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Accentuate the Positive

PBIS Creates an Environment for Student Success
In the not-too-distant past, when students misbehaved at school, they were reprimanded and sent to the principal's office.

At more than 100 schools in St. Louis County, this has all changed, said Lisa Powers, Ph.D., SSD area coordinator who helps spearhead Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

Nowadays, teachers, staff and students are looking at behavior holistically. With support and training from SSD's PBIS program, schools are creating campus-wide routines, expectations and rules to create positive learning environments where all children can find success.

While some students still find themselves in the principal's office, in the first two years a school receives PBIS support, office referrals for poor behavior drop anywhere from 20 to 60 percent, Powers said.

"Our whole purpose is to create more inclusive practices for children with behavioral problems," Powers said. When kids are in the office for behavior infractions, they're not in the classroom learning, she said.

PBIS has revolutionized how educators look at specific locations in the school that are plagued by troublesome behavior, particularly for children with behavior disorders. For example, the playground, the cafeteria and the hallway often present challenges. To improve student behavior in these locations, teachers, students and administrators work together to establish a routine and expectations. This might mean that in the hallway, students are expected to walk on the right, open and close their lockers gently and reduce congestion by only talking to their friends while walking.

On the playground, teachers may help improve behavior by ensuring there is adequate room for play and a variety of activities for students to choose from. Instead of simply supervising the playground, teachers may also take an active role in encouraging positive interactions among students.

In all of these scenarios, expectations and appropriate behaviors are taught, reinforced with praise and taught again as needed.

"What I hear parents saying is, if we can create a school environment that is peaceful, calm and predictable, that's a support for children with disabilities," Powers said. In this sort of environment, children are less likely to be excluded from activities due to behavior problems.

What principals are saying is that PBIS is helping ALL children – with and without disabilities — be successful at school.

Principal Meg Brooks took the reins at Westridge Elementary in Rockwood School District during a challenging time. When she arrived in 2004, the district had just redrawn its school boundary lines, and Westridge was getting ready to welcome a whole new group of students that weren't particularly excited to be there, Brooks said.

"PBIS gave us a common language. It helped us set expectations for behavior and well-being in our school," she said.

Brooks collaborated with teachers, parents and students to establish a positive culture that helped all children feel welcome and successful. Expectations for behavior were set for all areas of the school, from the bus to the classroom, the playground and the restroom.

"We saw progress within the first three months of school," Brooks said.

In 2004, the school had more than 150 office referrals. During the 2009-2010 school year, the school had only 20 office referrals.

PBIS has a direct positive impact on bullying, which can undermine any child's emotional well-being at school. By reinforcing good behavior and reminding children of expected behavior, unkind actions that can lead to out-right bullying are quickly stopped and redirected.

"If a child is unkind to another child, we go back to that common language and common expectations, and we talk about what those are," Brooks said. "It's not a question of whether you did wrong, but rather, how are we going to make this better? How are we going to change our behavior the next time?

"When the teacher has less disciplinary issues, the teacher can focus on academics, and achievement is increased.”
students on playground
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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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