Wednesday / May 22

How to Establish and Operate an Effective PBIS System

Contributed by Dr. Jessica Hannigan

“I can’t handle this class.”

“My administration does not support me.”

“Nothing will work with these students.”

“Their parents should be teaching them how to behave, not us.”

“We are a zero tolerance school.”

Sound familiar? After all, everyone gets frustrated now and then with students, staff, parents, and teachers. Feeling frustrated is a part of being human, especially when you think you are doing everything you can in your class and school to improve student behavior and positive school culture and climate. But if the approach is not working and you continue getting the same results, something in the system is not working and it is time for a change. If you feel ready to make a systematic change in your school, read on.

We work to help schools improve systems for academic and behavior achievement. Through this work, we realize that schools need a framework for creating effective and sustainable behavior systems to support the academic efforts in their schools and include accountability components. We realize how the lack of behavior support systems negatively impacts student learning. Thus, we understand the importance and urgency of providing a comprehensive behavior framework that changes the environment of a school in order to change the belief systems of all impacted. We developed a research-based model that is practical, easy to implement, timely and works for all schools and includes a measure of accountability and recognition for model-level implementation, The PBIS Champion Model System.

The PBIS Champion Model System is defined as a framework for creating a comprehensive systems approach to implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) behavior system at your school or district. This action-oriented framework provides quality criteria and how-to steps for developing, implementing, monitoring, and sustaining each level of the system; Bronze (Tier 1: school-wide), Silver (Tier 2: small-group), and Gold (Tier 3: individualized). Each tier in the system is made up of three categories with a set of criteria and defined actions. The categories include (Category A) Markers, (Category B) School Characteristics, and (Category C) Behavior Goals and the work of the PBIS team.

The purpose of this model is to help teachers and administrators develop a behavior system at their school or district that is practical, is easy to implement, and demonstrates a positive change in behavior and academic data. A teacher or administrator can begin implementation of the PBIS Champion Model System at their school and immediately see changes in their school culture and discipline data within the first month if the steps and actions outlined are followed with fidelity. If you are ready for this journey towards creating an equitable school system, let’s begin!

How Can The PBIS Champion Model System Help Your School?

Through my work in hundreds of schools, I’ve encountered and experienced school environments described in School Environment A and School Environment B, listed in this chart:

School Environment A School Environment B
As students arrive to campus, there is no evidence of adults welcoming and greeting students. With your first step on the campus, you feel so welcomed that you feel like you belong; the positive culture is contagious.
Walls are bare with just a few signs indicating where the office and bathrooms are located. Positively stated messages are posted in every setting throughout the school.
Upon entering the school office, no one acknowledges you for several minutes, and when spoken to, it is with a negative or irritated tone. Upon entering the school office, school personnel greet you, and you feel like you are their priority.
Staff and students are unclear about behavior expectations. The main message communicated to students is what not to do.  Clear behavior expectations and rules are evident and understood by all students and staff. The main message communicated to students is what to do.
The office is filled with students lined up to see an administrator for misconduct. However, staff members complain that nothing ever happens to students sent to the office for misconduct. Office referrals are minimal. More students are lined up in the office being acknowledged for appropriate expected behavior.
Negative talk about students, administration, and/or other colleagues permeates the staff lounge. Productive talk permeates the staff lounge. It is a family atmosphere of caring and sharing.
Students take their time getting to class after the bell rings, unconcerned about being tardy or missing instruction. Students understand the value of being to class on time and don’t want to miss a minute of instruction.
Administrators are consumed with discipline issues all day long; therefore, it is difficult for them to get out of their offices. Teachers greet students daily as they walk into the classroom with a handshake, high five, fist pump, or positive verbal acknowledgment. Active supervision of students occurs in designated locations throughout the schools.


We all strive to create School Environment B, but where do you get started? In my new book, The PBIS Tier One Handbook, I outline the 10 critical markers that must be in place to build a strong Tier 1 PBIS foundation. The first critical marker is establishing and operating an effective PBIS team. Below, we’ll discuss immediate actions you can take that will help you establish and maintain the school environment your students, staff, and community deserve.

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So, what are some actions you can take to move to establish and operate an effective PBIS team?

  1. Garner support. As a school leader, you should begin by sharing the research, purpose, goals, and the role of the PBIS team with the entire staff and asking staff members to state their interest in being a member of the team.
  2. Show videos of a model PBIS school during staff training to encourage staff members to be part of the PBIS team (CLICK HERE FOR A FREE LIST OF PBIS VIDEOS).
  3. Assemble a PBIS team that includes five to seven diverse, positive, and influential members who commit to implementing PBIS at a Champion Model level. The administrator serves as an active member of the team.
  4. Calendar sixty-minute monthly PBIS team meetings for the entire school year during teacher’s duty day, and the PBIS team adhere to the meeting schedule.
  5. The PBIS team members commit to establishing and following an agenda and norms for each meeting.
  6. The PBIS team creates a written purpose/mission statement focused on the criteria for operating at a PBIS Champion Model level.
  7. Select a PBIS coach (or co-coaches) from among PBIS team members. The PBIS coach helps facilitate meetings, monitors the work of the team by making sure that monthly meetings are held and follows up on commitments made by PBIS members during team meetings, researches fun ways to introduce PBIS to school staff, and provides ongoing communication to the staff.
  8. The PBIS team shares updates (10 to 15 minutes) with the school staff at every staff or department meeting.

Based on the suggested list of actions, what will be your next move in fulfilling marker 1?



Jessica HanniganDr. Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan is Supervisor of Student Support Services in Central Unified School District and an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Fresno State University. She is also an educational consultant working with several school districts and county offices in California on designing and implementing effective behavior systems in schools and districts that work. She currently trains approximately 300 schools on the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Champion Model System. She is the co-author of The PBIS Tier One Handbook.


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