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    SEL and Behavior MTSS Practice Instituting MTSS

    My experience in education has made me a true believer in the good things that can come from a fully implemented Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) practice. I worked with students who went from ditching daily to being eligible for graduation because they found a person on campus who saw their abilities and recognized them for their efforts until they grew toward success. When looking for a solution to behavior problems and disproportionality on campus, PBIS is typically at the top of the search list. Many educators hesitate to invest in PBIS, though, because they have heard it is just “points and parties.” But a PBIS system, when implemented with fidelity, is so much more than acknowledgments and celebrations. And it is not a replacement for campus discipline procedures!  Rather, PBIS is the behavior and attendance branch of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Just like MTSS, PBIS is a three-tiered, evidence-based framework that enables the success of all students while improving social-emotional competence, academic success, and overall school climate. This blog will share the why and the how behind creating a campus-based PBIS practice with integrity.

    Why PBIS?

    We know that students need support now more than ever as we work to build back skills and buy-in from students and teachers. Research shows a huge connection between behavior and student outcomes, like engagement and achievement. Even though students with extreme problem behavior represent only 20% of school enrollment, they account for more than 50% of all behavioral incidents. Creating a positive school climate where students are intentionally supported and recognized for their positive behaviors decreases the need for punitive discipline practices like suspension and expulsion. Students are five times more likely to drop out, six times more likely to repeat a grade, and three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system if suspended just once. (McIntosh et al., 2021).

    When PBIS systems, data, and practices are in place, experimental research often shows (McIntosh et al., 2021; Waasdorp et al., 2012):

    • A reduction in problem behavior as students are more likely to do what is expected of them.
    • Increased academic performance comes with higher levels of belonging and fewer classroom disruptions due to misbehavior.
    • Increased attendance results as students are more likely to feel pride in their school and want to do well.
    • Improved perception of safety results from students feeling as though they are part of the community as a whole, with a common mission and vision.
    • Improved organizational efficiency is caused by the predictability of the discipline policies built with staff buy-in and feedback.
    • Reduction in staff turnover is related to higher levels of teacher efficacy, created when teachers have predictability in discipline and student support.
    • Reduction in teacher-reported bullying behavior or peer rejection is another beneficial outcome of predictable and safe school cultures.

    What to Consider When Building a Tier 1 Foundation

    The following indicators are based on the Benchmarks of Quality and the features built into the School-Wide PBIS Tiered Fidelity Inventory. These free resources are available from www.PBIS.org to help you get started! 

    • Do you have a PBIS Team, and are the right people on it?

    As a consultant working with schools across the country, often the first thing we discuss is forming a great team to lead the work. We want to include enough members to have a representative subset of the school. An effective team includes members with access to the right data, insight into student patterns, and authority to implement change in their context. For example, an administrator can add items to their walkthroughs to collect data on positive interactions or the use of the acknowledgment tool. A school counselor or social worker can share their expertise in behavior patterns and functions of behavior. A behavior clerk, attendance clerk, or student intervention team coordinator can access data and share knowledge of ongoing patterns on campus. The team should meet regularly and have a written action plan.

    Many teams forget to include parents and students when appropriate. A staff member who also has a child in the school can be easily included to provide a parent’s perspective. Student representation can help inform the PBIS Team and help with buy-in from the student body. Some of the best PBIS initiatives are led by students!

    • Are your faculty involved in decision-making? 

    Staff needs to be involved in the process to create shared ownership of the positive behavior plan. This can help to create powerful and lasting change:

      • Involve staff in creating the mission, purpose, and expectations. They will have valuable knowledge about what the school-wide expectations could look like in each common area of the school. I’ve worked on campuses where the leadership failed to involve the staff in creating the behavior matrices for the library, cafeteria, hallways, etc. This was a big mistake that led to lackluster implementation. 
      • Share behavior and PBIS-related data regularly. Efficacy is linked to knowing our efforts are making a difference. By sharing data monthly regarding school-wide behavior, faculty and staff can take ownership in reteaching missing skills and provide insight into new patterns of behavior. Consider adding a standing agenda item to faculty meetings for the PBIS team to share brief updates and relevant data.
    • Is your campus using effective discipline practices?

