Getting Started With Positive Behavior Supports

Carl Sumi (bio) describes the fundamentals of incorporating PBS in a school.

Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support, which is also called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, Positive Behavior Supports, Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. It's got a lot of different acronyms, and schoolwide PBS really is a system structure for operating schools.

It's not an intervention. It's not a manualized program. It's what we do. It's what schools do, and it's a framework for doing everything you do in your school.

It's a major commitment by the schools, and it's been going on — they probably started maybe 15 years ago, with just a very few number of schools. They're up to almost 20,000 now, I think. I just checked the numbers. There are over 19,000 thousand schools, and if you think of the United States, there's roughly 100,000 schools, and 19,000 of them are doing schoolwide Positive Behavior Support.

Basically, it's a combination of using systems and data outcomes and practices to work with the whole school staff, all of the students approach to supporting their behavior. It's also you use schoolwide PBS to make sure you're meeting kids' academic needs as well as behavioral, social, and emotional needs.

The idea is that you get a full staff onboard, and it's extremely important. Everybody needs to be onboard. You can't just have a couple of champions, and no one else wants to do it, because everybody has to be doing it all over the place. It's a schoolwide program that also functions in classrooms, non-classroom settings, student settings, individuals. Families are a part of it. It's quite a process.

It's such a complex process that it usually takes three years or so to get full implementation. You would usually start with the technical assistance center in Oregon, the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports Technical Assistance Center ( You can contact them or go on the website and find somebody in your area who does trainings, and you pull a group of schools together who want to do it.

There's a universal prevention or primary prevention where you're supporting all students with good, established, clearly-stated expectations and goals for the students' behavior — be respectful, be responsible, be safe. And you do more than just state the rules. You have them all over the school, and they are stated positively.

But they're also functional. What does it actually mean to be respectful. What does it mean to be responsible. What does that mean in the classroom. What does that mean in the playground. What does it mean in the cafeteria. And not only do you do that, you actually teach the behaviors you want to see.

You can't just tell these students in kindergarten or third grade, "Be respectful." You have to actually do that. My children are in a PBS school, which is great, and I ask them what they do in the beginning of school, and they're, "Oh, we practice lining up. We practice going to the cafeteria," and I know a lot of parents who don't understand why they're doing that, and when I hear that, I'm happy because you're actually teaching the expectations you want.

You need to teach students how to do the right thing. You need to catch them being good, make sure you're rewarding them for the positive behavior, and you need to do that with students and staff.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.

Dr. Sumi's work is fully funded by United States Department of Education Grant Number R324A110027, a $3,383,527 grant awarded to SRI International. The views and conclusions expressed are those of the presenter and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of the USDE or the U.S. Government.


More About "Discipline"


More From Carl Sumi (bio)

  • Advice for Parents Concerned About Bullying

  • Resource Mapping Identifies Time for Positive Behavior Supports

  • Using Positive Behavior Supports at a Trauma-Informed School

  • Using Positive Behavior Supports Data to Make Decisions