Positive Behavior Reinforcement and PBIS Programs

Each school year brings new students, along with new trends to help improve how we go about educating the students. Positive behavior reinforcement—and programs focusing on using positive behavior reinforcement to mold student behaviors—is one such trend that is gaining popularity in schools. Positive behavior reinforcement, simply defined, is giving a reward for a positive action or behavior to encourage the action or behavior to happen again. Positive reinforcement could be anything from simply saying “Great answer!” when a student shares an insightful comment to using a rewards chart where students can earn stars for completed activities and good behavior. The basic premise behind using positive reinforcement is to teach and reward positive behaviors, thereby creating a positive learning environment.

While positive behavior reinforcement by itself is not a new idea, schools are now adopting PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support) programs to ensure a uniform application of positive behavior reinforcement across entire schools and districts. Resources like the Technical Assistance Center on PBIS at http://www.pbis.org have created programs and literature that help schools uniformly create a positive environment in both the individual classrooms and across entire schools.

Creating a School-wide Positive Environment
School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) focuses on implementing a positive behavior reinforcement program in your school as a whole. While implementing a School-wide Positive Behavior Support program is the ultimate goal behind this positive-reinforcement trend, implementing a school-wide approach takes buy-in from administrators and investment for staff training. Because of the buy-in needed from multiple levels within a school or district to adopt a full PBIS program, we’ll just touch on the high points of the topic in this article. As your interest in this important topic deepens, you can delve deeper into more of the research available on this topic.

Teach and Reinforce the PBIS Program
Schools utilizing PBIS programs take a day or two at the beginning of the year to run through expected behaviors with their students as a whole, with “stations” designated for specific settings and behaviors. Taking this time to answer any questions from your students and making sure they fully grasp the routines being taught will lead to a more successful implementation of the program. Schools will then take another day or two, perhaps at the beginning of a new semester or quarter, to reinforce the objectives and expectations of the PBIS program.

Consistent Implementation
To properly implement a school-wide program, the entire staff needs to be aware of the standards and objectives of the program. Consistency across the entire staff is key to making sure the students fully understand what is expected of them all the time—not just in certain classrooms. With consistent implementation, students will learn that these behaviors are expected of them in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the lunchroom, and at recess, as well.

The “Gotcha” System
Determine a “gotcha” system to label appropriate positive behavior. Always have your gotcha items on hand so you can reward students in the very moments when you notice that they are behaving appropriately. Gotchas can take many different forms. Some schools create their own gotcha currency. A suburban Chicago middle school with a mascot of the Foxes gives out “Paw Pride” dollars to reward students. Students accumulate the Paw Pride dollars over set periods of time and are able to redeem them at the school’s PBIS store or use them to enter into special raffles.

With this type of gotcha system, students receive a tangible reward for their positive behaviors. In this method, students become motivated to exhibit appropriate behaviors because they are receiving tokens directly correlated to these appropriate behaviors.

Creating a Positive Classroom
If your school is not at the stage where implementing a full PBIS program is immediately possible, you can still implement initiatives in your classroom to promote positive behavior reinforcement. Implementing and consistently using positive reinforcers in your classroom can help build a positive classroom environment. Implementing the system in your classroom can also serve as a prototype for eventually moving to a school-wide PBIS program.

PCATEX25B-2TUsing positive social reinforcers in your interactions with students will help build a positive culture in your classroom. Social reinforcers are approvals and praise, whether written, verbal, or simply an expression. Utilize social reinforcers by telling a student “great job” when you observe a positive or desired behavior, by writing “excellent work” on an essay, or by smiling and nodding at a student for following directions. Check out the Excellent Work post cards by Teacher Peach. Not only do they let teachers tell students they are behaving well, these cards make it easy to let knows know EXACTLY what they are doing right.
BRMACJ-2TUse activity reinforcers to reward good behavior by allowing students to participate in special activities. Allow extra computer time or access to games as a reward for good or appropriate behavior. Implement this strategy with your whole class by keeping track of points toward the desired goal. Set a target goal of x-number of specific and observed positive behaviors to achieve the reward. You might want to create a simple poster and mark a tick mark for every positive behavior you observe. Or perhaps you might want to purchase a Teacher Peach Bravo Jar and fill it with a marble or pom-pom for every observed appropriate behavior. When the jar is filled, give the class the activity reward. Whatever your plan, be sure your students know what is expected of them and what the anticipated prize might be.

Choosing a Positive Reinforcer
When choosing a reinforcer, remember again that each student is different. While one student may cherish his or her computer game time, another student might beam at verbal reinforcement after writing an exceptional essay. To choose a reinforcer, you can remember this simple list of guidelines:

Observe which activities or objects already reinforce the student’s behavior and use them for motivation.
Ask each student for his or her reward preference. Give the student choices when exchanging points or tokens for rewards.
Monitor whether the chosen reinforcer is necessary and/or effective.
Evaluate with a formal preference assessment.

A Thank You For Every Occasion
Because positive reinforcers make such a significant impact on students and their families, it’s helpful to have a solid, appropriate array of cards on hand. You’ll be set for a year of thank yous no matter what grade you teach with Teacher Peach’s Thank You Note Cards In A Primary-Grade Motif and Thank You Note Cards In An Intermediate-Grade Motif. A short note can go a long way as a positive reinforcer for a diligent student. For your gotchas, you can stock up on our Star Student Note Cards. These are perfect for when you catch students in exhibiting a positive action or behavior.


Keep the positivity flowing between all the adults in your students’ lives with our Partner Thank You Note Cards. It’s always a great time to let someone know that you appreciate him or her! Lastly, follow up on student-teacher conferences with our “You Know Your Child” Thank You Note Cards. These notes will help you foster the important teacher-parent relationship throughout the year.

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What are your thoughts on positive behavior reinforcement? How does the PBIS program work in your school? Subscribe to Teacher Peach’s blog and let us know.

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