    Being proactive in discipline efforts can mean the difference between a student graduating or dropping out of high school. All stakeholders need a set of clearly written procedures for handling major or minor discipline and training in de-escalating behavior incidents. This typically looks like a flow chart that details the intervention options when misbehavior is displayed. Once a site has a flowchart in place that is regularly used, data can more reliably be tracked, shared, and assessed for patterns.

      • Don’t forget about the students and families! Create a student/family-facing document with clear behavior expectations, responsibilities, and disciplinary consequences.
      • Use behavior staff effectively. Focus effort on providing proactive, intentional support rather than doubling down on punitive practices that are unlikely to lead to a positive school climate. 
    •  Are your PBIS Team decisions guided by relevant data?

      Collecting and analyzing data is critical as the team makes decisions that affect students and staff.  Some things to consider when building your PBIS data practice include:
      • A process for examining data by day of the week, time, of day, location, subgroup, and problem behavior.

    Graphed visuals in a user-friendly interface are best for this practice. Finding a platform that helps with this work is a game-changer. The Branching Minds platform allows PBIS teams to see behavioral data with ease in order to make timely, relevant decisions.


      • Collection and analysis of direct observation data and survey data. For example, how do you know if your staff are providing more positive than corrective feedback unless you get out there and count it?
    • Do you have clear behavior expectations? 

      A guiding principle of PBIS is the development of 3-5 school-wide expectations. This helps create a positive, cohesive campus culture. It is essential to select guiding expectations that are a good fit for your campus and are meaningful to staff, students, and families. 

    What About PBIS Points and Parties?

    Even with the best intentions, it is difficult for most people to provide a higher level of attention to positive behavior than to negative behavior. Having a system with points, rewards, or parties helps remind the staff to look for good behavior and reinforce it. 

    A proper acknowledgment system consists of the following: 

    • Tools that reinforce positive behavior alongside opportunities to reteach missing skills. Social rewards are the most powerful, but if tangible rewards are used, they should always be paired with attention and specific positive praise. "You showed respect by patiently waiting your turn. That's how we do it at Central Middle School." "Thank you for being responsible in the hallway and getting to class on time."
    • Acknowledgment and reinforcement that is available to ALL students. All students (even those that struggle with behavior and may not earn as many points) should have opportunities to redeem or be recognized for whatever points they’ve earned. Teacher-chosen rewards are great for buy-in. For example, lunch with Mrs. Smith, choosing your chair/seat for a day, and getting a homework pass from Mr. Anderson. Students are typically eager to give feedback on the types of rewards they would like to receive. They can provide this in a survey or have student representatives share it in the PBIS meeting.  
    Administrators can support and coach the proper implementation of this practice by adding indicators to their walkthrough tool that reflect the acknowledgment system's use, and a positive interactions ratio that meets or exceeds expectations.

    Layering Tier 2 and Tier 3 Practices on a Solid Tier 1 Foundation

    The following indicators of effective Tier 1 implementation will set your campus up for success with Tier 2 and Tier 3 behavior interventions. If you answer "no" to any of these questions, it is suggested that you hone your Tier 1 practice to support all of your students better, but especially those with challenging behavior. Students struggling with behavior need clear expectations, regular re-teaching, and immediate, frequent feedback, especially when they are exhibiting positive behavior! Your targeted and intensive behavior supports will be far more effective if Tier 1 practices are solid. 

    For more information, see The Branching Minds Tier 2 Behavior Intervention Guide 

    • School-wide expectations are an integral part of your school-wide culture. This means that all stakeholders know the expectations, what they mean, and how to demonstrate them. For example, even a visiting teacher is shown the expectations, is taught about the acknowledgment procedures, and can identify students following the expectations. In addition, office staff can make it a priority to share those positive schoolwide guidelines with guests on campus as a way to invite them into the campus culture.Be Respectful_Preview4
    • Behavior expectations are posted and regularly used as teaching tools. Think about all the places that students frequent on campus. Is there explicit guidance for how to behave in that space? Were the staff responsible allowed to create and teach those expectations for locations like the library, cafeteria, resource room, nurse’s office, etc.?
    • Expectations are taught in a way that connects with students. For each area of the school and for each activity, behavior expectations are systematically taught and reinforced using age-appropriate modeling and practice.  For example, the first time a class visits the library, they are taught the library expectations. On every future visit, they are reminded about the expectations. In the virtual setting, there can be a model for how students are expected to behave in all virtual spaces, for example, how they show respect in a shared document or how they can be responsible when downloading content online.
    • Students are frequently acknowledged and reinforced for good behavior. Do not miss the frequent opportunities available to re-teach and incentivize the correct behaviorfor all students. Continue to hone your acknowledgment practice by inviting students to provide suggestions and feedback. This builds a collaborative culture where students hold ownership in having a safe and supportive campus. 


      FREE RESOURCE:   Positive Behavior Referral Template 

    In Conclusion

    A PBIS system, when implemented with fidelity, is much more than acknowledgments and celebrations. PBIS is a research and evidence-based practice that allows a campus to implement the behavior and attendance branch of MTSS, including school-wide positive behavior practices and interventions for students who need more support with challenging behavior. PBIS enables the success of all students while improving social-emotional competence, academic success, and overall school climate. It improves the school-wide climate and culture for all stakeholders, including staff. The best measure of successful PBIS implementation isn't a big party or a well-stocked store of treats and gadgets. Instead, the best measure of PBIS implementation is that all stakeholders, including students, staff, and parents, report that behavior expectations are clear, behavior needs are supported, and the school is a welcoming, positive place to learn.

    The Branching Minds platform allows PBIS teams to see behavioral data with ease in order to make timely, relevant decisions. The Branching Minds platform shows the integration of behavior in the MTSS framework, better supporting the whole child. Request a demo today!

    Key Takeaways:

    • PBIS is the behavior branch of MTSS: a three-tiered, evidence-based framework that enables the success of all students while improving social-emotional competence, academic success, and overall school climate.
    • Staff, students, parents, and community members should be able to name and explain your 3-5 school-wide behavior guidelines. 
    • Data analysis is a key practice to ensure decisions are well-informed.

    💡 Related Resource: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, & Behavioral Needs: Moving From Referrals to an Interconnected Systems Framework


    Interested in Learning How an MTSS Platform Can Support Your Behavior Staff?



    The Branching Minds RTI/MTSS tool allows for the tracking of academic, SEL, and behavioral data to better identify students who are lacking specific skills hindering their success. With the use of the BRM platform, behavior staff and leaders can more effectively support staff and students in creating an inclusive environment. Visibility and progress monitoring becomes simpler. Hundreds of free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources can be found in the BRM library. This allows behavior staff to focus on placement, progress monitoring, and celebrating the success of students who meet their academic, behavior, or social-emotional growth goals. Learn more about how Branching Minds can support your district with behavior.

    Request a demo




    Algozzine, B., Barrett, S., Eber, L., George, H., Horner, R., Lewis, T., Putnam, B., Swain-Bradway, J., McIntosh, K., & Sugai, G (2019). School-wide PBIS Tiered Fidelity Inventory. OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. www.pbis.org.

    Kincaid, D., Childs, K., & George, H. (2010). Tier 1 Benchmarks of Quality (Revised). https://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=2127037 
    McIntosh, K., Girvan, E. J., McDaniel, S. C., Santiago-Rosario, M. R., St. Joseph, S., Fairbanks Falcon, S., ... & Bastable, E. (2021). Effects of an equity-focused PBIS approach to school improvement on exclusionary discipline and school climate. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 65(4), 354-361.

    Waasdorp, T. E., Bradshaw, C. P., & Leaf, P. J. (2012). The impact of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports on bullying and peer rejection. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 166(2), 149-156.


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    Tagged: SEL and Behavior, MTSS Practice, Instituting MTSS

    April 18, 2023

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