7 Reasons Why a PBIS is Needed to Combat Bullying

Jon Konen
School Principal

Back to the main Bully Prevention Guide.

As an educator I read and hear about bullying incidents all the time in the newspaper, TV, listening to parents in the community, and even from other educators. We focus on the bullying behaviors that students are committing towards other students. We talk about what should be done to the student who exhibits the bullying behaviors…and many times our ideas are punitive.

All schools have some type of consequences for bullying, harassment, and possible assault. All 50 states now have statutes in case law against bullying. As I agree there should be consequences for continued behaviors, I also believe schools and communities are missing a major component: PBIS.

PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Intervention System. Just like there are laws against negative behaviors such as these, I believe there should be statues for all schools to recognize positive behaviors. Here are 7 reasons why all schools should focus on PBIS to combat bullying.

PU #45 - Emphasis on Culture over Enforcement of Stricter Policies

Many times school administrators are pressured to add in stricter policies that include additional severe punishments and consequences. As this may solve a portion of the schools bullying problems, it is almost guaranteed to not solve them all. Administrators can affect change in a much larger sense if they focus on culture and specifically how people treat each other. Do students like to be at school? Do the teachers like work at the school? How do community members feel when they walk into the school?

When setting up a PBIS, make sure it is created with the final goal for school-wide culture in mind. It must be something that is built over time. We know that follow-through is vital to its success. A school that is unable to follow-through with the established PBIS is bound to be back where they started from, or even worse. Staff members and administrators that only buy in partially lose sight of what the overall goal and vision could be with a proactive PBIS; instead they all go back to a reactive state where consequences and bully behavior is continually repeated.

We must be able to answer the following two questions: 1) How are students and the staff contributing to the culture?, and 2) What expectations are there of the students, staff, and principal to continue emphasizing the culture first?

This can be attained with goals. See #5 below.

PU #46 - Accentuate the Positives

An environment that accentuates the positives is contagious like an infection. Positive experiences create an atmosphere where people not only want to be a part of it, they want to help replicate these experiences as well. Adults in the learning environment want to support students, and even other adults, with the creation of these experiences. Students and staff can get to a point where they feel good NOT taking the credit, but more so in GIVING the credit to others. This type of environment may take years to create, but it is well worth the battle to get there.

When setting up a PBIS, make sure you are finding positives in your learning environment that are not only from students, but the adults in the school, too. Students can find positives from other students, and from staff members. Staff members can recognize students and other staff members. Role modeling what these positive statements can sound like and how they can be written support the success of the PBIS.

PU #47 - Put Your Time Where You Want the Focus

Do staff members, especially administrators, spend a majority of their time dealing with negative or positive behaviors? If it is negative behaviors, how can they make the flip? I hear about principals spending all their day working on investigations, handing out consequences, calling parents with bad news, and it never quits! Where administrators are putting their time is what they are telling students, staff members, and even families where the emphasis in the school is located. Hopefully, finding a way to flip your time is a priority.

Finding a PBIS that focuses on effective and efficient strategies that staff and students can put into place is another dynamic piece to the puzzle. If the strategies are too intricate, take too much time, or make people uncomfortable, the PBIS is bound to fail. The strategies must be easily replicated, have an impact on the learning environment, and do not take a lot of time. Every day the PBIS should be a priority for administration and staff members.

PU #48 - Tracking Positive Data

Schools spend a lot of time tracking discipline data. They spend time tracking which kids have the most referrals, where the most referrals are occurring, types of referrals, and even the time of the day. As this is important information for staff members to know and be able to act upon, and putting in place interventions for this data may stop a lot of the problems in the school, it won't stop all of the problems.

