Positive behavior support

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Positive behavior support is a form of applied behavior analysis that uses a system to understand what maintains an individual's challenging behavior. People's inappropriate behaviors are difficult to change because they are functional; they serve a purpose for them. These behaviors are supported by reinforcement in the environment. In the case of students and children, often adults in a child’s environment will reinforce his or her undesired behaviors because the child will receive objects and/or attention because of his behavior. Functional behavior assessments clearly describe behaviors, identifies the contexts (events, times, and situation) that predict when behavior will and will not occur, and identifies consequences that maintain the behavior. It also summarizes and creates a hypothesis about the behavior, and directly observes the behavior and takes data to get a baseline. The positive behavior support process involves goal identification, information gathering, hypothesis development, support plan design, implementation and monitoring.

In order for techniques to work in decreasing undesired behavior, they should include: feasibility, desirability, and effectiveness. Strategies are needed that teachers and parents are able and willing to use and that have an impact on the child's ability to participate in community and school activities. Positive behavior support is increasingly being recognized as a strategy that meets these criteria. By changing stimulus and reinforcement in the environment and teaching the child to strengthen deficit skill areas the student's behavior changes in ways that allow him/her to be included in the general education setting. The three areas of deficit skills identified in the article were communication skills, social skills, and self-management skills. Re-directive therapy as positive behavior support is especially effective in the parent–child relationship. Where other treatment plans have failed re-directive therapy allows for a positive interaction between parents and children

PBS in schools[edit]

Schools are required to conduct functional behavioral assessment and use positive behavior support with students who are identified as disabled and are at risk for school expulsion, alternative school placement, or more than 10 days of school suspension. Even though FBA is required under limited circumstances it is good professional practice to use a problem-solving approach to managing problem behaviors in the school setting (Crone & Horner 2003).[1]

The use of Positive Behavior Intervention Supports in schools is widespread (Sugai & Horner, 2002).[2] The program offers a primary, secondary, and tertiary level of intervention.[3] A basic tenet of the PBIS approach includes identifying students in one of three categories based on risk for behavior problems. Once identified, students receive services in one of three categories: primary, secondary, or tertiary. To help practitioners with differences in interventions used at each of the levels the professional literature refers to a three-tiered (levels) model (Stewart, Martella, Marchand-Martella, & Benner, 2005; Sugai, Sprague, Horner & Walker, 2000;[4] Tobin & Sugai, 2005; Walker et al., 1996.)[5] Interventions are specifically developed for each of these levels with the goal of reducing the risk for academic or social failure. These interventions may be behavioral and or academic interventions incorporating scientifically proven forms of instruction such as direct instruction.[6] The interventions become more focused and complex as one examines the strategies used at each level.[7]

Primary prevention strategies focus on interventions used on a school-wide basis for all students (Sugai & Horner, 2002).[2] This level of prevention is considered "primary" because all students are exposed in the same way, and at the same level, to the intervention. The primary prevention level is the largest by number. Approximately 80–85% of students who are not at risk for behavior problems respond in a positive manner to this prevention level.[8] Primary prevention strategies include, but are not limited to, using effective teaching practices and curricula, explicitly teaching behavior that is acceptable within the school environment, focusing on ecological arrangement and systems within the school, consistent use of precorrection procedures, using active supervision of common areas, and creating reinforcement systems that are used on a school-wide basis (Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin, 1998;[9] Martella & Nelson, 2003;[10] Nelson, Crabtree, Marchand-Martella & Martella, 1998;[11] Nelson, Martella, & Marchand-Martella, 2002.[12])

Secondary prevention strategies involve students (i.e., 10–15% of the school population) who do not respond to the primary prevention strategies and are at risk for academic failure or behavior problems but are not in need of individual support (Nelson, et al., 2002). Interventions at the secondary level often are delivered in small groups to maximize time and effort and should be developed with the unique needs of the students within the group. Examples of these interventions include social support such as social skills training (e.g., explicit instruction in skill-deficit areas, friendship clubs, check in/check out, role playing) or academic support (i.e., use of research-validated intervention programs and tutoring). Additionally, secondary programs could include behavioral support approaches (e.g., simple Functional Behavioral Assessments [FBA], precorrection, self-management training). Even with the heightened support within secondary level interventions, some students (1–7%) will need the additional assistance at the tertiary level (Walker et al., 1996).[5]

