How Positive Behavior Support Can Work In A School Setting
Working Together: Family-School Collaboration in Positive Behavior Support
Positive behavior support (PBS) combines the principles of applied behavior analysis with person, family, and system-centered practices to improve behavior and quality of life. Many of the articles in Parenting Special Needs Magazine have focused on how to use PBS in homes and community settings (e.g., see Special Issue). In this article, we will focus on how PBS is applied in schools and how family members and educators can work together to improve child behavior across settings.
What are the Key Features of PBS?
Regardless of where, when, or with whom PBS is used, it has consistent key features. First, PBS is focused not only on improving behavior, but enhancing lives as well. This means helping children and their families go more places and do more things, enjoy their relationships, and experience satisfying and productive lives. To meet this goal, PBS involves building support teams (e.g., parents, friends, service providers) to plan and work together.
Second, PBS relies on objective information. Prior to developing strategies, teams observe and record patterns surrounding children’s behavior. They look at what happens before and after behavior because learning allows teams to create more individualized and effective interventions. Data are also collected throughout the process to make sure the strategies are being used consistently and are resulting in the desired changes (e.g., tracking how long your child is able to participate in activities or how long tantrums go on).
Finally, PBS plans include multiple components. Proactive strategies reduce the likelihood of problem behavior and/or prompt positive behavior. They might include organizing the environment, clarifying expectations, using visual cues, or breaking down difficult tasks. Plans also focus on teaching desirable behavior such that allow children to meet their needs more appropriately (e.g., using words instead of whining or tantrums to communicate) and participate more effectively in activities. And finally, plans include maximizing positive consequences for positive behavior while minimizing reinforcement for problem behavior (e.g., giving attention when your child asks nicely rather than for slamming objects, allowing breaks between chores rather than for dawdling).
How is PBS Implemented in Schools?
PBS is applied in schools using something called a multi-tiered model – see the triangle image below. System-wide strategies form the base of the triangle. These strategies – establishing expectations, rewarding good behavior, teaching academic and social skills, using data to make decisions, and, in general, creating a positive school climate – are simply best practices for ALL students. When SOME students do not respond to the system-wide strategies, they may require strategies depicted in the middle tier of the triangle. These might include providing additional structure in classrooms or other school settings, social skills groups, peer mediation, or behavioral contracts and monitoring programs such as Check-In/Check-Out.
Even with a variety of tiered system-wide and group-level strategies, a FEW students may require more comprehensive, individualized interventions to support their behavior. This intensive level is shown at the peak of the triangle. These interventions are developed following an assessment to determine the functions of the student’s behavior and include individualized proactive, teaching, and management strategies. For example, a plan for a student whose behavior is motivated by avoiding task demands might include simplifying or shortening his work, reminding him to request breaks when frustrated, and rewarding longer periods of work with activities he enjoys. Schools benefit from offering PBS strategies at all three levels and using effective problem-solving processes to match the intensity and type of strategies used to students’ needs.
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