Plymouth State University is playing a part in helping students all over New Hampshire learn how to be good citizens in the classroom, hallway and cafeteria, on the school bus or out on the playground. As a state center for training in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a school-wide behavior plan that encourages community, responsibility and respect, PSU is leading the way for schools to become safer, more productive places where children can succeed.
From June 26-30, more than 880 educators, administrators, counselors, parents and community members participated in training sessions at PSU focused on implementing PBIS in elementary, middle and high schools as well as preschools and Head Start programs. Attendees spent from one to five days learning about the various components of PBIS and meeting with renowned experts in the program, like Dr. Lucille Eber, the state director of the Illinois PBIS Network. Some participants received PSU graduate credit for the conference.
The enrollment in the summer institute represents the largest ever in the four-year history of the program, presented by the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (NH CEBIS), which oversees the implementation of PBIS at New Hampshire schools.
There’s a good reason those numbers are up. Most school leaders don’t need a lot of convincing to take on the PBIS challenge. For one thing, because program funding is provided by a Department of Education grant, the training and support is free to New Hampshire schools. More important, when educators see the results of the program – fewer office referrals, fewer suspensions and expulsions, better academic scores, more parental involvement and a better school morale among teachers and staff – word spreads fast.
The foundation of PBIS is based on preventing problematic behavior before it happens. The program works at three levels in a school or district: universal, targeted and intensive. The universal level represents the rules, lessons and behavior expectations that are introduced to every student in the school. The targeted level is for kids at risk, who may need more individualized behavior support. The intensive support level is reserved for the five percent of children in a school who require additional services, such as mental health care, family assistance, psychological testing, counseling or other social services. Schools that implement the PBIS program participate in a three-year training process, introducing one level of the program each year and spending plenty of time developing and assessing the program’s effectiveness along the way.
PBIS is used in 44 states across the country and in 124 schools in New Hampshire. Dr. Marcel Lebrun, assistant professor of education at PSU, oversees the nine schools in the Lakes Region that use the program, providing training sessions and assistance to teachers, administrators and counselors. Lebrun, who teaches special education classes at PSU and has 23 years of experience as a classroom teacher, works directly with school teams to review behavior expectations, assess the climate and culture of the school and brainstorm with staff about what sorts of environmental changes may need to take place before introducing PBIS. Onsite technical assistance is provided year-round, and once a year, Lebrun formally evaluates each school’s progress.
When it comes to the philosophy behind PBIS, the word “positive” is the key, says Lebrun. Students are shown how to identify their own strengths and solve problems independently in positive ways.
“Instead of just looking at the punishment piece, we’re trying to give children skills and teach them new behaviors,” he said. “We’re asking, what is it we can do to help them be better citizens?”
In addition to improving the way kids behave at school, PBIS also positively influences the way teachers think and behave.
“It’s been incredibly empowering to teachers to have an understanding of the motivation for behaviors. Teachers are being kid-detectives, and this teaches them to be observers and tap into their expertise,” said Lebrun. “Kids’ behaviors are all about patterns. If you figure out the pattern, you can prevent the triggers.”
Family and community involvement are also integral to the success of PBIS, says Lebrun. Parents need to know how their child’s behavior may be affecting their academic work, and they need to feel free to come into the school to discuss issues with teachers, counselors and administrators. They also need to be informed when their children make good behavioral choices.
“We’re trying to build a sense of community and make schools more inviting to parents,” said Lebrun.
Within the school, PBIS reinforces unity, ensuring that all educators and parents are on the same page when it comes to what behaviors are acceptable for students. Marge LeBlanc, the student support specialist at Mildred C. Lakeway Elementary School in Littleton, has seen great changes in the way staff and students interact at school.
“The school expectations are clearly stated and understood, and everyone knows what needs to be done to maintain the positive school climate that continues to foster a respectful, caring learning environment devoted to achievement for all students,” said LeBlanc.
PBIS has a different look at each school where it is used, but the emphasis on supporting good behavior remains the same. Many schools have created mascots to help make school rules and policies accessible to younger students. All schools have recognition programs, such as good citizen awards, raffles, special celebrations and other incentives to promote good behavior. School teams also create “cool tools,” lessons to help address behavior expectations in specific situations or places, such as the school bus, cafeteria, playground, hallways, field trips or assemblies.
At Union Sanborn School in Tilton, kids follow “Purr”fect School-Wide Rules, introduced by the school’s mascot, Purr the Tiger. Purr is not only a fixture at school, but also visits children and families in their homes to talk about being safe and responsible. At school, when students show good behavior, they earn tickets for the Tiger Cart, where they can purchase small treats like pencils, erasers, notebooks, craft items or even an extra recess period. The school team also introduced “cool tools” such as “Purring Peacefully on the Playground” and “Lovin’ Lunch” to increase good behavior during lunch and recess.
Horne Street School in Dover also has a mascot, a children’s book character called Skippy Jon Jones. Kids at Horne Street can earn “Skippy badges” for good behavior. Buzzing bees are the mascots of choice at Florence Rideout Elementary School in Wilton, where rules are introduced using skits, radio shows, role playing and other dramatic methods. Parents are kept informed of their child’s behavior through “buzz cards” that are sent home each day.
Middle and high schools are less likely to introduce mascots, but often use easy-to-remember acronyms such as Littleton High School’s “LHS ROCKS” slogan, which reminds students of the importance of Respect, Opportunity, Citizenship, Kindness and Safety.
At Henry W. Moore School, a K-8 school in Candia, the PBIS team realized they would need to use a more age-appropriate acknowledgement system for middle school students who followed the school’s behavioral expectations. At Moore, middle schoolers in good standing can now earn a Gold Card, which provides them with special privileges and, according to parent and School Board Chair Karen Smith, “makes them feel like they’re in middle school.”
Smith, who attended a workshop at the PBIS conference in Plymouth, said the program has helped improve student behavior on the playground and school bus and in the lunchroom. Moore School is in its third year of training, and the school team is continually assessing how to make the program more effective, said Smith.
“It’s not a utopia, but it has made a big difference,” she said.
Schools interested in learning more about PBIS can find information at www.nhcebis.seresc.net. The application process for Cohort 5 schools is now open. Graduate students who want more information about PBIS coursework can contact Dr. Marcel Lebrun at (603) 535-2288.
Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.