Are you trying to figure out your elevator speech about PBIS? PBIS has a lot of moving parts that work together to create safe, efficient and effective learning environments. Describing it quickly and easily can be difficult. You can use this cheat sheet to help.

A Brief History of PBIS

The beginning of PBIS was in Oregon and the University of Oregon. Researchers  looked for and developed interventions for use with students who had emotional-behavioral disorders. They noticed that in order to prevent unwanted negative behaviors they needed three things:

  • Evidence based practices that teach new behaviors
  • Ways of teaching the new behaviors explicitly, mindfully and step-by-step
  • Data collection that monitored progress toward meeting social skills goals

In 1997 Congress renewed the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and secured funding to establish the National Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports ( With all of the research on PBIS now housed in one spot, the new ideas about behavior change grew, from the special education classrooms to the general education classrooms, to a school-wide structure. In 2004 Rob Horner and George Sugai wrote the PBIS Blueprint to guide practitioners of PBIS.

PBIS: For All Students by All Staff

PBIS is a framework used to organize your school community. It is grounded in a continuum of evidence-based interventions and strategies that are used school-wide, for all students by all staff. The PBIS framework includes these eight key features:

  • A PBIS leadership team that guides the school in the implementation of the PBIS framework.
  • A statement of purpose – why is your school going to implement PBIS?
  • 3 – 5 positively worded behavioral expectations for behavior and classroom engagement for the school.
  • A behavior matrix explaining what the expectations look like school-wide.
  • Lesson plans to teach the expectations on the behavior matrix.
  • An acknowledgement system that recognizes when students are using and generalizing the expected behaviors.
  • A flowchart of detailed procedures showing how to handle student misbehaviors school-wide, both in the classroom and in other areas of the school.
  • A data-based system for monitoring the implementation efforts, fidelity of implementation (is everyone doing the plan the same way? Using the same words?), and looking at outcomes, usually a reduction on office discipline referrals (ODRs).

Implementing PBIS in Stages

Some schools spend about a year getting ready for PBIS. First, PBIS is presented to staff and they vote. When at least 80% of your staff votes YES then it’s time for the next stage. Administration puts your leadership team together. The PBIS leadership team reviews data to answer the question: is there a problem at our school? What is the major cause of concern?

  • High numbers of behavior referrals
  • Lots of major behaviors – fighting, swearing, bullying
  • Low academic achievement
  • Number of students enrolled is decreasing
  • Attendance is less than what the district wants it to be

Eventually, the team attends training, usually provided by the state department of education, or perhaps at a university. Most states have a PBIS website; Google to see what is available in your area.

Teams may spend a year getting organized and preparing the above-mentioned eight elements. Interventions and strategies are researched so they match problem behaviors. Systems are designed for teachers; practices are designed for students. Then, usually in the fall, tier one implementation begins. After a full year of tier one implementation, and only when you feel like that is working and beginning to show results, then look at adding tiers two and three.

  • Tier one is for school-wide use to prevent problem behaviors
  • Tier two is targeted to small groups and supplements other interventions.
  • Tier three are intensive, individualized interventions for high risk students.

Your Next Step for PBIS

That is PBIS explained in a nutshell. The most basic elements and parts; the moving pieces that make it whole. Highlight the parts that jump out at you and begin to write your elevator speech.

You can start like this… “PBIS is a framework that helps schools to organize themselves proactively around disruptive behavior.” What comes after that is up to you. Make it meaningful to your school with short sentences that pack a punch. Practice it a few times and you’ll be great.

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