Impulse control ranks with reading, writing and arithmetic as an important lesson that all school children need to learn. From outgrowing diapers to learning to share toys, the social lessons of self-control begin in the nursery but do not end there, and Perry Elementary School’s new Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program aims to teach kindergarteners through fifth graders the social skills of respectfulness, responsibility and safety.
Formed a decade ago by the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, PBIS is now in place in more than 9,000 school across 40 states. The Perry Community School District (PCSD) planned its PBIS program last year and began it this year. While it does not yet receive any funding in the school budget, PBIS has already earned strong support from teachers and parents alike.
The program is coordinated in Perry Elementary by Andrea Brandner, school counselor, Kris Powell, behavior coach, and Emily Behrens, At-Risk/PBIS teacher.
The program aims to teach students self-discipline by reinforcing positive behavior instead of censuring misbehavior.
"Perry Elementary teachers spent the first two weeks of school teaching the school-wide expectations for the hallway, coat room, cafeteria, restroom, bus, and classroom" Behrens said. "The whole idea is to be proactive as opposed to reactive so we teach the expectations from the beginning, and when students display unwanted behaviors, we can go back and reteach."
Part of the proactive or positive reinforcement comes in the form of Bluejay feathers, which students earn when they are seen being respectful, responsible or safe, Brandner said. They can collect their feathers and cash them in at the Blujay’s Nest, which is full of pencils, erasers and other trinkets.
Students can also redeem their Bluejay feathers for prizes such as snacks, extra recess time or an iPad tech party, she said. This reward system is supplemented with monthly assemblies that involve activities and games to further the core message.
By limiting the central idea of PBIS to three words—respect, responsibility and safety—and giving concrete, real-world examples of what the words mean when applied to conduct, the PBIS principles are easy to remember, and they give everyone the same vocabulary of behavior.
According to Powell, PBIS offers "a consistent language for all students and adults in every setting. This is good for the adults because all teachers, including substitutes, can provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior as well as give corrective feedback when problems arise."
"It’s made a huge difference having a common language across the school," Brandner said. Instead of the three key words being empty abstractions that the students hear but attach no definite meaning to, all the emphasis is put on practical application.
"The consistent language is great for students as well," Powell said, "because now the rules for each setting do not change as they move from one teacher to the next."
Teachers know that all students are accountable for the same behavioral expectations because they have all been directly taught to every student in almost every school setting.
Perry Elementary School will gather data on its PBIS program over the year, Brandner said, with the hope of eventually attracting funding and extending the program to the Middle School and High School.