PBIS links behavior with solid academics

April 20, 2011

The Wauwatosa School District is trying to build better schools from the inside out.

To that end, the district has launched an initiative called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, or PBIS, a program that has been gaining traction statewide in the last several years.

PBIS looks at existing practices in place in schools and determines how to best use them to boost academic performance, improve safety and reduce problematic behaviors.

"At the heart of PBIS, what we're trying to do is build and enhance a positive school culture," said Emilie O'Connor, the district's external PBIS coach.

Building on what's there

Wauwatosa launched the initiative at a handful of schools this fall and has since expanded the program's scope districtwide.

Longfellow Middle School and Wauwatosa East and West high schools were the first to launch the program, and it expanded to four elementary schools in December. This month, five more elementary schools joined the initiative.

O'Connor said PBIS, which was started at the University of Oregon in the 1990s, has proven successful across the country, with schools seeing increases in academic performances and decreases in disciplinary referrals.

The good part about PBIS is that it provides a systematic approach to student behavior for all schools, O'Connor said. And schools don't have to build something from scratch - they can simply add on to what's already working there.

"It's not just the school being out on its own trying to implement its own behavior program," she said.

Each building has one or two internal coaches - teachers, counselors or social workers - who help guide the effort in the schools. The schools and the district also are collecting data about academic performance and student behavior, and that will be used to help shape the program in the future.

Underwood Elementary launched its PBIS initiative last week, and school social worker Stacey Braund said the program should provide a more consistent message to students as far as what is acceptable behavior.

Rewarding positive behavior

"I see the purpose behind it as putting all children behaviorally at an equal playing level," she said. "They know exactly what's expected of them."

As part of its kickoff, Underwood staff members took students to different areas inside and outside the school - hallways, classrooms, the playground and the like - and talked to them about expectations for their behavior. Students are expected to be safe, responsible and respectful in all areas of the school, Braund said.

Students who act appropriately are given "glow notes" - the school nickname is the Fireflies - and students can work together to earn rewards as a school.

Working already at West

Wauwatosa West's organizers say the program is reaping rewards, even though it has been in place for less than a year.

"I think we've already seen a difference," said English teacher Julie Manders, one of the internal coaches for the program. "It began and the kids really started to buy into it."

Manders said West has teamed up with local businesses to reward students engaging in positive behaviors. For instance, if a child is selected as the "student of the week," they can receive free movie passes or a coupon for a free burrito at Chipotle, she said.

Teachers also are asked to randomly reward students who arrive to class on time.


The four elements of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports:

Systems: schoolwide policies and procedures

Data: used to guide decision-making and measure student achievement

Practices: programs that enhance student learning and educational approaches

Outcomes: academic and behavioral targets sought by students, parents and educators

Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction


For more information about PBIS:

Wauwatosa School District: wauwatosaschools.org

Department of Public Instruction: dpi.state.wi.us/rti/pbis.html

Wisconsin PBIS Network: www.wisconsinpbisnetwork.org


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