By Annette Reichman | Point of View
Creating a positive educational environment has been the primary goal of schools and educators nationwide; however, for the past several years — especially post-COVID — students have struggled to appropriately manage their emotions and behaviors which, in turn, has resulted in incidents of bullying at higher rates than ever seen before.
This phenomenon has been increasingly apparent to me during the last several years as the superintendent of Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB).
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program (PBIS)
In an attempt to reduce bullying and increase a more positive student culture, ASDB is committed to incorporating the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program. The goal of PBIS is to eliminate poor behavior schoolwide by encouraging positive behaviors, thus creating a positive school climate where students come to learn how to behave in appropriate ways and improve their emotional intelligence.
This method is critical in schools such as Phoenix Day School for the Deaf where all students face some level of disability and teachers face monumental challenges in facilitating positive interaction among all students on campus.
PBIS has several guiding principles we follow, namely:
- The belief that students are capable of learning appropriate behaviors.
- Schools should establish a system for providing a system for teaching appropriate behaviors in the same manner we teach English, math, or science.
- Intervene early so the behaviors do not become more serious.
- Meet students where they are by understanding their instructional needs.
- Follow research-based practices.
- Document and track student data and use that information to determine if behaviors have improved.
- Be consistent by standardizing the behavioral expectations in all classrooms.
This is what we have implemented at Phoenix Day School for the Deaf and are expanding to our Tucson campus this fall.
A three-tiered approach is the easiest way to implement PBIS and the method we use at both of our campuses.
Tier 1 focuses on primary prevention by setting positive behaviors all students should follow. Nearly 80% of students are easily able to implement the behaviors outlined in Tier 1.
Tier 2 focuses on helping specific groups of students who are disruptive. They may face underlying issues that cause disruptive behaviors such as emotional, social, or academic difficulties. To best support these students, we develop specialized intervention to prevent the problematic behaviors from getting worse. Roughly 15% of students within a school can benefit from the implementation of Tier 2.
Tier 3 is designed to help the 5% of students who exhibit high-risk behaviors and are the most disruptive. To support these students, an individualized plan is created to modify their negative behaviors. Often, school psychologists or special education teachers need to be involved in order to assess the student and develop an appropriate plan for them to follow.
Why PBIS works
As the focus becomes teaching positive and appropriate behavior instead of punishing misbehavior the climate within the school changes for the better. Students feel safer, are more respectful and are more engaged as a result of PBIS implementation.
There is less bullying and more collaboration among students. Empathy increases and school culture improves dramatically.
While we cannot claim this will stop all negative behaviors, it is a step in the direction we want to go — to a learning environment where bullying is not an everyday occurrence and students genuinely work to understand one another. It is top priority to ensure we as educators are doing all we can to provide a supportive, caring place for students to learn.
The hope is a collective group effort centered around a desire to rise above the typical school problems and provide a framework to improve communication and learning for all students, no matter what obstacles they may face. At ASDB, the approach is simply to teach students what the expected behaviors are rather than punishing them for acting out in negative ways.
If they are unaware of the expectations we have for their behavior, they won’t be able to meet those expectations. Often, they simply need to be reminded or re-taught the specific guidelines for appropriately interacting with others in a school setting. We must also provide explicit instructions for behavioral expectations, give students opportunities to practice the behaviors and provide feedback on these new behaviors.
The goal is that all our students can make it all the way through to graduation and be ready for life after graduation whether that be going on to college or into a career. They can’t successfully do either of those things if they do not know how to behave appropriately.
Ultimately, as educators, this is our responsibility and privilege to guide all students in this way so they can be part of the solution schools need to reduce bullying and ensure all learning environments are truly a positive place to learn.
Editor’s note: Annette Reichman is superintendent, Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind.