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-By Tim Grivois-Shah, Director of Professional Learning and Community Engagement
Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) is an effective way to promote social, emotional, and academic achievement. A key tenet of PBIS is that students can learn positive social emotional skills just as they can learn academic content. understanding how different approaches to acknowledging positive behavior is an ensures that how we acknowledge positive behavior matches the values we want our students to demonstrate.

Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) is a school-wide model for reinforcing positive behavior throughout all parts of the learning environment. By implementing a few simple, sustainable systems for all students, a small site-based team of educators can significantly reduce time teachers spend managing behavior and increase time students spend learning.

PBIS is about relationships.
PBIS tickets are about making a positive moment last.

Once our school has established and taught our school-wide expectations and skills, the next most important strategy for promoting positive behavior is to communicate to students that we notice and are grateful for the good that they bring to our schools and classrooms every day. Since one of the most common ways schools provide positive feedback about behavior is through a PBIS ticket, learning to recognize when tickets are being used appropriately is critical.

PBIS Tickets as Reinforcement

Reinforcement is when a school adult notices a behavior and takes action to make the behavior more likely to occur again. For example, a teacher at a PBIS school notices a student demonstrating an expectation and a skill from their school-wide expectations matrix, and acknowledges what they saw using a PBIS ticket by saying, “Thanks for being safe by walking on the right side of the hallway,” or “Our counselor told me that you noticed a classmate talking about being depressed, and that you supporting your classmate by going with them to the counseling office.  That was the compassionate thing to do. Thank you.” The teacher notes “Safe” or “Compassionate” on the ticket, hands it to the student, and everyone moves on.

Reinforcement happens immediately after the teacher notices the student demonstrating the positive behavior, and always includes specific feedback on what the child has done that prompted the teacher’s positive attention. 

PBIS Tickets as a Reward

Reinforcement, reward, and bribery.
Schools implementing PBIS generally aim to use PBIS tickets primarily as reinforcement, occasionally as a component of earning a reward, and take care to avoid using PBIS tickets to “pay” children for their behavior.

Educators reward positive behavior when they announce in advance that students who demonstrate certain behaviors will receive some kind of prize. Sometimes rewards are tangible (candy, stickers, a high five), and sometimes rewards are intangible (extra time at recess, a school-wide board game party, or a positive call home).

The key difference between reinforcement and reward is that reinforcements occur after expectations and skills have been taught, while rewards are contingent upon a student demonstrating the behavior. Typically, PBIS schools plan rewards for school-wide accomplishments and tend to focus rewards on areas that need specific attention. For example, a school might reward a class with extra recess for being the class with the most tickets for kindness after a week where fighting on the playground was a problem. In this case, rewarding students with extra recess time is meant to prompt students to be mindful about kindness on the playground and links the expected behavior (kindness) with the problem the school was hoping to solve (fighting on the playground).

PBIS schools implement reward systems cautiously and strategically because they involve much more time and effort than simple acknowledgements, and because using rewards to promote positive behavior risks unintentionally creating an expectation that being a good kid is something that always earns a prize.

PBIS Tickets as Outright Bribery

Manipulating students to act as though they are demonstrating school-wide values in order to receive a pay-out is outright bribery. An example of this might be a teacher who offers a challenging student five PBIS tickets in exchange for good behavior during a formal observation. Schools that have PBIS stores might unintentionally bribe students when students earn PBIS tickets for items at the store rather than for the positive adult attention.

Clearly, when educators use PBIS tickets as outright bribery we are no longer practicing PBIS. Bribery is different from reinforcement because bribery induces a false demonstration of positive behavior in exchange for an impressive payout. And, bribery is different from a reward in that earning a reward requires students to achieve a legitimate goal. “Let’s do something fun when we earn 1,000 PBIS tickets!” is categorically different than “If you stop running in the hallway, I’ll give you something fun.”

What Works

The goal of Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) is for each school and district to have systems in place at all levels that 1) teach students the social emotional skills necessary to be successful learners and good human beings; and 2) to model gratitude and pride in our students for the hundreds of ways each day that they demonstrate these skills. A PBIS ticket is simply a vehicle that allows student to carry their memory of our warm smile, pat on the back, and kind words beyond the moment. Learning to use PBIS tickets effectively and appropriately is an essential component of school-wide PBIS.

PBIS tickets are the most common tool to acknowledge positive behavior because they among are the simplest and least expensive tools to use. Avoid using tickets to bribe students. And, use tickets as rewards sparingly and always connect rewards to authentic positive consequences of the behavior we want to see. For nearly every interaction with a student that remains, using PBIS tickets as a simple reinforcement of a skill properly learned and well-demonstrated is likely the most effective way to promote positive behavior within your school’s PBIS system.

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