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Most schools that implementing school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) use tickets to recognize students for positive behaviors. The idea is simple—encourage students to do what is right by handing students a PBIS ticket when we see them demonstrating positive behavior. As we pay less attention to the problems our students cause, we have more time to notice the good that they do. Over time, positive behavior becomes the norm, and teachers spend more time teaching and less time managing unexpected behaviors.

Nevertheless, PBIS tickets are among the easiest component of school-wide PBIS to go wrong, and problems can emerge in both established and newer PBIS structures. The three I hear most often in my work with schools are:

  • “What are we supposed to do with all these tickets?”
  • “How many tickets should we be giving?”
  • “Why are we paying kids to be good?” 

These three questions have come up in nearly every conversation I have with a group of educators about school-wide positive behavior intervention and support, and align to the three key domains to examine when solving problems with any intervention: 

Systems, Data, and Practices Support Outcomes--PBIS
Systems, data, and practices work together to support student outcomes.
  • Systems—Effective systems guide staff behavior and makes clear what adults are to do.
  • Data—Good data lets us know if we are actually implementing what we say we are (fidelity) and whether an intervention is working (outcome).
  • Practices—Our practices are the strategies we implement as we interact with our students and are meant to support children in being their best at school.
  • Outcomes—Our systems, data, and practices will generate outcomes for our school.  When our outcomes are different than what we would like, our systems, data, and practices are three essential ways of making informed decisions about what to do.

Systems: “What are we supposed to do with all these tickets?”

Effective PBIS teams have clear, explicit systems that document how staff should give tickets, and what happens with the tickets once students receive them. One helpful way to document your recognition system is to imagine that you were a PBIS ticket. How do you move from the teacher’s hand to a student?  Where do you go once the student has you? The best recognition systems document each step in a PBIS ticket’s seamless journey from beginning to end. 

Data: “How many tickets should we give?”

Set goals for your recognition system, and keep track of your progress. A good monthly starting goal would be to consider how many tickets would be necessary to recognize each of your students once a week, and then multiply by four. Train your student council to collect and count tickets weekly, and then communicate your ticket count to teachers, family, and students. One school I work with uses a weekly leaderboard to recognize the top ten ticket givers each week in their weekly staff newsletter. Providing data on your recognition system lets staff know that recognizing the good in our students is as important as any other data point your school tracks.

Practices: “Why are we paying kids to be good?”

Although “Why are we paying kids to be good?” might be how staff frame this question, the question to answer “What’s the best way to use PBIS tickets?”

Vanderbilt University’s Tennessee Behavior Supports Project advocates for behavior-specific praise. When giving a PBIS ticket, be sure to explain why. Avoid general praise, like “Good job!” when giving PBIS tickets. Make the most of this interaction by getting specific. “Thanks for being respectful by having a quiet voice!” is much better.  Link the ticket to specific praise of the precise behavior you want to see. The best way to do this is to use the language from the skills and expectations already established school wide, usually documented on a matrix.

Outcomes: “Is our recognition system working?”

The most important measure of your recognition system is whether the systems, data, and practices your school develops for your PBIS tickets are leading to a happier, more connected place to learn and grow. We know that the sooner students experience school-wide PBIS, the greater the benefit both to individual kids and to a school’s overall culture, and a strong recognition system is an essential component of a school’s overall approach to school-wide PBIS. Make the most of your PBIS tickets by strengthening the systems, data, and practices around how your school uses them.

Most importantly, remember that each PBIS ticket represents a moment when someone at your school took time to recognize the good inside a child’s heart. I remember when I met Angel, a first grade student who enrolled in the school in the middle of the year.  Angel’s caregivers had experienced poverty, incarceration, and exposure to drugs, and Angel experienced the consequences. In school, Angel had trouble connecting to school adults and to his classmates, and often responded to our best efforts with anger. Just three weeks after Angel enrolled, we met with his mom and his aunt to create a behavior plan. Angel’s teacher started the meeting by asking his family what they see as Angel’s strengths. “Ms. Miller, I want you to know that Angel has a treasure box under his bed, and that’s where he keeps his PBIS tickets,” explained Angel’s mom. 

To Angel, his PBIS tickets were more than the small square of paper he kept in his treasure box. Indeed, they stored the memory of a kind moment at school and reminded him that our school was a place that loved him and cared for him. Make the most of these positive moments with your students by building up the systems, data, and practices connected to your PBIS tickets.

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