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by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D., Director of Professional Learning and Community Engagement

Prevention is key to developing effective solutions.

Building on the last Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) post, this article explains how to use precise problem statements to develop interventions that are highly likely to work for each school’s unique learning environment.

Before developing solutions, the team should make sure they use data to investigate the problem. Using data already available at the school, the team can then refine a general problem into a clear, precise problem statement.

General: Students are too loud in the hallway.
Precise: Fourth grade students are slamming their lockers before lunch begins because they are in a hurry to get to the cafeteria.

Having a general problem statement helps start the team’s work, and by using data to know the answers to who, what, when, where, and—most importantly—why, the team can design implementations that are easy to implement and likely to be effective.

The power of a precision problem statement is that by thoroughly understanding the problem, teams are more likely to develop successful solutions. And when solutions do not achieve desire outcomes, the team can spend their time and energy on creating something better.

Once the PBIS team has used their data to develop a precise problem statement, one of the most effective ways to generate helpful ideas is to begin with strategies the school can implement before the behavior occurs. Within the PBIS frameworks, these strategies are called prevention, teaching, and recognition.

The most effective Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) teams work the steps from top to bottom.
  • Prevention strategies stop a behavior from occurring. For example, the fourth grade team might decide to store classroom supplies inside the classroom so that students don’t need to use their lockers before lunch.
  • Teaching strategies equip students to demonstrate the behavior we want to see. An idea that this school might try would be to schedule time well before lunch to practice how to put things away in lockers with a minimum of noise.
  • Recognition strategies reinforce students when they make their learning visible. Teachers might decide to use the sign in American Sign Language for “Thank you” to affirm students who close lockers politely.

Especially when working on solutions for a school-wide problem, a strategic approach to prevention, teaching and recognition tends to be to the most effective. By being proactive, schools can solve problems like hallway noise without waiting for the noise to happen. However, also important is planning ahead for what to do when problems despite our best efforts. These strategies are called extinction and corrective consequence.

  • Extinction strategies change the outcome of problem behavior to make the behavior less effective. An extinction strategy for hallway noise might be that teachers walk the line to the cafeteria when the hallway is quiet.
  • Corrective consequence strategies make the outcome of problem behavior unpalatable for students. While similar to an extinction strategy, corrective consequences are different because the intent is to link behavior to an outcome that students don’t want. For example, teachers may dismiss students who close lockers quietly while asking students who slam lockers to practice closing lockers slowly.

A common misconception about PBIS is that students are not held accountable for poor behavior. The truth is that effective PBIS interventions should always include extinction strategies and corrective consequences. The issue, though, is that, while prevention, teaching, and recognition strategies are highly effective before problems happen, extinction and corrective consequences only help after the problem occurs. And, extinction and corrective consequences typically require more time and energy to implement than more proactive approaches. Begin with prevention to reduce time spent managing problem as they occur.

The foundation of an effective school wide positive behavior intervention is developing a precise problem statement. Then, teams focus on prevention, teaching, and recognition strategies to reduce how often and how intense problems are. Only then should teams consider how to extinguish problem behavior or what corrective consequences to assign. Frequent oil changes is a prevention strategy. Replacing the engine is a consequence.

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