "work." If extrinsic rewards are a bad thing, then why aren't adults working for free? We go to work each day to seek those extrinsic rewards. Whether it be our paycheck, a raise from our boss, a promotion into a higher position...normally followed with more money, or any other extrinsic reward associated with your job. We, as humans seek those rewards whether we want to admit it or not. In the beginning of anything that we do, the extrinsic rewards start and guide our willingness to do something. Students are the same way. If we could all just say "thank you" to students and have them all see the light and not misbehave anymore, than we wouldn't need programs to help with behavior. In my opinion this age of students is drastically different than students 10 years ago and with that change comes the need to change systems that are put in place to help manage and guide student behavior. I have read a great deal on this blog about how negatively some see rewarding students for positive behavior, but I feel that we as humans seek that. We want to be recognized for positive things. Why wouldn't we capitalize on something like this on the school level to help with student behaviors in school?


Chris said...

Anonymous – Thanks for the comment. You won’t be surprised to hear that I completely disagree. The immediate goal of employment is to make money, so yes, most people work because they want the reward. (I think it’s safe to say, though, that the happiest people are the ones who would do what they do even if they weren’t being paid.) But the goal of education ought to be to cultivate an enthusiasm for learning, not for material rewards, right? So the analogy doesn’t work at all. Moreover, there’s a good amount of evidence supporting the idea that using rewards teaches people to value the rewards and to *devalue* the activity being rewarded—because it must be a drag if they have to pay us to do it. Isn’t that enough to at least raise some concern? Finally, we have to look at what the schools are rewarding, which is mindless, unquestioning obedience to authority. When I think of what I want my kids to be, I can think of lots of positive qualities I would want them to have, but being mindlessly compliant with authority is nowhere on that list. Neither is being reflexively materialistic and acquisitive. Do you think those are good qualities to teach?

As I’ve said before, I don’t doubt that the program “works” to get kids to be more compliant. That’s why schools do it—but without regard to what it might be teaching the kids in the long term, and the effect it might have on their understanding of right and wrong.

Do those things concern you at all? What are your thoughts about the kid in the article I linked to? Wouldn’t PBIS fail completely if all the rewarded kids decided to share their rewards with the unrewarded ones? Do you think that kid is exhibiting good behavior or bad behavior?

Unknown said...

What does it teach kids about how to treat other people when the adults in their school publicly exclude the children without enough PBIS tickets from the end of year movie party? Do the adults have any moral high ground at all when they ask kids not to, for example, make a show of publicly inviting some kids and not others to parties?

Furthermore, what message do the adults send to kids when being sent to the reading room is punishment? It just seems counter-productive in a lot of ways.

Danielle said...

It seems that most of these examples are focusing on (1) an elementary situation and (2) the rewards portion of PBIS. While reinforcing and encouraging desired behaviors is often translated as giving the kids something, that is the slacker's version of the framework. Schools that want to take the easy way out are setting their students up to become dependent on extrinsic motivation.

As a high school teacher with many preps and over 100 students, I do not have time to track and reward every instance of desired behavior with something tangible. I can, however, give a simple verbal praise to a student who has demonstrated good behavior. I can also talk to a student about the behavior they should be showing instead of just telling them not to do a certain action.

I may be in the minority here, possibly because I don't teach small children, but I do not feel bad for students who are not invited to attend celebrations. If the expectations are set, students are supported, and teachers are consistent, everyone has the opportunity to be successful. Why reward Johnny FightsALot along with Javon AlwaysRespectful just because Johnny's mom is upset? Be upset that Johnny is on the path to becoming an entitled adult in a few years. Be upset at yourself for not attending those SST conferences to address Johnny's lack of academic progress. But whatever you do, please don't be upset at the school for following through on well established and well publicized expectations and consequences.

It concerns me that the need for extravagant, tangible rewards has taken over a simple system that is used, officially or not, in many areas of life for children and adults alike. However, schools always have incentives for students to recognize them for various things. Honor roll, perfect attendance, and athletic students are constantly recognized for their behaviors. What's wrong the average student who behaves in a manner consistent with behaviors we recognize in successful adults being recognized or celebrated on occasion? If the main focus of PBIS is tier one, however, the school is doomed to fail in this endeavor and in producing responsible citizens. What about the interventions for the student who is not demonstrating the desired behaviors? Where is the plan to help them learn WHY they should behave differently and HOW they can do so?

Laziness, apathy, and blind compliance to poorly crafted mandates will always hurt the goals of schools and ultimately students. Rewards, candy, movie nights, etc., are no substitute for meaningful conversations about behavior and true strategies to help struggling students. Day one should not be "here's how you can get stuff from the school, kids!" but rather "what are the ways you think we should behave in school and why". Vastly different approaches. Vastly different outcomes.

