4 Ways PBIS Can Support Social Emotional Learning

How PBIS and SEL Work Together

Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) focuses on setting clear behavior expectations for students and staff throughout the school day. The framework explains that behavior expectations should be taught explicitly, just like any academic subject. When implemented successfully, PBIS has the power to improve the social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students.

By using PBIS and SEL many schools hope to prevent behavior incidents by developing school expectations and structures that promote positive behavior. Prioritizing social emotional learning (SEL) can also help prevent behavior incidents by proactively developing students social and emotional skills. If students are able to respond to challenges, resolve conflicts and manage stress healthily, it’s far more likely that students won’t engage in “problem” behaviors. Social emotional learning can help students develop skills to make PBIS frameworks even more successful, and PBIS frameworks can help encourage students to develop important social and emotional skills.

4 Ways That PBIS Can Support Social Emotional Learning

1. Select expectations that encourage social emotional development.

When implementing PBIS, schools must identify three to five behavioral expectations. These expectations should be easy to remember, positively stated, and contribute to improving the overall school climate. A common example would be “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe.” These three expectations provide an umbrella for expected behaviors throughout the school day.

Strive to create expectations that will relate to the 5 social emotional learning core competencies. Respect and responsibility are excellent examples of expectations that will also encourage social emotional development. “Be Responsible” will directly link to the “responsible decision making” core competency. If a student is doing their best to be respectful then they are likely building empathy and considering the perspectives of others. Another example could be, “Respect, Responsibility, Teamwork.” The teamwork expectation would further encourage students to collaborate, communicate effectively and build relationships.

2. Explain expected behavior with an SEL lens.

After you’ve selected your expectations, you’ll need to identify what these behaviors should look like, sound like, and feel like within school and classroom routines. It’s important to acknowledge that what respect looks like and sounds like in a classroom will be different than what it might look like and sound like on the playground. Therefore, this process should be carried out for each location a child might find themselves during the school day (i.e. classroom, playground, bus, cafeteria).

As a leadership team, think about how each of these expectations relates back to social emotional learning. For example, if a behavioral expectation for the lunchroom is that students will clean up after themselves we can tie this back to three core competencies: self management, social awareness, and responsible decision making. By cleaning up students are showing self discipline, empathy, and respect for their peers and the staff at their school. When explaining this expectation to students you should consider saying something like, “By cleaning up after ourselves we show that we care about the people around us. When we don’t clean up after ourselves someone else will have to do it for us, which means we aren’t showing respect for others or empathy.”

3. Use “Gotcha” tickets for more than good behavior.

Many PBIS schools utilize some form of “Gotcha” tickets in order to positively reinforce expected behaviors. It’s easy to identify students who are walking quietly in the halls or keeping their desk neat. It can be harder to zero in on moments when students are exhibiting SEL skills.  Challenge yourself to notice and reinforce these moments as well.

For example, if one student asks a friend if they’re feeling okay because they look upset, you can positively reinforce this behavior by saying, “I love the way that you checked in with your friend when you noticed something might be wrong. Thank you for showing empathy for others.” Another example could be a student cheering for their classmates during recess, a game, or field day. Tie the behavior back to SEL by saying, “Encouraging others is so important. I love that you are showing how to be a member of a team.”

4. Create a referral form that is trauma informed.

Another key component of the PBIS framework are behavior referral forms. As part of the implementation process, each school should develop a standardized referral form that will be used by all staff members and adults. The referral form might be modified based on specific grade levels, but overall it should collect similar information. The forms help track important data, such as: where and when behavior incidents are occurring, which students are struggling with particular behaviors, and how staff members are responding. This data can help school leaders make more informed decisions that will continue to improve school culture and climate.

Most referral forms name the “problem behavior,” and state who was involved and how the staff member responded. Schools can make their referral forms more trauma informed by adding a couple of basic fields, such as: a possible motivation for the behavior. It can be helpful to add prompts that staff members can ask students to help understand the “why” of behavior incidents. Some schools might want to add a student reflection component, which gives students the space to write down their view of the incident, why it occurred, and what they would do differently in the future.

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