How Responsive Classroom Can Support PBIS Initiatives

Recently a teacher contacted me, frustrated over her school’s adoption of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. Her biggest concern was that PBIS would replace the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning at her school.  The perspective I offered was that Responsive Classroom and PBIS are compatible in many ways: in fact, Responsive Classroom practices and strategies can provide structure and support for PBIS and other behavioral and academic initiatives.

We recently made a presentation about the Responsive Classroom approach at the 7th International PBIS Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and were encouraged to see strong interest among school and district leadership teams in using specific Responsive Classroom teaching practices, such as interactive modeling and positive teacher language, to achieve their PBIS goals. Many noted their success at integrating the two approaches and told stories of dramatic improvements in school climate and student learning.

Finding the common ground among various approaches is important work for schools.  Initiatives come and go all too often, but the effective teaching practices that underlie the Responsive Classroom approach make it possible to do our best teaching, whether we’re implementing reading instruction or creating a plan for teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors as part of a primary prevention level of support in PBIS.

The common ground upon which Responsive Classroom and PBIS rest includes:

  • both use positive strategies to explicitly teach and support positive behaviors
  • both recognize that punitive or “get tough” strategies are harmful to children
  • both aim to establish positive schoolwide climates for learning
  • both acknowledge the importance of recognizing and reinforcing positive behavior
  • both emphasize the importance of responding consistently and immediately to children’s misbehavior

And here’s a story from a school in Virginia that is implementing both Responsive Classroom and PBIS:

Recently a group of fourth grade teachers began to question the school’s use of rewards for good behavior, a practice that was connected to their PBIS initiative. The teachers observed that giving children rewards wasn’t helping the children internalize positive behavior and expectations, and that it didn’t feel authentic. Plus, managing the rewards system was cumbersome.

They decided to wean the children off rewards and instead to intensify their efforts to use reinforcing language to describe positive behaviors. The result: the children’s behavior improved! They told me that what surprised them most was that the children didn’t even seem to miss the rewards.

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.

Tags: PBIS, Professional Development, Rewards