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Education | August 2012

Bolster behavior with these tips and tools

Smiling teacher in foreground with students working and engaging at desks in background
Effective positive behavior interventions and supports free students to engage and learn

As any classroom teacher can tell you, if students are acting up or having trouble tuning in, it will be a challenge to reach them no matter how good the lesson is. When children are distracted by behavior issues (their own or others'), it's hard for learning to take place. This year, make sure your school's program of positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) is working in every class and across the school.

Follow these steps for reinforcing positive behavior and create the best possible environment for learning:

Conduct a self-assessment

To see if your school's PBIS program incorporates evidence-based practices that result in real improvement, conduct an evaluation such as the new Self-Assessment and Program Review for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. With SAPR-PBIS™, schools can review and take measures to improve their program directly without having to bring in any outside support.

Using SAPR-PBIS as a guide, your school will select a leadership team of 8–10 representatives, who evaluate how well the school has adopted 10 essential principles:

  1. Administrative policies and procedures support the education of all students, including those with or at risk of developing emotional or behavioral problems (E/BPs).
  2. School policies and programs emphasize prevention and the early identification of students with E/BPs.
  3. Staff development activities focus on methods to educate all students.
  4. Clear and consistent behavioral expectations are established for students across all school settings.
  5. School procedures for responding to discipline referrals and emergency situations are implemented consistently and effectively.
  6. Systematic supports are developed to address the academic and social needs of students with E/BPs.
  7. Functional behavioral assessments are completed for students with significant behavior problems to develop intensive interventions.
  8. Data are routinely collected and systematically analyzed by the leadership team for program-evaluation and decision-making purposes.
  9. Families are seen as partners in the development of their child's program.
  10. Comprehensive plans are developed for students and families in need of intensive support.

Team members rate indicators that, when taken together, suggest how well the school is implementing each of the practices. After meeting to analyze the results, the team targets three priorities to focus on for the coming year. At the conclusion of the year, team members complete the rating again to evaluate how well the school has met its goals.

See a sample list of indicators from SAPR-PBIS in this completed form. Raters mark whether each indicator is fully in place (5), mostly in place (4), moderately in place (3), partially in place (2), or not yet in place (1).

Incorporate social and emotional learning at all levels

"Social and emotional learning processes are of parallel importance as academic learning processes and ... they can have a powerful impact on both academic and social-emotional outcomes."

—Foreword, Strong Kids Curricula

Schoolwide PBIS programs that align with best practices include universal measures to enhance the social-emotional development of all students. One seamless way to do this is to have teachers incorporate a social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, such as the Strong Kids series, into their instruction.

With five easy-to-use curricula tailored for different grade levels, Strong Kids includes partially scripted lessons that make it easy for teachers to guide their students in building vital social and emotional skills: the ability to express emotions, manage anger, relieve stress, and solve interpersonal problems. Reinforcement throughout their schooling gives them plenty of chance to practice and apply these skills for better functioning, in school and life!

See how teachers can approach social and emotional learning in this sample lesson on "Understanding Other People's Emotions" from Strong Kids—Grades 6–8.

Equip your teachers with knowledge about in-class interventions

Challenges teachers may observe that interfere with learning:

  • poor concentration
  • impulsive or disruptive behavior
  • low moods
  • refusing school
  • performance stress
  • problems with authority figures
  • fitting in with peers
  • aggression
  • students who are bullied
  • personal boundaries

During the school day, teachers may observe behaviors that concern them. With all the other hats teachers have to wear, they shouldn't also have to be trained as mental health professionals, but it is helpful to know what to do when a student is having difficulties.

In the new guide Recognize and Respond to Emotional and Behavioral Issues in the Classroom, psychologists Andrew Cole and Aaron Shupp lay out for teachers the types of issues they might observe during class. They offer specific suggestions of evidence-based ways to adapt the classroom structure, collaborate with students, and collaborate with the family to improve the situation. Importantly, they also spell out when a referral to an administrator, counselor, or other mental health professional is appropriate.

Here is an example of steps to take with a student who shows aggression. Included is an exercise teachers can lead with students to illustrate the consequences of aggression both for the aggressor and those impacted. (Read more in this Q&A with Dr. Cole and Dr. Shupp.)

Complete behavior ratings for children with behaviors of concern

For students who show persistent behaviors of concern, schools may want to use a behavior rating such as the School Social Behavior Scales, Second Edition to pinpoint where they are having particular difficulty.

SSBS-2 is completed by teachers and other school personnel who know the student best, and takes a look at both social competence and anti-social behavior, as these sample segments illustrate:

Scale A

Scale B

Understands problems and needs of other students

Acts as if he or she is better than others

Remains calm when problems arise

Destroys or damages school property

Listens to and carries out directions from teachers

Will not share with other students

Invites other students to participate in activities

Has temper outbursts or tantrums

Asks appropriately for clarification of instructions

Disregards feelings of needs of other students

To create an even fuller picture, incorporate valuable insight from family members by having caregivers complete the Home & Community Social Behavior Scales. In combination, results from the two ratings can be used to develop functional behavioral assessments and targeted interventions.

Implement an individualized program for children with persistent difficulties

"Challenging behaviors can impair learning not only for the misbehaving student but also for all of the other children in the class. Challenging behaviors are noted as the greatest problem and source of stress for teachers. Therefore, there is a tremendous need for effective and efficient strategies that can be used by typical teachers and other educational personnel to address the most serious of classroom behavior problems."

Dr. Glen Dunlap, co-author, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce

For students who are still struggling after these measures have been implemented, schools should have in place a school-based model of individualized positive behavior support such as the Prevent-Teach-Reinforce model. PTR is a systematic, structured process for supporting students with behaviors that have created significant barriers to instruction.

One of the most challenging steps for educators is linking functional assessment information to an effective behavior intervention plan. PTR makes this step easier with a detailed process of functional assessment that leads directly to a menu-driven intervention plan.

Each PTR behavior plan includes at least one Prevent (antecedent), one Teach (instructional), and one Reinforce (consequence) component:

  • Prevent strategies—to change environmental circumstances associated with a high likelihood of challenging behavior
  • Teach strategies—to identify alternative behaviors that will be more effective as a replacement
  • Reinforce strategies—to change how adults and/or peers respond to the student's behavior so that the student no longer gets a desired outcome (i.e., escape or obtain) for the inappropriate behavior

The structured PTR approach enables school teams to match the function of a challenging behavior and the conditions under which it occurs with strategies most likely to be effective.

Learn more about Prevent, Teach, and Reinforce interventions.


Schools that recognize that effective PBIS practices are not an "add on," and commit to a program of support for positive behavior at every level, are rewarded with an environment that is conducive to learning for everyone.

This article features excerpts and downloads from the following resources:

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

The Strong Kids Curricula

Recognize and Respond to Emotional and Behavioral Issues in the Classroom: A Teacher's Guide

School Social Behavior Scales User's Guide, Second Edition Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support

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