PBIS: “An Evolution with Discipline” or A Repeat of Olweus?

by DUSTIN NEWMAN

Guest Writer

El Diamante High School is soon to be one of the newest schools in the country to integrate a behavioral framework called “Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports” (PBIS) into its campus after administrators at the school have raised concerns about the effectiveness of current punitive measures to correct misbehavior.

The framework, which was originally designed in 1997 for students with mental disabilities that misbehaved, emphasizes “teaching-oriented, positive, and preventive strategies,” according to its organization’s website.

Angela Sanchez, principal of El Diamante, says that PBIS “is really taking a new look at when students are not behaving the way that they ought to. We’re an educational institution, so how can we teach kids to behave better? Is suspending kids always the best teaching tool?”

However, she also emphasized that “that doesn’t mean that we will never suspend anyone because we will. That doesn’t mean that kids will never get expelled because they will when there’s something that’s an egregious kind of act and there are going to be some serious consequences for those kids” and “of course there are always going to be certain things: a kid brings a weapon to school, we’re not just going to teach them to not. We’re going to move swiftly and strongly on things like that.”

Rather, PBIS will be used to “to reach students and put some smiles on their faces and to have fun at school, while being able to learn stuff that will prepare them for the future,” according to Alex Jimenez, assistant principal of El Diamante. Sanchez said that the “bottom line” is to build “more of a culture that also recognizes more… positive behaviors, so that kids who are kind of on the tipping point” will “want to be part of those rewards instead of choosing to be part of the negative side.”

According to Sanchez, “a more positive and vibrant school climate” will lead to “less bullying, less classroom behavior incidents, less major-kind-of incidents that might lead to suspension or expulsion,” as well as “more recognition for all the positive ‘cause a really important part of PBIS is recognizing and acknowledging positive behaviors.”

When asked why PBIS was chosen to be implemented now rather than in the past, Jimenez pointed to the recent addition of principal Sanchez to the school, saying that “so far, the behaviors that we’ve been seeing on campus, and the ways we correct them, hasn’t really brought about drastic or big change. It’s worked, but Mrs. Sanchez has come on and said ‘Okay, well, it’s worked, but we can do better.’”

The decision to implement PBIS has been controversial amongst teachers, however, who view it as both unnecessary and pacifying, due to the large shift away from punitive measures for discipline. Sanchez rebutted these concerns though, saying “I don’t see that at all… Every teacher has a different style and… I think that that flexibility will continue to exist. What it is, though, is that we will have some clear communication and some commonalities that we can all agree on” and that, from her own experience, “the teachers feel more empowered afterward.”

The implementation of PBIS will begin with the development of an acronym that will represent El Diamante’s core values, such as the use of “H.E.A.R.T.” at Green Acres Middle School, of which Sanchez was the principal for five years. El Diamante is “in the process of selecting an acronym that will be used,” according to Sanchez.

In February, the El Diamante student senate voted and gave their input on different acronym options. Shortly after, teachers then reviewed the opinions of the senate. From there, a committee “comprised of some teachers, administrators, learning directors, the school psychologist, [a] behavior intervention tech, some ASB students, some Link Crew students, [and] EdHews,” says Jimenez, will then decide upon the final acronym to be used.

Sanchez has high hopes for the success of the acronym, saying that “it’s an opportunity for the school to take that and make it part of [the school’s] identity” and that it will create “a more unified group of people that have more pride in the school.” Time will tell, however, if an acronym is capable of uniting El Diamante or if it will simply become a word on banners around campus.

Regardless of the success, or failure, of the acronym designated by the PBIS framework, the next step would be instruction of students, which is possible through a variety of different methods. An undisclosed drama teacher expressed excitement over the possibility of performing skits, while Sanchez also discussed “illustrations of what is and what is not appropriate in different venues” and cited Link Crew and EdHews, in addition to the drama department, as potential promoters of PBIS.

The introduction of a new behavioral framework may sound familiar to El Diamante staff and students, who remember the failed trial of Olweus, the largest anti-bullying program currently marketed to secondary schools, in the 2012-2013 academic year. The program, while praised and favorably reviewed, was ultimately scrapped from El Diamante due to its little success and the complexity with which it was implemented.

However, Sanchez insisted that PBIS is “not really a “program.” It’s not like we get a certain curriculum and we teach that specific curriculum. It’s not like that. It’s not like Olweus.” Rather, PBIS “guides the school through a set of steps” that allow a clear communication of expectations and rewards, according to Sanchez.

While Sanchez called PBIS “an evolution with discipline,” she also noted that she does not think of PBIS as a “major shift,” as El Diamante already enjoys a “very positive climate… and student body.” She also made it explicit that PBIS “shouldn’t be looked at as there’s a problem and we need to fix it. That’s not it at all. It’s an opportunity to take something that’s good and make it even better and strengthen that sense of identity, [have] a common sense of what we’re about.”

PBIS has already been implemented at Sanger High School, Kingsburg middle and high schools, and Mt. Whitney High School and is currently part of “about 21,278 schools in the country,” according to Jimenez.

PBIS will launch at El Diamante in the 2016-2017 academic year at its most basic components and will be a fully-operational system within three years.

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