By Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA
bSci21 Contributing Writer
Violence within schools has become an issue of growing concern in the United States. The discussion on bullying took a devastating turn in April 2016, when a 16-year-old girl was killed in a fight that occurred in a school bathroom in Wilmington, Delaware (“Teen Girl Dies After Fight in High School Bathroom,” 2016). Many of the current approaches schools have taken in an attempt to tackle this issue have revolved around the employment of aversive control strategies such as suspensions and various forms of reprimand. However, an article written by Cynthia M. Anderson and Donald Kincaid (2005) investigated the use of “Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS)” in addressing the issue of school violence and a variety of other disruptive student behaviors.
The primary principle behind traditional Positive Behavior Support is to set guidelines for appropriate behavior and to reinforce adherence to these guidelines, rather than simply attempt to punish violations of these rules. SWPBS is a school support system that is implemented across all areas of a school. SWPBS has several goals, as outlined in the Anderson and Kincaid article: “(a) to prevent the development of problem behavior, (b) to decrease or eliminate currently occurring discipline problems, and (c) to increase positive social behavior of all students.” SWPBS has several key features:
The Utilization of a Team-Driven Approach: Schools ensure that faculty and staff are committed to employing Positive Behavior Support strategies within the school setting
Analyzing School Data: Schools review data on repeated discipline issues, the settings in which discipline problems occur, and the consequences most likely to be used for problem behaviors; schools may also use faculty interviews, direct observations, and analysis of test scores, attendance rates, and common discipline procedures; schools may analyze these data to make necessary adjustments to school operations in an effort to decrease challenging student behavior
Developing Expectations and Rules based on the Results of the Functional Assessment: Schools set specific rules for behavior, rather than vague guidelines, and these rules are positively worded; these rules are also specific to the settings in which they are implemented
Designing an Incentive Program to Increase Appropriate Behavior: Schools commit themselves to reinforcing desired behaviors rather than simply attempting to punish problem behaviors, and implement schoolwide reward systems
Developing a Continuum of Consequences for Rule Violations: schools operationally define problem behaviors to minimize any vagueness, and strategies for dealing with specific behaviors are consistent across the board; in addition, the discipline procedure must match the severity of the infraction (e.g. it would be unreasonable to give a student a 3-day suspension for being tardy one day)
Designing and Implementing a Curriculum: schools must create a curriculum that includes an overview of each expectation, a description of the settings in which specific rules are to be followed, examples and non-examples of adherence to these rules, opportunities for students to engage in both the “right” and “wrong” behaviors, feedback and reinforcement, and public praise for students who adhere to the school’s rules
Monitoring School Data to Evaluate the Efficacy and Fidelity of the SWPBS Program: Schools must ensure that all data collected are consistently examined and that staff are implementing the program as designed; staff who demonstrate a commitment to SWPBS and consistently adhere to the procedures should be recognized and praised
The article also discusses these strategies in the context of the the seven dimensions of Applied Behavior analysis. These practices should be applied (a focus on socially-significant behavior), behavioral (a focus on measurable behavior), analytic (an experimental demonstration that the intervention alone was what produced the change), technological (use terminology that is specific enough it that can be followed by all staff involved), conceptually systematic (utilize behavioral principles), generalizable (behavior change is maintained across settings), and effective (produces sufficient behavior change).
Violence and other disruptive behaviors within educational settings is a pressing issue that requires attention on the national level. Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support is one effective way to address this problem. Only through a collective effort by researchers and school faculty can we make schools safer and more predictable places for students to learn and grow as individuals.
Do you have experience with PBS systems? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Anderson, C.M. & Kincaid, D. (2005). Applying behavior analysis to school violence and discipline problems: Schoolwide positive behavior support. The Behavior Analyst, 28(1), 49-63.
Rhodan, M. (2016, April 22). Teen girl dies after fight in high school bathroom. Retrieved from http://time.com/4304788/delaware-high-school-fight-death/
Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, is a behavior clinician who works with children on the Autism Spectrum in the Greater Boston Area. She has over 3 years of experience delivering therapeutic services both in-home and in the public school system. Though she is predominantly focused on the utilization of Applied Behavior Analysis in treating individuals with disabilities, Emily enjoys examining topics such as religion, medicine, politics, and social constructs, through a behavioral lens. You can contact her at email@example.com.