Anonymous said...

I think the issue here Karen W. is that PBIS doesn't support well publicized consequences. PBIS's consequences are that you don't get in on the prize and to be quite frank Johnyfightsalot needs to be suspended for his dangerous actions and the parents need to be held accountable for his actions. PBIS just excludes him from the "prize". Life doesn't work that way. Schools especially primary and intermediate schools are way to in love with this feel good approach that is doing more harm than good.

Anonymous said...

As a parent I would like to add my perspective. My son is a well behaved student. They started this program at his old school and in the 3 years that he was there he was never given any "reward bucks" They were all given to the students that were ALWAYS in trouble for the tiniest stupid thing. My son was quick to realize what this system is all about...bribing the bad kids to behave more. It was a total fail. The new school he has is trying the program now too. It also seems to be the same type of thing. This is not the kind of motivation that works on most kids. This is a total waste of time for teachers and tax dollars. I absolutely agree that this program makes sense for special needs programs. I have seen the kids from these programs with the "reward bucks" and they really are motivated by the system.

educator said...

Reward tickets = dead trees
Often students who make right/good choices are not rewarded while students who make poor choices often get away without consequence. I'm amazed that education still uses PBIS. Is it because we fear disposing of a system that has the word "positive" in it?

What if we focus on teaching social/emotional intelligence and help develop an internal behavioral compass rather than focusing on a system of extrinsic rewards? What if we give teachers the tools they need to respond not react so they can model and facilitate these behaviors among students? What if schools looked at mindfulness as a practice for teachers and students and parents. and are just two of many resources to find these trainable skills. Breathing is free. Internal peace is priceless.

Every Season is Championship Season said...

Is this a "wrong" era in Public Education history across the board, here in Iowa, worse than consolidation leading us to big and bigger schools?

Unknown said...

I am surprised to not see any mention of Responsive Classroom in this thread. I am very much against the use of PBIS in schools. I want my children both in my classroom and my home to behave because they genuinely understand how their behavior impacts others and themselves. Have a "doggy treat" for every good behavior and needing to be "showy" about your good behavior goes totally against anything I want modeled for my children.
Responsive classroom requires to teachers to think more and these days no schools like to do that. Right? It's much easier to give them a clear cut manual that says "if X doesn't raise their hand they move their name to the Yellow mark " or "give X a sticker when they walk quietly in the hall".
Responsive classroom requires teachers to build community and desire to be good because it helps our classroom be a fun learning environment. When there is a reward it isn't one that has been told ahead for example. My class had been doing so well with clean up and routines so one day I said "i've noticed that you have been working together to clean up the classroom quickly and efficiently so we have some extra time because of your efficient, let's go to the playground for extra play time". A reward connected to the expected behavior! THIS IS NOT THAT HARD IT JUST REQUIRES TEACHING AND THINKING!

Anonymous said...

My advice is not to do it. It is a complete disaster! This is just another way to blame teachers for student's behaviors. Not only are we blamed if they do not pass, now we are blamed if we they do not behave. I think if we are to be blamed for these matters, then the administration should be blamed for our "failures". In our school, behavior has gotten so much worse. The students know this and are having a grand ole' time. We can do nothing but smile and be positive. No support at all from admin. as they say we are to be evaluated by how many office referrals we have (so they are kept down to a minimum) and we have to deal with the problem with the whole class suffering because one or two students are having fun disrupting.It is not being implemented correctly. Our whole discipline system was scrapped and PBIS was put in place. The students are not interested in earning good points to win something. Ours is done on a monthly basis (crazy!) so they figure they have time to make up points. Us teachers had a school store in the beginning (we bought our own prizes), our administration came in and scrapped it.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad someone mentioned Responsive Classroom. I love what I've seen of this method and tried to implement it with PBIS (they say you can on their website). Their "system" doesn't work with tier 3 students and in some schools implementing this model, tier 3s are kicked out of the school. Nonetheless, the schools that I observed, we awesome places to learn.

My journey with PBS/PBIS has led to me being forced to leave the profession. Maybe I am really as bad as they say I was and maybe PBS isn't to blame, but...I am taking a PBIS class to maintain my license, because I don't know what direction I want to take. I googled "why PBIS doesn't work" and found this site. I hope to bring up some of these points and I am happy to know that everything I experienced - student greed, no consequences, demeaning relationships with administrators- was experienced by others. I think that schools choose PBIS because it is a quick way to get students to comply with curriculum that is boring or over their heads. With all the mandates, there is no time to really create community as it required with both PBIS and Responsive Classroom. Boy, I had a lot to say and now, no. I will post what I "learn" in my course.

