PBIS Can Be a Carrot and Stick System
PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Supports) has exploded in popularity in recent years with educators wanting to recognize students for positive behaviors (the carrot) in order to curb negative behaviors. PBIS has some pros and cons, but the cons can be detrimental to character development. While rewarding students can have some positive results in the short term, there must also be strategies to develop intrinsically-motivated students. When negative behaviors are exhibited, many PBIS schools use punishments (the stick) to try and deter those behaviors. PBIS is a framework for a modeling, teaching, and recognizing positive behaviors for students. While this sounds good in theory, many schools are not set up to properly coach students when they are not buying in to the extrinsic system. Another unfortunate side effect is that PBIS can create a system where many students do what they would normally do, but are now expecting a reward and recognition.
PBIS Often Fails With Students that Need More Support
Let's be clear about this...not all students behave (or even should behave) because they get a sticker. Many schools reach only the superficial aspects of PBIS, creating token systems, ticket systems, and other extrinsic rewards that allow for students to earn or purchase items from school stores or other mediums. Schools that go beyond the most superficial aspects of PBIS utilize Tiers 1, 2, and 3. Tier 1 for PBIS is intentional rules and routines that are developed and taught to prevent unwanted behaviors. Tiers 2 and 3 for PBIS are more intensive and involve small group and individual coaching of behaviors. According to the PBIS Center:
*Of 14,324 reporting Tier 1 fidelity in 2016-17, 9564 (65%) report high fidelity implementation. This means that only approximately 2 out of every 3 users believe that they do the first tier in a very effective manner.
*Of 9,407 reporting Tier 2 and Tier 3 fidelity, 3114 (33%) and 1837 (19%) report high fidelity, respectfully. This means that only 1 out of 3 users believe that they do Tier 2 supports in a very effective manner, and approximately 1 out of 5 users believe they do Tier 3 supports in an effective manner.
As the data shows, fidelity decreases at the higher tiers, which impacts the students that need behavior coaching the most. By focusing on a points-based system or similar avenue of recognizing student behavior, schools might be creating an environment of compliance instead of engagement. Worse yet, schools might be creating extrinsically-motivated students that only engage in positive behaviors for the sake of getting rewarded. According to legendary coach John Wooden,
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Unfortunately, we might be teaching kids to only do things when we are watching or to think that doing the right thing is a wasted effort if no one rewards them. This reminds me of posts you might see on social media of someone having to document that they have helped someone in need, and they make sure that everyone knows they have done it so they can be recognized...not because of the intrinsic satisfaction that they got out of helping someone else, and how they made someone else’s day. For example, someone might post about how they gave their shoes to a person on the street that did not have any shoes. They then get hundreds of likes on Facebook. Instead of doing something nice for another person because it is the right thing to do and intrinsic satisfaction, they have done it because of the recognition.
Relying on Rewarding Students Isn't Always a Great Idea
A big component of PBIS is teaching and modeling the behaviors that we want to see in students, but many schools fail short in implementation and consistency, instead hoping that the carrot and stick system of rewarding kids or penalizing kids will change behaviors. We need to be more intentional about the implementation and execution of behavior management systems. According to the book Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice, we often fail at getting the ‘why’ behind behaviors. We must get students to think about the following:
*Why should I do the right thing?
*What is my role and responsibility in my learning environment?
*How do my actions impact myself and others?
*Why should I make it right when I have harmed others in some way?
When we recognize that the old mantra of “carrot and stick” discipline philosophies actually can create more opposition, exclusion, and labeling, we can begin to truly change behavior. While PBIS has some great components, it often fails as a standalone system. We highly recommend incorporating restorative practices into existing PBIS frameworks, to not only recognize students for the right thing, but also to teach them the social and emotional skills needed to overcome negative behaviors. It might be challenging to have multiples systems at a school, so we recommend BehaviorFlip so that schools can seamlessly execute the best of both systems.
PBIS can fail to help our kids that need behavior coaching and growth the most. Restorative practices manage behaviors that would otherwise result in punishment and creates responsibility of actions, an obligation to repair the harm caused, and action steps towards righting the wrong. This philosophy of discipline takes a deeper dive into the “why” behind a behavior and seeks to understand, first, creating positive collaboration around issues, shared investments in the school climate, and healthy relationships among all stakeholders. Emotional regulation isn’t instinctive— it’s learned. Restorative practices allow for deeper development of empathy, emotional intelligence, and social-emotional learning.
For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out our international bestseller, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Also, be sure to check out our revolutionary behavior management system, BehaviorFlip, that combines the best of restorative practices, PBIS, & MTSS to help build a culture of empathy, responsibility, & growth mindset!