How many time have you heard the phrase, “Research Says…”? We quote it, we share it, we profess how important it is. But is it? Well, in the realm of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) my experience with real schools and real teachers and real students aligns with the research very closely.
Here is my list of the Top 5 Issues that matter most in PBIS. This is supported by the research: read anything by George Sugai, Rob Horner, Don Kincaid, or Heather George to confirm. Yes, there are other people publishing, but the consensus is pretty clear on the following five elements.
#1 Principal Involvement – We say it’s important, we know leadership matters, yet people still make excuses for sending an alternative administrator to trainings and meetings. “The principal is on board” they say. “Our principal supports our team” I hear. But the research, and my experience with many many school and district teams over a decade show that if the principal is not directly involved, PBIS will not get the support it needs. Nay, it fails. By fails, I mean no measurable outcomes and no sustainability. Sorry. That’s the facts, supported by my opinion.
#2 School Team – We hear that there is “No ‘I’ in team”. Yet we all know that we rely on certain people to get things done. However, I have seen over and over again what happens when those key people leave. Everything falls apart very quickly. So, what works? Assigning team roles to members and learning to play those roles well. Use of documentation such as agenda, minutes, and action plans also lead to outcomes – but only if team members are held accountable to their responsibilities by the team leader. The leader shouldn’t be the principal. She/he has other leadership responsibilities. The principal needs to be at meetings, but whoever plays the role of the PBIS team leader has to involve everyone on the team so that if the leader changes, the team continues.
#3 Staff Ownership and Buy-In – I’m a PBIS expert (allegedly). I’ve published books, trained and coached team, and conducted enough evaluations to know the difference between ‘faking it’ and ‘making it’. So I could just give you “Dr.G’s Amazing PBIS Program” and it would work perfectly. Right? Wrong. People need to feel involved and be involved. No ownership = no fidelity. People will only get behind what they believe it and if they have a stake in the game. If it’s their idea or suggestion they will help it succeed. Yes it is faster to do it yourself, but are you interested in effort or outcomes? Our students deserve outcomes.
#4 Data Analysis and Data Sharing – OK folks, I’ll tell it like it is. Your data system cannot do what we need for PBIS. Just get SWIS, from the national PBIS center and you’ll be looking at graphs of your data without clicking a button. Honest. Every school and district since 2000 has told me that their Student Information System (SIS/SMS) can produce graphs for discipline data. Every national vendor tells me that their system can do those pretty SWIS graphs – *providing that the district purchased that package from them and/or turned on those features for their school. I have never seen it happen. Sorry. But, schools that use SWIS (and I make no money from telling you how wonderful that tool is) have the discipline data to make decisions. If they analyze that data using a Data Analysis Worksheet and share the results with staff and their community, they increase the visibility of PBIS and gain political support and funding. If not, PBIS drifts away like every other shiny program we start and end in education.
#5 District Support – Sustainability depends on district support. Schools always want to do it alone. Make it up as they go along. But Kent Mackintosh and others continue to show that schools with district support and coordination sustain PBIS longer and at higher fidelity. My experience supports that too. This is especially true for tier 2 and tier 3 supports that require deeper expertise and more specialized teams. Schools don’t have a lot of control or ability to hire school psychologists, social workers or Board Certified Behavior Analysts with the knowledge to provide the wraparound support that our most challenging students need to succeed. Those students either sink our school team and our will to continue PBIS or we exclude them and kick them out. That is not success. PBIS can help these students and we can produce measurable outcomes for all. But only with knowledgable experts and that cost money. Money that a single school typically does not have.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on theses issues whether those thoughts come from research or experience. We need both to help our schools and help all students succeed.