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12 Examples of PBIS Strategies for the Classroom

11 Min Read
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If you’ve been working in education for a while, you’re likely familiar with the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework. States, districts, and schools have made PBIS a requirement to try and improve student behaviors and, ultimately, academic results. Schools now use PBIS to reduce discipline referrals, communicate with students, and much more. 

But what does PBIS in the classroom really look like? And what kind of PBIS strategies can you use in your school to make it work?  

Positive Classroom Behavior Support (PCBS)  

First, let’s talk about PCBS. Before we get into PBIS strategies, we want to introduce you to Positive Classroom Behavior Support, or PCBS. This is simply a way of using the critical features of PBIS—practices, systems, and data—to create better outcomes in the classroom. Here’s what it looks like:  

  • Practices are what teachers do to prevent negative behaviors and encourage positive behaviors. These practices also include how we respond to different behaviors in the classroom. 
  • Systems are the supports that are provided by the district and the administrators to help teachers implement PCBS. 
  • Data are the individual pieces of information that the teacher collects and uses to shape decisions in the classroom. Using evidence based on data, teachers can determine what’s working and what needs to be modified. 

PBIS Examples: How to Use PBIS in the Classroom

Positive behavior intervention and support strategies are designed to help educators design a new teaching environment by developing new classroom routines and improving expectations in the classroom. You’ll notice less disruption, more instruction and a marked improvement in student behavior and academic success. Here are some PBIS examples that are commonly practiced in schools: 

1. Setting classroom expectations

Students are better able to meet expectations when they know what those expectations are in the first place. If your school already implements a PBIS strategy, your individual classroom expectations should complement the expectations of your schoolwide model.  

Invite your students to collaborate on determining goals and expectations. This promotes a sense of collaboration and also fosters continued buy-in and engagement among your students. 

Each expectation should be well defined: “Being responsible means turning in my work on time to the proper shelf and then quietly returning to my seat.” They should also be positively stated, such as “Keep hands and feet to yourself” rather than “Don’t touch others.” 

Once determined, classroom expectations need to be clearly displayed somewhere in the classroom, such as through a PBIS behavior chart. Visibly posting classroom expectations provides students with a guide for: 

  • Behavioral goals 
  • Possible interventions 
  • Examples for the classroom  

In an effective PBIS classroom, teachers need to explicitly teach these expectations, using examples and opportunities for students to practice, and to continually refer to these examples when they interact with students throughout the year. This reminds students of appropriate behaviors, helps them develop a language that’s used to talk about behavior in the classroom, and ensures that they continue to maintain those expectations as time goes on.    

2. Developing and teaching classroom routines

Highly effective classrooms have highly effective routines. Teachers need to establish, teach, and practice these routines so students can spend more time learning and less time on activity transitions.  

After setting your classroom expectations, outline any core routines that will best facilitate those behavior goals. Just like the classroom expectations, this outline of routines should be posted in the classroom for students to review throughout the year. 

Establishing routines throughout the day creates consistency and streamlines transitions between activities. This reduces the number of interruptions in a given day and decreases opportunities for negative behaviors. It also reinforces expectations by promoting routines that correspond with specific behaviors every time. 

Consider routines for how to turn in work, how to pass out materials, how to make up for missed work, and what to do when finishing an assignment. For example, you can provide an extra activity for the students such as a reading corner or completing practice activities at a digital workstation. Teachers often have arrival and dismissal routines so students know how to start and end the day without disrupting the learning process.  

Through PBIS, students learn how and when to ask for help in a positive school setting. It’s essential to teach these routines initially and then revisit them periodically throughout the year. Don’t assume that students inherently know to follow the routines. Instead, provide students with the tools and practice necessary to eventually perform the routines independently.   

3. Beginning activities with proactive reminders

PBIS is focused heavily on prevention rather than punishment. After setting your classroom expectations and procedures in the beginning of the year, you can give students quick reminders of the expectations before they start an activity. Keep your intervention brief and relevant, noting specific expectations, rubrics, or behaviors related to the upcoming activity.  

This brief nudge gives students an immediate opportunity to practice the desired behaviors. They are less likely to need interventions if they focus on the correct outcomes in the first place.  

4. Thoughtfully designing the classroom environment

Being intentional about the design of your classroom is also a powerful PBIS classroom strategy. It streamlines transitions where distractions or disruptions are likely to occur. It also facilitates positive behaviors by matching the layout of the space to the goals of the people in it. When using PBIS practices to design a classroom, teachers have a lot to keep in mind:

  • A learning environment should be flexible enough to support various classroom activities (small groups, whole groups, individualized support, learning centers, etc.). You can change your seating arrangements to match the delivery or goals of the day’s lessons.  
  • Teachers and students should be able to move around freely in the classroom. Avoid placing desks near high-traffic areas. 
  • Materials should be organized, and teachers should ensure the students have access to helpful resources (posters with math formulas, a word wall, etc.) 
  • Teachers should provide assigned seating and areas to help students stay focused during learning activities.  
  • All students should be seen and have a place for their belongings.

Examples of appropriate classroom design might include having tables set up for lab activities in the classroom, using desks for individual work time, facing all seats forward for whole-group instruction, or arranging the students in a circle for a discussion. 

5. Creating a calming corner

A calming corner is a quiet area of your classroom where students can go to reset from negative behaviors or emotions. It’s important to remember that a calming corner is neither a punishment nor a time-out. This is a positive place in the classroom that supports students when they need quiet and calm.  

