If you know anything about education, then you know about PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports). And if you work in education then you know that there are two definitive camps: people who swear by PBIS and those who don’t.
PBIS is based on Behavioral Science principles of the ’60s. The basic (and very simplified science behind it) is that for every action, there is a consequence. If you reward or reinforce the behaviors you want, they will increase. If you ignore or punish the behaviors you don’t want they will decrease.
This Science (or versions of it) have been pitched to school districts since the ’80s. Those color charts that were all the rage in ’90s classrooms? Born of the PBIS craze. Sticker charts? You can also blame PBIS. Or can you?
The issue may not be so much the science behind PBIS, but rather how school districts pitch it to their teachers, and then how those teachers decide to implement in their classrooms. Changing a student’s color based on behavior, for instance? In theory, a good idea. In practice, public shaming for kids struggling to fit into the traditional education system.
And that’s a problem. When PBIS is pitched to districts and teachers, it’s pitched as the solution to their behavior problems. And who has behavior problems in the classroom? The kids who struggle to fit within the traditional educational system.
PBIS itself is a three-tiered system set up to catch those struggling kids before they can struggle. The first tier is school-wide. It consists of clearly defined rules, explicitly taught expectations and a clear set of consequences. Data is kept to see if students need tier two interventions.
Tier two interventions include tier one (since it is school-wide) but at-risk students are monitored more closely for progress, home to school communication increases and students may be put on a personal data tracking form to self-monitor their behavior.
Tier three includes tier-one & two interventions, plus a functional behavior plan is conducted and a behavior intervention plan may be put in place. The behavior intervention plan should focus on antecedent strategies (ways to prevent the behavior) but should also include clear consequences to the behavior.
So, does the research show that the PBIS framework is effective? Yes, when it is implemented correctly and with fidelity. Are people still against it? Also yes.
One of the main concerns with PBIS (and if we’re being honest with ABA in general) is that it does not teach students to think for themselves, but rather to simply comply. Should we be taking students who are struggling with the traditional school environment and teach them to simply comply with it? Or should we provide a better school environment for them?
Secondary to that concern is that PBIS is a system of rewards. The argument seems to be that students come to expect something every time they follow the rules, turn their homework in on time, or don’t harass the teacher. They become so dependent on extrinsic rewards that they stop being motivated by intrinsic ones. This is extremely damaging because the world does not work on extrinsic rewards.
Or does it? Payday, casual Friday wear, bonuses, company parties, stock shares, company discounts, coupons, and the ability to pay your bills are all extrinsic. Some people just REALLY hate their jobs like some students just REALLY hate school. But they continue to go because they like paying their bills and having health insurance.
At some point we are going to have to acknowledge that we are all motivated by some extrinsic reward.
Research related to PBIS: