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How to Create a PBIS Behavior Plan

9 Min Read
How to Create a PBIS Behavior Plan

Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based framework that promotes positive behaviors in the classroom and school. PBIS has been shown to create a more inclusive, robust, and positive learning environment for students and teachers. At the center of every successful PBIS strategy is the PBIS behavior plan. Let’s review how to create the best possible plan to set your students up for success.

What Is a PBIS Behavior Plan?

Sometimes called a PBIS behavior matrix or a behavior management plan, a PBIS behavior plan acts as a guideline for your entire PBIS initiative. The behavior plan establishes specific goals and provides a strong foundation upon which the program can grow. It outlines:

  • Goals and expectations
  • Examples of positive behaviors
  • Incentives and rewards
  • Supports for negative behaviors

PBIS plans can work at the school or classroom level. If a school implements a schoolwide PBIS plan, teachers have a framework they can follow when designing their own classroom plan. Details will vary according to the unique needs of that classroom. However, the overall goals and language will follow those of the school’s behavior plan. This approach allows smaller populations to customize their plans for a targeted approach while still creating continuity schoolwide.

7 Steps to Building a PBIS Action Plan

Step 1: Determine Your Goals

A successful program depends on a clear direction. Before you establish specific behavioral goals, some important questions to ask include:

  • What are some problem areas to address?
  • What values do you want to promote?
  • What behaviors can you foster to achieve those values?

For administrators implementing a school-wide PBIS behavior plan:

This is a great opportunity to encourage teacher buy-in. Their time in the classroom can provide valuable insights as to which positive behaviors are needed, which on the list you should prioritize, and what is needed to support adoption in the classroom. PBIS depends on a comprehensive support system. Inviting teachers to collaborate in creating a PBIS action plan will strengthen this network.

For teachers creating a classroom PBIS behavior plan:

Inviting students to create the plan with you is also a great way to foster buy-in. Working together on the plan gives students a sense of ownership over their success. The focus becomes less about rules imposed by teachers and more about a mutual set of expectations shared by the entire class. Students are also more likely to understand the expectations because they helped to create the guidelines. 

Step 2: Identify Key Behaviors to Focus On

The first step in creating a PBIS behavior intervention plan is identifying the goals that you want your students to achieve. You can then create your positive behavioral support plan with the desired outcomes in mind. 

After establishing a series of goals, you can determine which positive qualities and constructive behaviors your students will need to develop to achieve those goals. These behaviors could include:

  • Consistent attendance 
  • Punctuality and timekeeping
  • Increased class participation
  • Effective communication
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Displaying kindness and consideration toward classmates
  • Leadership
  • Proactivity
  • Critical thinking 
  • Creativity
  • Improved conflict resolution
  • Preparedness and organization
  • Perseverance
  • Self-reliance
  • Taking greater pride in one’s work
  • School pride

Depending on how many desired behaviors you select, you may need to prioritize them and start by focusing on your top three or four. When your school successfully implements a process for teaching those behaviors, you can turn your attention to the rest of your objectives. 

Step 3: Think in Terms of Routines

In addition to deciding which individual behaviors you’d like your students to adopt, you could also base your PBIS classroom management plan on the various routines that students perform each day. 

Each of these routines encompasses a series of desirable behaviors. When you frame PBIS in the context of familiar routines, students are encouraged to behave well, but also understand why these requirements exist. This framing is particularly helpful for younger students. Classroom routines could include:

  • Entering the class
  • Completing a daily warm-up activity
  • Exiting the class (for recess, lunch, bathroom breaks, etc.)
  • In-class participation (answering questions, working in groups, etc.)
  • Getting the teacher’s attention when needed

Step 4: Fine-Tune Your Students’ Learning Environment

When building your plan, you’ll want to consider whether your students’ environment is helping them to adopt the appropriate behaviors. Ask yourself what changes you can make to your classroom to encourage students to adopt the desired behaviors. Even small amendments can make a significant difference. Here are some examples:

  • Spacing: Is everything optimally positioned in the classroom to minimize distractions? Do students have enough space to focus on the tasks at hand without disrupting one another?
  • Strategic Seating: Place disruptive students next to classmates who have shown themselves to be a positive influence. Similarly, separate students who have negative influences on each other.
  • A Cool-Down Space: Consider creating a space for students to go if they’re not behaving appropriately or if their emotions are running high. Depending on the details of your behavior plan and the specific interventions you’ve chosen, students may choose to visit the cool-down space themselves.

