Positive Behavior Interventions And Supports (PBIS): Everything You Need To Know

Fostering a positive school environment where students are encouraged to present their best behaviors is possible by establishing and clearly communicating behavioral expectations. Instead of reprimanding students and having them face consequences, it is essential to adopt a more constructive approach to guiding student behavior. When educators concentrate more on teaching and cultivating acceptable behavior, students are empowered with valuable skills and a sense of responsibility.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, or PBIS, was therefore introduced with the aim of creating a better approach to support student behavior and achieve better outcomes. In this write-up, we will discuss what PBIS is all about and see a few examples of how educators can implement it in their classrooms. So, let’s get started!

What is positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS)?

PBIS is a proactive, evidence-based approach implemented in schools and other learning environments to promote positive student behavior. The main purpose behind PBIS is to improve behavioral, emotional, social, and academic outcomes for students of all grades, irrespective of their backgrounds and learning abilities.

The approach focuses on preventing negative behavior and providing support and interventions to students who are more likely to display difficult behaviors even before they appear. By improving the social-emotional competence of students, educators create a safe and positive learning environment that ensures academic success.

PBIS, initially known as the Effective Behavior Supports program, was developed in the late 1990s by researchers Rob Horner and George Sugai. At present, the Center on PBIS is the entity that supports the implementation of this multi-tiered approach in various schools across the country. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Features of PBIS

Schools can implement PBIS in specific learning environments or all across the school. When the method is implemented in the entire school, it is known as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS). Some features that are typical of schools following the PBIS approach are as follows:

  1. They employ a series of evidence-based practices to teach positive behaviors and support students who are in need.
  2. There is a clear set of behavioral expectations for students, which they are made aware of and taught explicitly.
  3. Schools engage students and families to come up with culturally responsive strategies and activities.
  4. Schools seek help to ensure the smooth implementation of the approach.
  5. Schools regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies and methods.
  6. They use data collected over time to analyze student progress.
  7. Schools organize professional development sessions for educators to gain expertise in PBIS.
  8. They work consistently to create a positive school climate and reinforce positive behaviors.

The PBIS Framework: A tiered approach to encourage positive student behavior

PBIS works by providing a continuum of interventions that support student-specific needs. These supports are offered in the areas of behavioral, emotional, social, and academic aspects. In order to implement these interventions and supports in an effective manner, PBIS follows a three-tiered approach.  


1. Tier 1

This includes all the systems and practices meant to support everyone who is part of a school setting, like students, teachers, and school staff. Every student learns about behavior expectations and tries to follow them. The role of teachers and school staff is to recognize good behavior and appreciate students. They are also responsible for preventing difficult behaviors and managing them respectfully if they arise.

2. Tier 2

Systems and practices belonging to Tier 2 are meant to provide targeted support based on a student’s specific needs. It is estimated that 10–15% of students need Tier 2 support to encourage positive behavior outcomes. Interventions comprising Tier 2 of the PBIS framework include regular prompts, more adult supervision, more practice of behavioral skills, frequent communication with family, and so on.  

3. Tier 3

Tier 3 is all about providing intensive interventions and support to individual students. Students who do not respond well to tier 1 and tier 2 interventions receive tier 3 support in addition to that of tiers 1 and 2. These are available to all students who need individualized attention, irrespective of whether they have special needs or not. Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), counseling, family group conferencing, special class placements, and therapy are some of the supports schools provide at tier 3 intervention.

Benefits of implementing PBIS in a school setting

It is true that implementing PBIS in a school needs time, resources, and teacher training, but many schools are now open to incorporating it into the way they function because its benefits far outweigh the efforts. Here are some positives of adopting PBIS that schools can’t ignore.

  • It improves the overall school environment and the safety of students.
  • There are fewer instances of disciplinary actions and suspensions.
  • Students develop the necessary social and emotional skills.
  • Teachers enjoy better classroom management.
  • Teachers spend less time managing behavior issues and more time on classroom instruction.
  • All this has a positive impact on the academic performance of students.

Examples of positive behavior intervention strategies

1. Setting clear expectations and routines

When students know what’s expected of them, they are more likely to exhibit such behaviors. Also, many negative behaviors are a result of fear and anxiety. Having visuals like printable positive classroom behaviors list and setting routines so students know what’s happening next can reduce these feelings and indirectly promote good behavior.

2. Offer breaks as and when needed

Offer breaks as and when needed

A short break of up to five minutes can help students self-regulate and avoid inappropriate behaviors when they are overwhelmed by constant school activities. Simple activities like deep breathing, meditation, movement breaks or brain breaks can give students an opportunity to recharge and reconnect.

3. Establish signals to convey messages

Signals are a great way to tell students when they are getting off track. Rather than speaking out loud and disturbing the entire class, teachers can create signals and let the students know what they mean. The moment a student or students need a quick intervention, use these signals to remind them how they’re expected to behave.

4. Maintain proximity to students

Sometimes, getting a little close to students is enough to remind them if they are going wrong somewhere. This works best when students are given a task, and teachers want them to concentrate. Walking around the classroom to get close to every student can ensure they focus on their work rather than getting distracted.

5. Redirect unwanted behavior

Teachers can use verbal redirection to correct student behavior and avoid power struggles. Letting them know what they are doing wrong and how they can make it right is a gentle way of promoting positive behaviors. Or, redirecting students to do something else the moment you see them acting out is another excellent approach to handling behavior challenges. Things like asking the student to deliver a note to another teacher or act as a peer helper to shift their focus can help them get back to their normal self.

6. Use positive language

The use of positive language can encourage students to display positive behaviors. Rephrase your message to tell students what they should do instead of telling them what they shouldn’t. Also, positive reinforcement and positive comments used in parent-teacher conferences can encourage students to behave properly.  

7. Praise openly, discipline privately

Disciplining publicly can sometimes have a negative impact on student behavior, as no one likes to be told about their weaknesses in front of everyone. It may help to talk to a student privately, tell them their areas for improvement, and praise them openly when they display positive behaviors.

Concluding thoughts

People who are unaware of PBIS often misunderstand its purpose. They consider it a punishment program to target students with behavioral problems. However, the fact is that PBIS is not a punishment-focused program and tries to incorporate minimal disciplinary actions. It is more about promoting positive behaviors in the entire student population of a school, not just those who have behavioral problems.

Of course, implementing PBIS in schools requires teacher training, but it is not something very difficult to manage. Many programs and resources are available to help school staff get the necessary training so they can ensure smooth implementation.

Last but not least, it would be wrong to consider PBIS a foolproof way of handling inappropriate student behaviors. No program or technique can get you perfect student behavior all the time. However, evidence[1] reveals that when implemented correctly, PBIS decreases negative student behavior and helps address issues as soon as they become apparent, so they don’t end up requiring intensive interventions in the future.


  1. Van Otterloo, J. L. (n.d.). The Effectiveness of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in Schools. NWCommons. https://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/education_masters/368/

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