After designing a calming corner, be sure to teach students how to effectively use the space. Give them the tools to succeed in a calming corner by teaching them how to manage their stress or modify inappropriate behaviors in the space. Be prepared to revisit these lessons throughout the year and offer continuing support. 

6. Scheduling time blocks

Time blocking avoids unstructured downtime when distractions and disruptive behavior are most likely to occur in a classroom. By breaking the day into manageable chunks of activity, you ensure that all parts of the day (including breaks) occur intentionally. You can design your day around the unique needs of your students. 

For example, if your class’s attention peaks in the morning and students are restless after lunch, you can plan more challenging activities for the morning when they’re the most focused. Then, allocate the afternoon for group discussions or game-based learning.  

7. Using active supervision and proximity

Teachers are often constantly on their toes, moving around the classroom and interacting with individual students. You can use this time to provide quality feedback to students. While teaching, you can do a visual sweep of the classroom to check for student behavior and understanding. 

When students are engaged in activities, use that time to actively monitor them. Walk around the classroom and observe the following: 

  • Is everyone engaged? 
  • Are they understanding the material? 
  • Are all students participating? 
  • Who needs support?

Take the time to also speak with your students as a part of actively monitoring them. Encourage a classroom environment of feedback, discussion, and collaboration. When this takes place in the classroom effectively, you’ll notice that teachers are: 

  • Talking to their students and soliciting feedback (e.g., “How are you doing on question two?”)
  • Moving around and standing near students as they work 
  • Overseeing transitions between activities to ensure they go smoothly 

8. Allowing every student a chance to respond

Students need opportunities to speak up in class so that they feel like an active part of your classroom’s community. This can include individual or small-group questioning as well as unison and non-verbal responses. Some teachers will randomly call individual students using popsicle sticks or strips of paper with the students’ names on them. Others will use a seating chart. The main goal is to give every student a chance to respond.  

Another popular response method is think-pair-share. In this activity, a teacher presents a question. The students are given time to think about it individually and then paired with a classmate to share their thoughts before discussing the question with the entire class. As for non-verbal response methods, teachers often use thumbs-up and thumbs-down or hands-up and hands-down responses.

9. Reinforcing and promoting positive behaviors

Give students specific, positive, and relevant feedback. Recognize when students correctly exhibit the appropriate behaviors either as a class or individually. When possible, link the positive feedback to the classroom PBIS chart and goals.

The use of praise is important to encourage positive behaviors in the classroom. PBIS methods stress that praise needs to be specific, timely, and sincere. It should be aimed at what works for each individual student. As a rule of thumb, each student should receive five praise comments for every one corrective comment.

Here are some examples of specific, timely, and sincere praise:

  • “Thank you for focusing on the lesson today and waiting to talk to your friend at recess.”
  • “I see students gathering up their supplies and putting them away in the correct spot today. This is a big help for moving on to the next activity!”

10. Implementing rewards and incentives

Aside from praise, there are other strategies to encourage positive behavior in the classroom. PBIS uses behavior contracts, group contingencies, and token economies.

  • Behavior contracts are lists of behaviors whose rewards and consequences are agreed upon by the class. Students can help create these contracts for the class, and all students can sign it to indicate that they’re committing to these behaviors.
  • Group contingencies are rewards that the entire class can earn by behaving well as a group. For example, a teacher could offer free seating arrangements on Fridays if all students are in their seats when the bell rings for the entire week.
  • Token economies are classroom rewards based on a given system, such as stickers, tally marks, bonus points, poker chips, etc. In these classrooms, students are working hard to earn these tokens in order to gain a bigger reward.

11. Providing Constructive Redirection

Redirection is another opportunity to use positive language in the classroom. When redirecting in a PBIS classroom, it’s important to be specific, respectful, and supportive in your feedback. Quickly point out where the error is, remind the student of the appropriate behavior, and give them a chance to try again with the desired behavior.

This kind of redirection can be done individually or with the entire class and can come in the form of verbal reminders, routine phrases, or nonverbal cues.

12. Correcting student behaviors 

Of course, even the most effective classrooms will still have students who demonstrate negative behaviors. When this happens, teachers need to intervene with brief and specific corrections. According to PBIS, teachers should state the observed behavior and then tell what the student should do in the future. Corrections should be brief and respectful. If the student’s outcome is to correct the behavior, the teacher should follow this up with praise for that student.

For example, a student might be off task during class. A teacher could approach this student and say, “Steve, please begin your assignment.” Once the student returns to the task, and maintains momentum, the teacher may approach him and comment, “Thank you for being responsible and getting to work on your assignment.” This correction (and praise) is just a small step in helping students understand the desired behaviors in class.

Using PBIS Classroom Management Strategies Can Make a Difference

There are numerous ways to use PBIS classroom management strategies depending on the unique needs of each population. On a school-wide or district-wide scale, PBIS helps keep teachers on the same page by standardizing some of the classroom management terminology and expectations. Inside each classroom, teachers have the power to implement PBIS on a smaller scale that can make a very big difference.

Day-to-day classroom interactions are where behavioral expectations can be taught, practiced, and mastered. The above examples of positive behavior supports in the classroom can be customized to develop a learning environment that fosters positive behaviors, constructive engagement, and academic success in all students.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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