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What Is PBIS in Education?

6 Min Read
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What Does PBIS Mean in Education?

Let’s start off by discussing the meaning of PBIS in education. PBIS stands for positive behavioral interventions and supports. 

What Is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?

Positive behavioral interventions and supports is an evidence-based, three-tiered framework that focuses on encouraging positive student behavior, preventing negative behavior, and creating a more positive school climate.

Because the PBIS framework is designed to address negative student behavior before it happens, educators can be preventative rather than relying on punishment. This makes PBIS highly powerful for supporting students and fostering a positive learning environment.

How Does the PBIS Framework Work?

PBIS can be tailored to fit the needs and expectations of individual schools or districts, including those serving students with special education needs. Not all implementations are the same, but they’re all built around the same guiding principles. Examples include:

  • Clear expectations for student behaviors
  • Explicit encouragement and instruction of positive behaviors
  • Early intervention methods for preventing serious behavioral issues
  • Individualized behavior support for those who need it
  • The use of data to track students’ behavioral trends and measure progress
  • Consistent implementation across the entire school or district

With schoolwide implementation of the PBIS framework, it’s possible for schools to significantly decrease the rate of disciplinary referrals and improve both behavioral and academic outcomes.

What Are the Three Tiers of PBIS?

PBIS is based on three tiers of behavior support. Each tier targets a specific group of students within the school. Because of its multi-tiered framework, it is considered to be an example of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

Positive behavior interventions and supports is an example of a multi-tiered system of support

Tier 3: Intensive, individualized prevention (support for a few)

Tier 3 is reserved for the small percentage of students who display particularly disruptive or problematic behavior. In this tier, educators work with the relevant specialists to create plans for individualized support that can improve student behavior in lasting ways.

Tier 2: Targeted prevention (support for some)

Tier 2 is for the students who need some extra support. When these students are identified, the goal is to help them improve enough that they can be moved back to Tier 1.

Tier 1: Universal prevention (support for all)

Tier 1 sets the foundation for all the other levels of support. It defines the behavior expectations and support practices that apply to the entire student body.

What Are the Essential Components of a PBIS Program?

While every PBIS tier has its own set of systems and practices, certain components of PBIS appear at each level. Each of these needs to be present for positive behavioral interventions and supports to be implemented successfully.

  • Practices are evidence-based in order to be effective in similar contexts with similar populations
  • Practices are organized in tiers, starting with strong universal behavior supports and followed by more intensive interventions
  • Resources are allocated to ensure systems and practices are implemented consistently and with fidelity

What Are the Main Pillars of a PBIS System?

With PBIS, it’s possible for improved student behavior to lead to significant decreases in discipline referrals. When it comes to implementing PBIS systems, the process is based on four major elements that guide schools as they implement their programs.

  • SYSTEMS to support accurate, sustainable implementation of practices and the effective use of data
  • DATA to select, monitor and evaluate outcomes, practices, and systems across all three tiers of PBIS
  • PRACTICES like interventions and strategies that are backed by research to enable the outcomes that a school wants to achieve
  • OUTCOMES schools achieve through the data, systems, and practices they put in place

Teacher making class to students

Why Is PBIS Important?

Managing student behavior has traditionally been focused on punishment, but punitive discipline has not been found to consistently improve student outcomes, and can even be detrimental to student success. PBIS in education represents an important shift away from punishment and toward support and prevention.

When a PBIS program is implemented schoolwide with consistency and fidelity:

  • Administrators have effective, evidence-based approaches that meaningfully improve student behavior and outcomes
  • Teachers have powerful ways to improve classroom management and enrich their relationships with their students
  • Students enjoy a safer, more empathetic learning environment that meets their needs and empowers them to succeed
  • From better bullying prevention to improved equity and more, PBIS can have profound and lasting effects on a school when implemented effectively.

Why Implement a Schoolwide PBIS Program?

Schoolwide PBIS is the practice of implementing PBIS consistently across an entire school. It helps educators and administrators create safe and positive learning environments, while also improving the social-emotional outcomes for students.

Positive behavioral intervention and supports is a fantastic framework for helping teachers manage student behavior within the classroom. However, in order to build on this, the ideal way to implement it is schoolwide. Not only does this keep behavioral expectations consistent for all students within any context at school, it also establishes consistent language and practices for all educators and staff.

To ensure that schoolwide PBIS implementation is effective, schools often provide professional development opportunities for teachers and staff to learn about the framework and evidence-based practices.

Schoolwide PBIS has the power to cultivate positive and encouraging interactions between students and staff. Those positive interactions lead to stronger and more respectful relationships across the board, and the end result is a school culture that meets everyone’s unique needs.

Are Rewards Effective in Promoting Positive Behavior Through PBIS?

Many educators and experts believe in the powerful benefits of positive behavioral intervention, and it’s been adopted in countless school across the country. However, some educators may wonder if rewarding students for positive behavior makes them focus more on the reward than the actual behavior.

It is important to remember that using an acknowledgement system like PBIS rewards is not the same as bribing a student. PBIS does not use bribes — it acknowledges and reinforces positive behavior as it happens. A well-implemented PBIS initiative doesn’t rely excessively on rewards, it helps students understand the relationship between their behavior and the people around them. This helps to foster the positive relationships that lead to positive behavior.

Why Is Communication Key for PBIS Programs?

Students most often struggle with their behavior when they don’t have the right guidance. Relying on punishment also makes it more difficult for students to develop important social-emotional skills.

When educators clearly and consistently communicate behavioral expectations to students, improvement becomes far more likely. This is a major part of what goes into positive behavioral interventions and supports.

From better bullying prevention to improved equity and more, PBIS in education can have profound and lasting effects on a school when implemented effectively


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.