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Education | July 2013

Schoolwide PBIS: Your questions answered

by Doug Cheney and Bridget Walker
4 education professionals, holding notebooks and standing in a library, confer
The teams that are most successful value each member's input and use assessment results to prioritize work

Is your school implementing Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS)? Are challenges emerging in your SWPBIS implementation? Don't worry! You are not alone!

As the authors of the Self-Assessment and Program Review for Schools Implementing PBIS (SAPR-PBIS), we've spent 15 years working with school teams implementing SWPBIS. We've seen just about every challenge there is to effective implementation. Here are answers to some of the most common questions teams encounter when implementing SWPBIS. (Find more guidance on these questions in the SAPR-PBIS manual and assessment.)

In our school, it seems that only a few people are telling us what to do. How does PBIS involve the right people to lead this work?

Douglas Cheney, Ph.D.spacerDouglas Cheney, Ph.D. is a professor of special education at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he directs the master's program to prepare teachers for educating students with emotional or behavioral disabilities.

Schoolwide PBIS (SWPBIS) is a framework or approach for using intervention strategies to enhance the schoolwide culture and improve students' academic and social outcomes. Implementation of SWPBIS needs to meaningfully involve all constituents. We recommend that in any school, a leadership team include administrators, teachers, specialists, classified staff, families, and students. Implementation should be viewed as a team-based, action planning process led by school leaders who:

  1. assess PBIS priorities
  2. provide professional development activities to enhance the use of evidence-based practices
  3. involve family and community members in the change process
  4. use school data to review school progress in faculty meetings

To sustain any change in school, it is critical that this leadership group truly represents all school faculty, parents/guardians, and students when possible.

Bridget Walker, Ph.D.spacerBridget Walker, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Master in Teaching Program at Seattle University. She has been involved in the field of education for more than 20 years as a special education teacher and behavior specialist as well as a consultant and trainer.

What if our leadership team seems to be having trouble establishing SWPBIS in our school?

For the SWPBIS initiative to be most effective, it is important that the leadership team include staff who represent a range of perspectives and experiences throughout the school community. When discussing their perspectives in the SAPR-PBIS assessment, planning, or evaluation process, it can be uncomfortable for paraprofessionals to share a dissenting opinion on a school practice. It is critical, however, that everyone on the team value all opinions so that an accurate picture of school functioning is developed.

Your team should support and respect each individual as you discuss SWPBIS in your school. Here are three key principles to keep in mind:

  • Develop clear operating norms to keep meetings focused and on track (e.g. value everyone's opinion, give honest, descriptive feedback, begin and end meetings on time, and stay data based)

  • Share the roles of facilitator, recorder, reporter, and timekeeper

  • Use open discussion and evidence to resolve conflict. Conflict is inevitable in groups, and when leadership teams encounter a conflict, they are encouraged to openly discuss and explore issues carefully, and to use school evidence to persuade one another and make final decisions. Remember to focus on the content of what is being said, use open-ended questions, and paraphrase others for clarity in discussions.

By developing norms, sharing roles, and using skills to resolve conflicts, your team is more likely to become cohesive, trusting, and productive.

With so much to do in our school, how do we know where to start our SWPBIS work?

It is important for your leadership team to use assessment results to prioritize work. The results of the SAPR-PBIS process are helpful in this regard. Your team can discuss and rate each PBIS practice (using a Likert scale), and then use those ratings to determine where to start. For example, we often find that school staff initially rate themselves low in these two areas:

  • Staff development activities focus on methods to educate all students, including those with or at risk of developing behavior problems.

  • School procedures for responding to discipline referrals and emergency situations are implemented consistently and effectively.

Focusing on these two areas is a great place for schools to start. Time and resources could be invested in supporting students with behavior problems through better staff development approaches, like strengthening the classroom management skills of teachers or enhancing instructional modifications in classrooms.

As teachers become more skillful in their classroom management, they can take a closer look at why/how/when they are referring students for disciplinary actions. The school might further address this concern by agreeing that the most intensive problem behaviors need administrative support (e.g. aggression, harassment), while other issues can be better addressed by the teacher.


Once everyone has a deeper understanding of how to effectively prevent or respond to challenging behavior, teachers will have more time to focus on instruction and administrators will have more time to focus on school leadership. SAPR-PBIS provides teams with essential practices and resources to develop and strengthen these and other recommended practices.

To learn more about SAPR-PBIS, read an excerpt, and purchase it to use in your school, visit the Brookes website. If you have more questions about SAPR-PBIS after reading the excerpt, tweet your questions to @BrookesPubCo.

Provide tiers of positive behavior support in your school or classroom ...

The SAPR-PBIS™ Manual: A Team-Based Approach to Implementing Effective Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

The Self-Assessment and Program Review for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SAPR-PBIS™)

Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support

The Teacher's Pocket Guide for Effective Classroom Management

Positive Strategies for Students with Behavior Problems

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