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In Conversation With ... Steve Hutton
on positive learning environments through appropriate behavior
Kentucky School Advocate
Q: Could you briefly describe the goals of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)?
Our mission is to train and support schools in the implementation of positive, proactive and instructional strategies that help students become self-disciplined, responsible and productive. We currently work with about 550 Kentucky schools.
Q: Tell me about PBIS’s history in Kentucky.
In 2001, the Commonwealth of Kentucky began an initiative to promote a safe and supportive learning environment for students and staff by launching the Kentucky Instructional Discipline and Support project (K.I.D.S.). The Kentucky Department of Education expanded the program and created the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline, the statewide program that helps schools establish a culture and climate in which schools and students can be successful. Funding is from the federal Department of Education, and goes to the Kentucky Department of Education. Eastern Kentucky University manages our grants and we also coordinate with the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Q: In recent years, the center has seen a decrease in funding. Describe the effect that has had.
We now have a director, one full-time area coordinator and six part-time area coordinators. In 2006, we had four full-time coordinators, a director, an assistant director and a training assistant. At that time we were managing about 200 schools. In order to continue to do what we were doing, our previous director began using part-time folks. If it weren’t for the Department of Education, EKU and the Center for School Safety, there probably would not be a Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline.
Q: Is there a chance of increased funding for the program in future years?
Right now I just want to make sure there’s no decrease.
Q: Given the constraints, how has the program continued to expand?
We have incredibly energetic folks who make schools their priority because they believe so deeply in PBIS. They find a way to juggle schedules and serve the schools that ask for help.
Q: Is there a cost to schools that implement PBIS?
There is no charge for our services. About the only cost to schools is for substitute teachers while teachers are at trainings.
Q: Must entire school districts commit to the program?
Before we take on new schools, the district must agree to create a district PBIS leadership team. That doesn’t mean that all schools in the district have to implement PBIS. It means that whichever schools do implement it will get support and guidance from the district.
We do the individual school trainings but have turned over some of the oversights to district leadership for implementation of fidelity. There are certain things that have to be in place to get the results from PBIS that schools are looking for, and so those district teams help with that.
Q: What issues do teams deal with to ensure that the program is being faithfully followed?
District teams will examine each school’s behavior data. If they see red flags, they can provide support and guidance. Each school also meets on a monthly basis to look at its own data.
Q: What happens after the data is analyzed?
Each school creates an action plan, and again, the district leadership team helps support that school and its action plan. The district team may even decide to meet on a quarterly basis with each of their schools. There are also fidelity measures that each school has to take. The first fidelity measure is called the team implementation checklist; it helps schools determine what needs to be on their action plan, what their next tasks are. New schools take the self-assessment survey, which looks at several areas within their school: schoolwide, nonclassroom areas (hallways, buses, the cafeteria), classrooms and individual student needs.
Q: What are the most important data points that schools examine?
One of the first things is the average referrals per day and per month and the number of office referrals. We also look at what time, where and what type of behavior infractions are occurring. Maybe fighting is a behavior that has increased. We look at what time and where those fights are likely to happen. Perhaps it is around lunchtime in the hallways around the cafeteria. That tells me as an administrator that I need to allocate extra resource people to be in those hallways. PBIS is about being proactive and preventative.
Q: So PBIS is adapted to each school and each situation?
Right, and so while we’re being proactive and preventative, schools also have to teach kids the behaviors that they want them to exhibit at school, because those behaviors may be different than the behaviors the students exhibit at home. PBIS schools don’t take for granted that students come to school with the behaviors teachers and principals would like students to have. We teach responsible behaviors at schools and then when teachers see the students exhibiting those behaviors they will acknowledge those students are doing something right. When I acknowledge you for doing what you’re supposed to be doing there’s accountability built in. What a PBIS school is saying is, “You’re doing the right thing and we noticed you, and keep doing the right thing.”
Q: Does that mean PBIS usually is instituted in schools where there are disciplinary issues?
Not necessarily. Schools often implement it because it improves school culture and climate. We have schools that are very proactive.
Q: Has PBIS been successful in the Kentucky schools that have tried it?
We just looked at our data. Our schools have fewer suspensions and higher graduation rates than schools that don’t implement PBIS.
Q: Are there times when PBIS doesn’t work for a school?
I always tell schools that PBIS doesn’t make things perfect, it just makes it better. And schools that fail to implement with fidelity do not get the results that they expect. Anybody who implements with fidelity just continues to grow and excel. Their behaviors are under control and their academics are good.
Q: What is PBIS’s impact on discipline that is disproportional – for example, where more special education students or minority students are being suspended, referred to the office or expelled?
From what I have researched, the American Civil Liberties Union looks at PBIS as one of the more culturally responsive behavior management frameworks.
With PBIS you don’t assume kids know how to be safe, respectful and responsible, and so every kid gets an equal shot at learning how to be safe, respectful and responsible, rather than taking it for granted kids have those prerequisites when they come to school.
Q: There are always new teachers and new staff coming into the school systems, which must create an ongoing need for training.
We teach schools that they have a responsibility to ensure that their staff is reoriented every year regarding PBIS components. To help, each school has a PBIS coach and their district team has a PBIS coach. We have various trainings for new concepts that we are constantly implementing. For example, one new concept is called trauma-informed care. It takes the approach that there’s got to be a reason why a student acts the way they do. What we try to teach is rather than take the behavior personally, teachers and school personnel should take it professionally. If we look at it through a trauma-informed lens, then there’s some understanding about what this kid has to put up with. What need is this kid’s behavior trying to communicate to us? Is it a need for structure? Is it a need for stability in their life?
Q: If you had a message to school board members about the benefits of PBIS, what would it be?
I think PBIS can create a safe and orderly environment. Board members want all the kids and the people they serve to be in a safe and orderly environment because those who are have higher levels of achievement. PBIS tries to make sure that we have an environment where kids want to come to school and where they aren’t afraid to come to school because of bullying and other behavior issues. Board members also want to make sure that when students graduate their behavior is safe, respectful and responsible so they can be productive citizens. Employers want people who show up and who will work hard, and so they want kids who are responsible. PBIS helps with the college readiness, but it also helps with the career readiness.
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