Schools See Success With Program That Encourages Positive Behaviors

Eight-hundred schools in Wisconsin have recently adopted Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, a teaching style that’s a school-wide approach to recognizing students and teaching positive behavior.

Recently, a Monroe Fire Department fire engine filled with teachers from Monroe’s Parkside Elementary School surprised fourth-grader Grace Mathiason with a ride to school.

And when she arrived at school, all of her classmates were outside to greet her and cheer for her.

Mathiason is Parkside’s student of the month. She was picked out of a few nominations because of her positive attitude and academic success. And while it’s an experience she’ll likely never forget, it’s part of a much bigger picture of using PBIS in schools.

“It’s different from a punitive, disciplinary approach with suspensions or detentions,” Principal Todd Paradis said. “We model ours after the three B’s — be respectful, be responsible and be safe. And we talk about those three things in all settings of the school, whether it’s in the classroom, the cafeteria or outside at recess.”

A major component of PBIS at Parkside is a train. Each classroom has a train printout on the wall or white board, and students have their own magnet or pin on that train. Each morning, the students start in the middle and move up or down the train based on their behavior.

Kindergarten teacher Virginia Schmidt said it’s a front and center way to show students how their behavior can make a difference.

“It allows us to set clear expectations for children, and helps us celebrate those successes when then do achieve something,” Schmidt said. “What’s so wonderful about it is, all teachers are on board. Every teacher — whether it’s a reading specialist or the lunch person — whoever it is, knows about it and can use this train with all the students.”

Schmidt said encouraging positive behavior, through the train or other activities, provides a better educational experience for students because less time is spent on discipline.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has picked up on the new teaching tool within the last few years, and it now offers support to Wisconsin schools that implement PBIS in their schools.

“There were a number of schools in Wisconsin that saw the success in other states,” said Julia Hartwig, from the Department of Public Instruction. “It was really a grassroots movement throughout the state, and DPI felt a lot of demand to find supports for districts.”

Hartwig said it’s not only about teaching positive behavior but also about consistency, school-wide. And she said students are getting it.

“We’re seeing fewer in and out of school suspensions, fewer office discipline referrals, which means more time in the classroom and more instructional minutes,” Hartwig said.

At Parkside in Monroe, disciplinary referrals went down nearly 50 percent after the school introduced PBIS last year. Teachers said it allows them to spend more time teaching, rather than dealing with behavioral issues.

“I see the buy-in that the kids have for it,” Schmidt said. “They believe in it. They’re excited about it and they enjoy reaching towards this goal.”