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PBIS Tiers: What They Are & How to Use Them

PBIS is a tiered system of supports designed to differentiate between the level of support your students need.
By 
Jordan Pruitt
 | 
March 16, 2022

Student behavior problems can impact every facet of even the most well run schools. It is extremely difficult to move the academic needle if your administrative leadership team is dealing with disciplinary issues all day.

The traditional responses of punitive “zero tolerance” policies are very rarely beneficial past short intermissions in behavior as the student is removed from the learning environment.

These policies often compound issues when dealing with a student who has undergone severe or traumatic issues outside of the school. For this reason, positive behavior support strategies and systems have gained a great deal of popularity around the country.

These systems utilize social-emotional learning as a tool to improve behavior through clear expectations, progress monitoring, and rewarding the behaviors that are desired in your school as opposed to focusing on the negative behaviors.

What Is PBIS?

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a proactive approach to behavior in your building. PBIS is a tiered system of supports designed to differentiate between the level of support your students need. 

What Are the PBIS Tiers?

Tier 1 is given to all students. In this tier, we are teaching school wide expectations, and establishing a team that will lead the charge in setting expectations, teaching them, progress monitoring, and planning classroom rewards for your students who meet those goals. This is meant to meet the needs of roughly 80% of your students. 

The next 2 tiers require an additional team consisting of counselors, administration, behavioral experts, and your social worker. These students receive all of the Tier 1 services as well as specialized plans to treat the specific behavioral needs of the student. This could include regular group meetings, mentorship, behavior logs, or any number of other specialized plans. 

Why Use PBIS Tiers?

The approach is broken into Tiers for the same reason we differentiate in the classroom; kids have varying needs and we need to meet them where they are. 

There is also the idea of equitable vs equal. If all resources were divided equally we would inevitably fall very short in meeting the needs of a great number of our students. 

The equitable distribution of resources in a school is an approach designed to give each student the best chance for success. If you're focusing all your efforts on your Tier 2 and 3 students you're likely growing the amount of students receiving those services. 

Just as focusing solely on Tier 1 students will likely lead to a number of intensive behavior needs going unaddressed. Thus we need a Tiered approach to reach all students.

The PBIS Pyramid

It can be helpful to look at PBIS as a pyramid, with each tier representing its own section. We’ll dive into each tier and its meaning here.

pbis pyramid

Tier 1

Universal

Who: All Students in All Settings

Includes: Expectations Signage, School-wide rewards, Social-Emotional Skills Lessons

Requires: A Tier 1 Team consisting of a Coach, Admin, Teachers from all grade levels, a Parent, and Student representation

Examples: This team will set the schoolwide expectations and will be responsible for progress monitoring as well as rewarding the students who meet the expectations.

Tier 2

Targeted/Selected

Who: Classroom or Small Group Settings (10-20% of Students)

Includes: Social Skills Groups, Daily Check-Ins, Classroom Behavior Interventions

Requires: A MTSS team consisting of Counselors, Administration, Youth Service Center Coordinator, Social Worker, and any behavior or mental health specialist working with your students

Examples: This team will identify students whose needs are not being met by Tier 1 services, and develop plans that will meet the behaviors being displayed.

Tier 3

Targeted/Intensive

Who: Individual Interventions (3-5% of Students)

Includes individualized interventions for high-risk behaviors

Requires: Same as Tier 2 but may also include outside community-based services 

Examples: This team will identify students whose needs are not being met by Tier 1 and 2 structures and meet to create specialized plans that can address the very specific needs of the individual student.

Getting Started With PBIS Tiers for Your School

If you are reading this article, odds are your students have behavioral needs. They aren’t perfect. They can be difficult. They keep you busy. Your resources are being spent on addressing behaviors as opposed to improving and leading instruction. If that sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. 

Especially after a year of remote learning, it is vital that we are intentional and proactive on student discipline practices. So where do you begin? 

Start with Tier 1. The number 1 goal with PBIS should be to create a strong Tier 1 that has buy-in from all stakeholders and is implemented with fidelity all throughout your building. There is a reason it is the base of the Pyramid! 

If you start putting resources and time into Tier 2 and 3 before addressing Tier 1, your discipline problems will only grow. 

Your PBIS strategy should be to move students down the Pyramid first. The more students whose needs can be met by your Tier 1 structures, the fewer your specialist will need to spread their time and energy on. Thus giving them the most vital resource when dealing with students with intensive behaviors: time. 

The time to develop relationships, the time to develop plans, and the time to carry out those plans. If this group is more than 20% of your population, you have a Tier 1 problem. 

This is no different than instruction, if you employ academic interventionists you don’t expect them to reach all students. You expect high-quality teacher instruction to meet the needs of most of your kids. Your interventionists are there to provide additional support. Not to replace good Tier 1 instruction. This is the same with behavior, your Tier 1 support is the key to your success and your staff’s sanity. If your interested in creating a cohort of peers to share resources with you should check out our resources on taking PBIS district-wide. Or if you're totally new to behavior management we have great resources on how to start your PBIS program.

Learn more about the author, 
Jordan Pruitt
 

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