Tracking positive behavior data can be even more powerful than tracking discipline data. Goals can be established and staff and students can rally around the positive data created. An example of positive data tracking can come from the number of acts of kindness the students and staff can find in others. Another idea is having students and staff members recognize the 55 Rules that Ron Clark developed for success in his award winning classroom. Many schools have created their own lists using the 55 rules (or a select number of them), for example the Lion's 19. These are 19 rules that all students know by heart. Students can even recognize other students that are following or exhibiting the rules being followed by others in the school and by staff members. Students write down their name, the rule that they say another student follow(s), and the student who exhibits the rule. Then these are read each day and put onto a bulletin board. They can also be celebrated on social media.

PU #49 - Setting Goals Based on Positive Interventions

Setting goals based on PBIS can be fun. Students and staff members can use the positive data tracking to celebrate the good things going on in the school. There are several ways to track positive data. One of the easiest tools you can use are small written notes describing acts of kindness (Kindness Tickets) going on in the school. A student can recognize another student's kindness by writing a description of what the student witnessed or experienced. For example, "Johnny supported another student when her books fell in the hallway." This can then be read by staff members, or even the principal out loud on the PA. This may seem minuscule; a total of 10 seconds or less can be expended on recognizing this act of kindness. The payout for continuing to put emphasis on the positive behavior is monumental. After starting this recognition procedure, you can then start tracking the data of what grades, students, or even adults are writing the most Kindness Tickets. You can track the number of Kindness Tickets written in a week and connect that to discipline referrals written. You will undoubtedly find patterns and connections between the data. The fun part is setting goals for the number of Kindness Tickets written per day, per week, per month, etc… Another idea is to take it one step further with students and staff recognizing other desired characteristics in the school in addition to kindness: following directions, showing respect, being on time, etc… Teaching and expanding these concepts can be powerful; as you add more, be cognizant of what is manageable. Remember, adding more is only doable with the full support of staff. Attaining goals with this data should not be the end product, the end product should be celebration.

Use SMART goal writing strategy to take this to the next level.

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Agreed Upon

R = Realistic

T = Time-based

Here are a few examples of a SMART Goals:

"Mrs. Taylor's class will write 100 Kindness Tickets by March, 2017."

"Mr. Smith's class will have 95% of students in their seats and ready to learn when the bell rings each day for quarter 2."

"Grade 5 will write 50 Lion's 19 slips before March 1, 2017." (See Example beloow)

PU #50 - Celebrating Students and Staff

We all systems in our schools where we recognize unwanted behaviors, but we typically don't have a system for celebrating the behaviors we do want exhibited. One system involves the celebration of students and staff. Celebrating all the small accomplishments in a school can be daunting for administrators and teachers. We need to agree that what we celebrate and praise is what is most likely to continue to occur in our schools. Listening to other administrators, this is an area that we can all improve upon...celebrating students and staff more. Start small with celebrations and decide what you will celebrate. For example, decide that a special recognition will be given for any grade level writing 100 Kindness Tickets. With that recognition an extra recess may be granted. Staff members may also be granted a free duty ticket. There are many ways to celebrate successes, finding inexpensive, yet meaningful gestures can change the school's climate.

PU #51 - Students Recognizing Other Students

Some PBIS strategies only have adults recognizing student's positive behaviors. The most powerful positive interventions come from students praising and finding the good in other students. This has two powerful punches to its strategies: 1) the student feels good when they hear the acknowledgement from another student, and 2) the student who gives the compliment feels good about being a part of something bigger, building the culture of the school! Using the idea in #6, students can recognize other students with Kindness Tickets. As they write these and they are discussed, powerful conversations about what we do at our school can change the climate of the school. Another idea is to have upper grade level ambassadors greeting students and parents as they enter the school each morning. Genuine contact, handshake, high five, or hug to every person passing the threshold can start any student's day off positively.


Jon Konen

Jon Konen

Jon Konen is a K-6 elementary principal in Great Falls, Montana. His school won the 2012 Blue Ribbon Award. He has taught most all grade levels, been a K-12 principal of a rural school, as well as an instructional coach.
Jon Konen