Schools across southeast Iowa have reported seeing a decrease in office referrals and overall behavioral problems with the implementation of a tiered behavioral support program, PBIS.
PBIS, positive behavioral interventions and supports, is a three-tier framework to help improve student behavior through positive reinforcement. According to the PBIS website, the program combines data, practices and systems to provide staff support for helping students with behavioral issues and decision making.
Mark Adams, secondary principal for the Van Buren Community School District, said his district has been in utilizing PBIS for three years. Adams is in his second year with the district and was an advocate for the program at his previous school also.
In describing the tier system, he said tier one is universal intervention where every student is aware of the expected behavior. He said in the Van Buren Community School District, this comes in the form of posters, hung around the school that tell students what the non-negotiable behaviors are.
Tier two is for students who need more intervention from teachers and tier three for students who need more one on one interventions to correct the behavior, he explained. Adams said these approaches allow the student to connect with an adult to talk about what is going on and for the teacher to get a firmer grasp on the root of the problem.
Lincoln Elementary in Washington has had a PBIS program for three years. Principal Teresa Beenblossom said before PBIS, there was no consistent system in place to address behavioral health. This system, supported by the state, does, and has proved to be effective.
Heather Buckley, Elementary Principal at Cardinal Elementary School in Maquoketa, said through the six years her school decided to implement the program, she has seen positive results.
“This system has been beneficial in improving classroom management, social/emotional development and has increased our instructional time. Our school loves PBIS because it acknowledges and celebrates our student’s efforts around positive behaviors,” she said in an email.
Buckley said the system has proved to have lasting effects as well. Not only have staff in the building noticed, but staff at the middle school as well. She said the PBIS system at the elementary works to segue the students into the middle school to meet the expectations there.
“Our office referrals for behaviors have decreased and student’s instructional time has increased. Through data collection, students needing more support are placed with an additional caring adult in the building to encourage them to make good choices and praise their successes through out the day,” she said. “In the spring of 2019, Cardinal earned the recognition of being a Banner Plus school for PBIS. To earn Banner Plus, teams had to meet fidelity for Tier 2 guidelines of PBIS and show that 70 percent of students are responding positively to the Tier 2 supports.”
In the Winfield-Mt. Union (W-MU) district, elementary principal/curriculum director Gabe Wylder said in addition to PBIS, his school has also implemented the community circle. Every morning teachers invite the students to sit together in a circle and talk about a specific socioemotional behavior.
On Friday, Oct. 25, students in Mary Miller’s fifth-grade class discussed how to give each other compliments. They talked about the difference between passive, aggressive and assertive voices and exercise use of vocabulary words as well.
Kindergarten students in Michelle Niebhur and Karen Venghaus’s classes talked about the emotion anger. After reading a book together, each student gave an example of what they could do when they are angry instead of throwing a tantrum. Answers ranged from taking a nap to singing a song to hugging their mom.
Wylder said the holistic approach they are taking is aimed at helping with the intrapersonal skill of the students and working to support mental health awareness for them as well. He said some classrooms do the community circle twice a day if the teacher feels they need extra support.
The community circles cover a wide range of topics and are adjusted to meet the needs of each classroom. Darby Harris’s second grade students worked together to build a block tower. The goal for the exercise was to work on their reaction when the tower fell over, Wylder said. He said instead of being upset the blocks fell, the exercise was to teach them to respond with problem solving thinking instead of out of anger.
First-graders in Angie Jandrey’s class worked together in pairs to solve problems. Each pair had a card with a problem on it and the students had to work together to find a solution that would fit. Wylder said this is the second year of implementation for both PBIS and community circle. He said it has worked well in his school and he has seen a difference in the number of office referrals. By giving students tools to solve their problems on their own, he said, they are now more adept to handling the problem themselves, and staff feel they have a better understanding on how to help the students.
Laura Atwood, principal at Fairfield Middle School, said her students also participate in a complimentary program to PBIS called Leader in Me. She said this is the first year the program is being rolled out and is being aimed at teaching staff to help students discover themselves as leaders.
She said in the second semester, the staff will begin implementing more student lead activities where they will have the opportunity to design and run assembles with the goal of helping them feel empowered. Atwood said the program has had a successful start in the second through eighth grade classes and will possibly make its way into the life skills class rooms as well.
Over in the Van Buren Community School District, Adams said PBIS is used district wide but specifically for the staff and 7-12th grade students in his building, he has seen great results.
“We’ve had a significant decrease in office referrals and major problems in schools. I did a staff survey at the end of last year, the beginning of this year and we had pretty significant improvements as far as teachers dealing with students understanding expectations of our building,” he said.
Beenblossom said listing the expectations has helped in her school as well. Beth Dehogeus, a member of the PBIS team at Lincoln Elementary in Washington, said students can verbalize what the expected behavior is in every room in the school.
She said now the students not only know what behavior is expected but can say why. Adams said the one big improvement he has seen in his school is the interactions between staff and students seem to be stronger when addressing the socioemotional needs of the students.
“I think it helps to build relationships. There’s a 4:1 ratio goal in PBIS, which means we want teachers to actively be having four positive interactions with kids for every one corrective action,” he said.
To go along with the tier one criteria, he said a ticket system is in place where if a student is discovered doing something positive, such as holding a door for someone, they get a ticket for good behavior. Beenblossom said her students in Washington have this system in place as well. Each ticket a student in the Washington district earns is put toward the goal of earning 1,000 tickets.
Every other Monday an all school assembly is held and a washing machine, to represent their “Wash pride,” is the center of attention. For every 1,000 tickets the students earn, a pice of laundry is pulled from the machine.
There are eight articles of clothing inside and all spell out “WASH PRIDE.” Once the students work together to earn enough tickets to hang up all the laundry and spell out the key phrase, they earn a schoolwide celebration. Beenblossom said this has worked well at her school and the students enjoy it so much they have asked for weekly assembles.
Michael Gossen, principal at Harlan Elementary in Mt. Pleasant, said the school has been utilizing the PBIS system for about eight years. According to data collected by the school, the majority of students fall into the tier one category, he said. Gossen said 4-8 percent of students fall into the tier two category and less than 3 percent fall under tier three.
He said tier two is a more personalized form of intervention and used for students who do not respond well to the tier one methods. The most common practice for tier two intervention is check-in/check-out, where a student checks in and out with the teachers they see throughout the day to monitor their progress.
Tier three is for students who need even more support, which generally comes in the form of one-on-one sessions between teacher and student to address the problems arising in the classroom. Gossen said since the program hs been fully implemented, he has seen a dramatic decrease in behavioral related problems.
He said he is an advocate for the program because as an educator, his biggest goal is to support students and teach them not only academics, but how to be better people.
“One of the things that I say often is when a kid can’t do math, we teach them how to do math. When a kid can’t read, we teach them how to read. So what do we do with a kid who can’t behave? We teach them. We’re teachers, we’re educators and we’re here to support our communities and our families,” he said.