Parent w/BA in behaviorism said...

I love this blog. I am a parent with 2 sons currently in school (5th/6th grade). One has Tourette Syndrome (+ADHD and other school-challenging issues); the other has Asperger's Syndrome, receives gifted services, has been promoted a grade, and has never been in trouble at school. I have a bachelor's degree with dual majors in psychology and applied behavior analysis, but no background in education. My husband just left the military and my children have been in 9 school districts -- plus briefly schooled through virtual school partially at home and partially in a center that provided one-on-one behavior therapy. I have seen PBIS (and for the person who corrected the PBS post, they call it that at some schools) implemented at several schools. I have concerns on both sides. The use of positive behavior supports in and of itself, for instance when used at home or in the one-on-one therapeutic environment have worked very well for my sons. Before I had children, I was an opponent of behaviorism, as I believed it robbed "clients" of their human dignity -- to make choices based on reason and free will and treat human beings (especially the most vulnerable human beings -- those with limited IQ in residential facilities, for instance) like animals to be trained.

Then I had children. The reasoning abilities of children are limited. All of the reasoning in the world won't keep my toddler from peeing on the toilet seat the way a couple of M&M's will. I wished that the Kindergarten teacher would see how much my son was trying to sit still and not withhold the snack from him and move him to the corner to watch the other children eat as he sat in shame, but it didn't work out like that. I was worried about his self-esteem, but he was only upset that the reward system in his class was, "A game that is unfair because every week it rewards all of the girls and one of the boys." When he got to third grade and started having homework, I thought, "Great, well there goes his grades too," but was surprised to see that he returned all of his homework on time most months in order to earn the prize of lunch with the teacher.

PBIS as it is implemented in schools has it's ups and downs. The primary problem is that it's only better than the alternative of what happens in many schools - a complete unwillingness to abandon old systems of expecting children to both know and be able to achieve the teachers' "expectations," and then punishing them for failure to do so. As I stated, my husband recently separated from the military after 20 years of service and even the military's discipline climate has changed in that time. He now works for a major company as a manager, and told me a couple of days ago that he is responsible for passing out "tokens" -- prizes, gift cards, $5, etc. -- for catching employees at their best.

Whether PBIS is "the way" or not, it is certainly cut out to prepare our children for the real world as it is today much better than the get-tough type programs that PBIS proposes to replace. In fact, the only institution I can think of that still operates in the "figure out the expectations without being explicitly told them and face punishment if you don't" mentality is the police force or jail. And those tactics are causing backlash in those environments, as well.

Despite it's failures, PBIS has a better chance of preparing my children for the "real world" I'd like them to enter after school than the systems it is replacing. It has major implementation and measurement failures, however, and systems such as democratic schools would be more appropriate -- but good luck getting teachers and administrators to give up the kind of power it would take to implement that.

Parent w/BA in behaviorism said...

To the parent who said Johnnyfightsalot needs to be suspended and his parents need to be held accountable. I'm curious what this person thinks will happen to Johnny following suspension. Let's face it, he probably fightsalot because he would love to be suspended. He may not even have parents to be held accountable.

So what then? How will a suspension help Johnny to stop fighting a lot? Won't he just go out into the community and fight a lot now? How would suspending him stop him from fighting? Do we want fighters, just not in our schools? These people don't just disappear off the face of the earth because they disappear from the school building...

And how will the parent be held accountable? How CAN the parent even be held accountable? If truancy laws require a kid to go to school, unless the parent is invited to come along, how is it the parents' responsibility what the kid does at school? Shouldn't the school have a responsibility to protect the children required to be sent there by law? If Johnny feels he has to fight a lot at school, maybe the school should look at why...

The school has a unique opportunity to teach Johnny to find a better way to resolve conflict, and the best it can come up with is send him home and scold his parents??

DS said...

I have been reading through the post due to trying to find some answers and thoughts on PBIS on how it is has been working for others and why things seem to be falling apart for myself and school. I had read about the Southern Indiana comment on how the behaviors seem to be worse at times and also the low moral between teachers. I feel like this is the case I am in as well. I work in a school were there is no discussion time for us to talk about what is working and not working so discussing PBIS has just been in passing or at lunch and if we did bring something up negative to the principals idea it is a way to get a target on your back for evaluations.

