Dos and Don’ts of PBIS: 10 Ways to Increase Equity and Authentic Positive Reinforcement
There’s no magic. Creating an environment that’s rich in protective factors for kids and gets rid of contraindicated practices, gets rid of practices that harm kids, shames kids, isolates kids, you have to show up and do it every day and it has to be from top to bottom.
– Jessica Swain-Bradway, Executive Director of the Northwest PBIS Network
PBIS has received both acclaim and criticism. At its best, PBIS can create a warm school climate, improve academic performance, and reduce punitive discipline. At its worst, it’s exclusionary, counterproductive, and even racist.
However, as Jessica Swain-Bradway explains, “We know that there are a lot of errors in thinking about positive behavior support. In light of what’s going on in our country, people think that it’s racist. People miss the point that all systems and all practices could be implemented through implicit bias, and many of them are implemented in biased ways to privilege our white kids and to disproportionately harm our Black and Brown kids. If we use PBIS to establish the status quo, that’s what we get.”
Therefore, instead of ditching the entire philosophy and practice of PBIS, we need to be aware of and prevent implicit biases from influencing our systems and practices.
- Eliminate punitive policies and integrate consequences that are logical, restorative, and avoid exclusion or public shaming
- Increase equity-based practices
- Implement authentic positive reinforcement that all students actually receive/earn
When consequences are needed, they should be logical, restorative, and avoid exclusion or public shaming, like antiquated stop light clip charts, which can cause psychological harm.
- Cultural responsiveness
- Identifying biases in behavior expectations and the educators who uphold them
- Disaggregating data to correct patterns of bias as they arise
- Student and family voice and choice
AUTHENTIC POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT:
- Specific and genuine praise
- Student choice:
- activity selection
- task transition song selection
- read-aloud book/story selection
All positive reinforcement reinforcement practices should be non-exclusionary—all students should and do receive reinforcements; there should not just be the illusion that all students “can.”
While much of the daily implementation of PBIS depends on adult behaviors, educators cannot be effective without systems of support in place. Teachers need resources, class sizes, training, and wraparound services that promote their mental health and wellbeing, as well as those of the students and families they serve. Equitable implementation of PBIS requires a truly system-wide approach.