Behavioral Supports, Interventions, and Discipline

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

PBIS is an evidence-based framework used in the elementary schools and Maple Avenue Middle School to foster positive behavior and safety. The focus is on prevention rather than punishment, and on reducing exclusionary discipline that removes students from the classroom (e.g., office referrals, suspensions, restraint, and seclusion). PBIS puts the focus on educating, preventing problems, and using logical consequences through a three-tiered approach

Tier 1: All students in the school are explicitly taught behavioral expectations and provided universal supports to be successful. Teachers and staff recognize students who, through their actions, demonstrate understanding of the expectations. Recognition can include rewards (e.g., Blue Streak Bucks or Toga Tickets). 

Tier 2: Targeted additional support is provided to students who have challenges meeting certain behavioral expectations so they can develop the skills needed to be successful.  The support includes more opportunities to practice with feedback.

Tier 3: Individualized intensive supports and services are provided to students with ongoing behavioral concerns.

Students are held accountable for unexpected behaviors with a focus on learning. Student Reflection Sheets (White Forms), where students reflect on their choices and how to improve, and Referral Forms (Pink Forms), where the school formally communicates with families about student behaviors, are part of this accountability. Successful implementation of PBIS can lead to increased academic performance especially for students with disabilities, a reduction in bullying, decreased rates of student reported drug abuse, and social-emotional competencies. 

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL is defined by CASEL (Collaborative Association for Social and Emotional Learning) as “[t]he process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

The curriculum focuses on enhancing development in 5 overlapping areas of children’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral development. They are:

  1. Self-Awareness: the ability to accurately recognize, identify and articulate one’s emotions and thoughts and how they impact one’s own behavior
  2. Self-Management: one’s ability to manage and regulate emotions, behaviors and thoughts effectively in various situations
  3. Decision Making: One’s ability to make choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.
  4. Relationship Skills: One’s ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships and collaborations with diverse individuals and groups and learning not to take other’s behaviors personally.
  5. Social-Awareness: One’s ability to consider the well being of one’s self and others when making choices and interacting with others. Taking the perspective of and empathizing with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures; understanding social and ethical norms for behavior; and recognizing where there are family, school, and community resources and supports.

Social Emotional Learning has been widely studied and the research shows students who received targeted education in the above 5 areas are more likely to earn better test scores and to earn a diploma, exhibit lower amounts of aggression and enjoy more stable and healthy relationships.

Critique of PBIS and SEL

One of the critiques of PBIS and SEL is that they are “colorblind” in their failure to consider how power, privilege, cultural differences and structural biases impact learning as well as the administration of academic discipline.  Another critique is that these models focus on the students and not on the adults around them or the ecology of the school. This is problematic because educators and parents have a huge impact on students, for better or worse, and their biased-based beliefs and discriminatory practices profoundly affect students’ school experiences. 

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a model of community healing that weaves together restitution and racial justice. Restorative justice has long been practiced among the First Nations people in Canada and the Maori of New Zealand. Howard Zehr’s book about RJ in 1990 was one of the first to describe RJ through a Western lens. The RJ framework posits that crimes are viewed as violations of people and relationships and responses need to address both directly. Paired with SEL and PBIS, RJ approaches can narrow the racial discipline gap.

RJ practices have been adopted by individual schools and districts across the country (the Oakland Unified School District in California, for example) to build community and address racial disparities in areas like student discipline. Rather than using suspension and expulsion as primary means of justice, RJ models focus on reformative and conciliatory practices like restorative circles, face-to face meetings between offending persons and those who were wronged, community service projects, creation of community norms, apology letters, and in empathy development starting with the very youngest of students. Teachers, students, and administrators are all tasked with making and keeping agreements that meet the needs of all stakeholders in the community. The data coming out of districts like Minneapolis, Denver, Oakland, and San Antonio that have adopted RJ models is compelling and inspiring. There have been significant reductions in suspensions and expulsions, decreases in absenteeism, increases in graduation rates, and meaningful shifts in community culture.

Additional Resources