I have had my students "trained" really well in my opinion throughout the first semester and then the hard work kicks back in after Christmas break where I continued to look for those positive behaviors and reward tickets and Class Dojo points. I am currently still using Class Dojo because I was already using it before we started the PBIS rewards last year. I like it for the communication aspect as well and I do try very hard not to take many points away but it a way for a parent to see if their child was having a hard time with talking out of turn that day or not listening, etc. I feel like having two systems hurts our program too but there are a number of teachers still using DOJO and others that are still using Clip charts. Both show negative instead of just positive. The problem I am having most is that through out the process of us using the tickets as a school staff isn't using them correctly. The lunch staff would give them for students who finished eating everything on their tray or cleaning food off the floor. Then I have all my students that come back from TITLE I every single day with a ticket. So I had talked with my students about how they would receive tickets for going above and beyond and not just doing what was expected all the time like quietly walking. I have seen behavior get worse and I am frustrated that the only way I can get them to be quiet is by giving them a ticket and then 3 minutes after that they are talking/bragging about the ticket they receive. In my thoughts of using this on a yearly basis I thought that students would have been able to have less reward by the end of the year. My students expect a ticket in order to behave and when my principal only saw me give 3 tickets out during my evaluation I have been instructed that I need to be doing more with the positives and that is going to fix how many disturbances there are in a lesson. But office referrals are down in our school building as well so I believe we are just going to keep doing this without fixing a problem that we might have made worse. I try to have weekly conversations even with reminding them of how when they come back in the room with a prize they need to put it away instead of bragging to everyone else. Talk about distractions there! So if anyone has any ideas on how to bring my class back to the beginning of when they were so excited about moving into stations and having the excitement about everything we were doing that they transitioned so quietly and helped each other out.

This is just one of the things that make me weigh my decision on whether or not to stay in the profession. There is so much paperwork done on everything we try and not really following through to find things that will help or be less time consuming or overwhelming for both students and teachers anymore. I know my teachers 20 years ago may not have been perfect and we weren't leaders of the world trying to reach standards but I feel like I had a good time in school with my teachers because it was more laid back.

Unknown said...

Iowa teacher
I teach in a PBIS school and we have been told we need to have consequences that are not public in anyway. I would like to know what consequences I can implement that are not public in my classroom and how do I manage the consequences?

Anonymous said...

I see all of the comments about holding parents accountable for their children's action, but no talk of holding children accountable for their own actions. What does holding parents accountable teach kids? Nothing.

Anonymous said...

I see all of the comments saying we need to hold parents accountable, but what does holding parents accountable tech kids? Nothing. Hold kids accountable for their actions.

MN Teacher/Parent said...

This thread has been amazing! Thank you all for submitting intelligent and thoughtful posts. I've noticed that most comments have been debating about the use of rewards/punishments as the best method to change behavior. Rightly so considering, these are the premise of PBIS and its systems.

We are into our third year of PBIS implementation, without formal training, due to the fact the staff voted against committing to the system. Although, we are told by administration that we are to continue to move forward with PBIS because this is the direction the district is going with.

You see, there is a state mandate, because of a government mandate, to close the gap in quality education between black and white students. Administration is under pressure (punished/rewarded monetarily through reviews by the superintendent) to produce percentages that show both white and black students are suspended from school at an equal rate. They are being evaluated on whether or not testing scores and suspension rates show that both black and white students are receiving an education that is culturally responsive and produces a quality learning environment. In turn, superintendents are evaluated on testing scores and suspension rates by the state...and so on up the these scores/percentages determine the ultimate monies that the district receives for meeting these goals. Because teachers are closest to students, they are scapegoated every time. This is a can of worms, however, for a different post. But, points to the fact that there are other factors behind the trend in PBIS.

This trend is perpetuated by the fact that it is a system that allows administration to say that they are implementing practices that are culturally responsive and keeps students in the learning environment as much as possible. They have proof, they say, because the data shows reduced time out of school. Let's talk about what the data doesn't show.

The data does not show that the number of disruptions in the classroom has increased. The number of students getting hurt has increased. The social and emotional needs of children are at an all time high. The teacher burnout rate is higher than ever. Students as young as 6 years old understand that they are a good student only if they get a reward. That actual teaching and learning has decreased significantly. And, unfortunately, the learning gap between black and white students is still there. Teachers are leaving the profession because they can no longer teach. These are the same human beings that entered the profession with the intent to pour their heart into teaching the children of our future but are told that they are not giving enough.

If we want to be culturally responsive so that all children have opportunities, we have got to hold the correct people accountable. How? It goes all the way to the top. Honestly, I can make PBIS work well within my classroom. Give me the resources to implement the interventions with fidelity. I'm not magical. PBIS is expensive and takes a lot of adults and professionals to carry it out correctly. The reward and punishment pieces are such small part of the system.