Step 5: Decide How Will You Incentivize Your Students

A PBIS behavior plan rewards students for correctly adopting a set of desired positive behaviors. This begs the question: How will you incentivize your students to learn and display the right behaviors? How will you reward them when they do so? Rewards can be broken down into individual rewards and whole-class rewards. 

Individual rewards recognize the efforts of particular students and demonstrate to the class the benefits of behaving appropriately. Individual rewards give other students something to aspire to, encouraging them to step up and apply themselves a little more in class.

Additionally, or alternatively, you can offer class rewards, which reward all students for their collective behavior. This decision can increase students’ sense of accountability, teaching them that other people are depending on them to behave appropriately. In this way, you can create a system and practices of positive peer pressure, where classmates encourage each other to behave well. Class rewards are preferable if you want your students to adopt behaviors related to teamwork and cooperation.

Step 6: Create Clear Instructions

Now that you know what you want your students to learn, you need to determine how they’re going to learn it. One of the basic principles of PBIS is that educators should teach students the appropriate way to behave instead of assuming they already know how. For students to learn proper behavior, they need to receive clear instructions. The clearer and more explicit your instructions are, the easier your students will learn those behaviors and the fewer referrals you’ll have to make.

Step 7: Create a Multi-Tiered System of Supports

Once you know which behaviors you want to target, you can start to arrange them into tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3.

Tier 1

Tier 1 instruction is aimed at all students; it’s the foundation for PBIS. It represents the bulk of your behavior plan and includes:

  • All of the chosen behaviors you want your students to adopt
  • The rewards students will receive for successfully displaying those behaviors
  • The interventions you’ll employ when students break the rules

The chief concern with Tier 1 is how to structure it to support as many students as possible. As Tiers 2 and 3 are more personalized forms of intervention, they require more of your school’s limited resources and your faculty’s time.

Carry Out a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

When a student is referred to Tier 2, you may decide to conduct an FBA. This assessment will help you to identify the potential reasons why a student may be consistently failing to respond to Tier 1 interventions. Then, you can develop strategies for how to best support them.

Here are some factors explored in an FBA:

  • When and where is this behavior happening?
  • How often does the behavior occur?
  • What usually happens right before and after a student displays good behavior?
  • Does the student ever demonstrate the desired behavior? If so, under what circumstances?

Additionally, within an FBA, student behavior can be classified by the acronym CASE, where the behavior is said to be caused by one of four factors:

  • Communication: The student is unable to express themselves properly, leading them to act out
  • Acknowledgment: The student exhibits undesirable behavior to be noticed
  • Sensory Needs: The student has additional sensory needs, as a result of a learning disability, that aren’t being met
  • Escape: The student acts out to avoid doing something they don’t want to

As well as collecting data within a learning environment, it’s usually helpful to gather it from other sources, such as a school counselor and, where possible, students’ parents.

Tier 2

Tier 2 of PBIS is aimed at small groups of students who didn’t respond to Tier 1 interventions. Examples of Tier 2 interventions include: 

  • Behavior Expectations Contract: An agreement between students and teachers on how they should behave
  • Check-In and Check-Out (CICO) Meetings: Students check in at the beginning of the day to set goals for their conduct; at the end of the day, they meet with their assigned staff member to see if they have achieved their goals for that day
  • Break Passes: Give a student a “pass” that grants them permission to visit a safe space to cool down if they’re misbehaving

Tier 3

Tier 3 of PBIS is aimed at individual students who didn’t respond to Tier 2 interventions. Examples of Tier 3 interventions include:

  • Individualized Behavior Plans: Creating a personalized behavior plan can make it easier for students to behave well or succeed in class. 
  • Regular Counseling Sessions: Providing a safe, private environment in which a student has an adult’s undivided attention can help students understand the root causes of their misbehavior. 
  • Modified Schedule: Consider providing a higher-risk student with a personalized schedule that allows them to more easily maintain their focus and stimulation while in school.

Know Where Your Students Are 

Building an effective PBIS behavior plan is all about knowing where your students are now, in terms of their behavior, and where you want them to be in the future. For that reason, it’s important to create a clear set of goals and to carefully work your way through each one. One of the biggest challenges you’ll likely face during this process is maximizing the effectiveness of your instruction so that your students understand the behaviors they’re being taught. Then, once you’ve finally developed your behavior plan, pay close attention to how well it’s working according to your objectives, and be sure to adapt it as you go.


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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