5-Point Intervention Approach: Implementing PBIS with a Racial Equity Mindset

There are people who will say, ‘We don’t have time for school climate because we have so much on our plate.’ And my philosophy is school climate is the plate that everything else has to go on.

– Peter Dewitt

The five components of equity within a PBIS framework are:

1. Collect, Use, and Report Disaggregated Discipline Data

A foundational component of any effective practice is using data to

  • Identify the extent of the challenge
  • Understand why it’s happening
  • Plan interventions
  • Monitor progress toward goals

This element of PBIS is central for assessing and addressing equity. Any school or district committed to reducing discipline inequities should adopt data systems that can disaggregate student data by race, ethnicity, and disability and provide instantaneous access to these data for both school and district teams. However, simply having access to disaggregated data is not enough to move the needle. Educators need to understand the various ways to measure discipline disparities, including how they are calculated and what they tell us.

2. Implement a Preventive, Multi-Tiered, Culturally-Responsive Behavior Framework

School systems can either reflect a biased society or provide a protective buffer against it. To make school a protective place, teams should adopt a behavior framework that is preventive, instructional, and flexible enough to be tailored to the strengths, needs, and values of its students, families, and community. PBIS can be implemented with fidelity only when it is adapted to fit the local context, which means attending directly to aspects of culture.

3. Use Engaging Instruction to Reduce the Opportunity Gap

Racial disparities in academic achievement are commonly called the achievement gap. This label implies the challenge lies within the student, when really it’s a lack of opportunity for effective instruction causing the divide. It is more instructive to call this disparity the opportunity gap. Teams can ensure each student group has equitable access to engaging instruction by including these four components:

  • Using explicit instruction
  • Building and priming background knowledge
  • Increasing opportunities to respond
  • Providing performance feedback.

4. Develop Policies with Accountability for Disciplinary Equity

Even policies making no mention of race or ethnicity (e.g., zero-tolerance discipline codes) can exacerbate inequities because of their impact on student-teacher interactions. Instead, administrators and policymakers should adopt policies with clear definitions and discipline procedures, replace harmful practices with instructional responses to unwanted behavior, and install accountability for improving outcomes.

5. Teach Strategies for Neutralizing Implicit Bias in Discipline Decisions

Research increasingly shows the influence of implicit bias on classroom and school discipline decisions. There are strategies educators can use to identify and neutralize their implicit biases before they affect decision making, including:

  • Identifying vulnerable decision points – specific discipline situations more prone to implicit bias
  • Learning strategies to help educators respond in line with their values.

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