Tertiary prevention programs focus on students who display persistent patterns of disciplinary problems (Nelson, Benner, Reid, Epstein, & Currin, 2002).[13] Tertiary-level programs are also called intensive or individualized interventions and are the most comprehensive and complex.[7] The interventions within this level are strength-based in that the complexity and intensity of the intervention plans directly reflect the complexity and intensity of the behaviors.[14] Students within the tertiary level continue involvement in primary and secondary intervention programs and receive additional support as well. These supports could include use of full FBA, de-escalation training for the student, heightened use of natural supports (e.g., family members, friends of the student), and development of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

Although comprehensive services are important for all students, a critical aspect of the three-tiered model is the identification of students at one of the three levels. One method of identifying students in need of interventions is to analyze office disciplinary referrals (ODR) taken at the school (Irvin et al., 2006). ODRs may be a means of both identifying students' risk level for antisocial behavior and school failure (Walker et al., 1996). Researchers have advocated analyzing this naturally occurring data source as a relatively cheap, effective, and ongoing measurement device for PBS programs (Irvin et al., 2006; Putnam, Luiselli, Handler, & Jefferson, 2003;[15] Sprague et al., 2001; Sugai et al., 2000;[4] Tidwell, Flannery, & Lewis-Palmer, 2003;[16] Walker, Cheney, Stage, & Blum, 2005.[17]


  1. Crone, D. A., & Horner, R. H. (2003). Building positive behavior support systems in schools: Functional behavioral assessment. New York: Guildford Press
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2002). The evolution of discipline practices: School-wide positive behavior supports. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 24, 23-50.
  3. Tobin, T.J. and Sugai, G. (2005). Preventing Problem Behaviors: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Level Prevention Interventions for Young Children. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention, 2 (3), 125–144 BAO
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sugai, G., Sprague, J.R., Horner, R.H., & Walker, H.M. (2000). Preventing school violence: The use of office discipline referrals to assess and monitor school wide discipline interventions. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Walker, H. M., Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Bullis, M., Sprague, J. R., Bricker, D., et al. (1996). Integrated ap- proaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal of Emo- tional and Behavioral Disorders, 4, 193–256.
  6. Stewart, R.M., Martella, R.C., Marchand-Martella, N.E. and Benner, G.J (2005) Three-Tier Models of Reading and Behavior. JEIBI, 2 (3), 115–124 BAO
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tobin T.J., Lewis-Palmer, T., & Sugai G. (2001) School-Wide And Individualized Effective Behavior Support: An Explanation And An Example. The Behavior Analyst Today, 3 (1), 51–75 BAO
  8. Mack D. Burke, PhD, Kevin Ayres, MA & Shanna Hagan-Burke, PhD. (2004): Preventing School-Based Antisocial Behaviors with School-Wide Positive Behavioral Support. JEIBI, 1 (1), 66–74 BAO
  9. Lewis, T. J, Sugai, G., Colvin, G. (1998). Reducing problem behavior through a school- side system of effective behavioral support: Investigation of a school-wide social skills training program and contextual interventions. School Psychology Review, 27, 446-459.
  10. Martella, R. C., Nelson, J. R., & Marchand-Martella, N. E. (2003). Managing disruptive behaviors in the schools: A schoolwide, classroom, and individualized social learning approach. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  11. Nelson, J. R., Crabtree, M., Marchand-Martella, N. E., & Martella, R. C. (1999). Teaching good behavior in the whole school. In F. Schultz (Ed.), Annual editions: Education 99/00, (26th ed., pp. 116-121). Sluice Dock, Guilford, CT: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.
  12. Nelson, J.R., Martella, R.M., Marchand-Martella, N. (2002). Maximizing student learning: The effects of a comprehensive school-based program for preventing problem behaviors. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 10(3), 136-148.
  13. Nelson, J. R., Benner, G., Reid, R., Epstein, M. H., & Currin, D. (2002) The convergent validity of office discipline referrals with the TRF. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 181-189.
  14. Tincani, M. (2007). Moving forward: Positive behavior support and applied behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst Today, 8, 492–499. BAO
  15. Putnam, R.F., Luiselli, J.K., Handler, M.W., & Jefferson, G.L. (2003). Evaluating student discipline practices in a public school through behavioral assessment of office referrals. Behavior Modification, 27, 505–523.
  16. Tidwell, A., Flannery, K.B., & Lewis-Palmer, T. (2003). A description of elementary classroom discipline referral patterns. Preventing School Failure 48(1), 18-26.
  17. Walker, B., Cheney, D., Stage, S., & Blum, C. (2005).Schoolwide screening and positive behavior support: Identifying and supporting students at risk of school failure. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7, 194-204.