Positive Interventions and Effective Strategies For Administrators By


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Positive Interventions and Effective Strategies




Laura A. Riffel, Ph.D.



The following pages are ideas for administrators in the following areas:

  • Suggestions for Fidelity of Implementation

    • Visibility

    • Office Discipline Referrals

    • Suspension Alternatives

  • Staff Motivation

    • Roadblocks

    • Free or Inexpensive Rewards for Adults

    • Staff Involvement in PBIS

    • Love Notes for Staff (Gotchas)

  • Student Motivation

  • Parent Support

  • Community Support

  • Political Support

Fidelity of Implementation


One of the biggest factors to ensure the successful implementation of PBIS is administrative support (Horner & Sugai, 2005). While an administrator may support the systems change process in their school in theory, their visibility at meetings is a key element for continued success.

Key elements to ensure fidelity:

  • Attend all trainings provided by the state department, university, or LEA providing your PBIS training at universal, secondary and tertiary levels.

    • Turn off your phone and stay in training room

    • Take notes so you can redeliver the information

  • Attend all PBIS team meetings

    • Building Level Leadership(Bi-Weekly)

      • Attend all PBIS Leadership Team Meetings

      • Procure time and space for team to meet

    • Faculty Meetings (Monthly)

      • Dedicate the time during faculty meetings for:

        • Data sharing

          • ODRs – per day per month, location, problem behavior, time of day, and students with 2 or more

          • Grade level, ethnicity, IEP vs non-IEP, etc.

        • Proactive planning using data for troubleshooting

      • Model PBIS principles by:

        • Celebrating successes

        • Giving adult gotchas

    • District Level (Varies)

      • Attend all district level meetings on PBIS

      • Share your data

        • Successes

        • Barriers

    • State Level (Varies)

      • Attend all district level meetings on PBIS

      • Share your data

        • Successes

        • Barriers

    • National Forum on PBIS (YEARLY)

      • Attend with your team

      • Try to take at least 3 members with your school team and connect with the district and local teams attending from your area.

      • Learn from others and share your data

    • International APBIS Conference (YEARLY)

      • Sign up for poster sessions

        • Watch www.pbis.org and www.aPBIS.org for the Call for Papers

        • Share your data and brainstorm with others

      • Try to take at least two or three people from your school team to this conference
      • Divide your team up and attend as many trainings as possible

        • Get together each evening to share what you learn

        • Proactively plan for how to take back lessons learned to your setting

Office Discipline Referrals

One of the goals of PBIS is to decrease office discipline referrals, increase time in class, and increase academic achievement. In order to do this effectively, the administrator needs to do the following:

Allot Time For:

  • Defining office discipline referrals as the PBIS implementation begins

    • Divide staff into grade level teams to define the categories of problem behavior.

    • The definitions from www.swis.org would be a good starting place

      • Disrespectful behavior is going to look different in a Kindergartener than it looks in fifth grader etc.

      • Once you define each behavior, staff need to determine what is a minor and what is a major

        • In other words- what is taken care of in the classroom?

        • What is an instant trip to the office?

        • Do 3,4, or 5 minors equal a major?

      • How will you keep data on minors?

        • Will you ask staff to also show evidence of proactive strategies they have employed in the classroom?

        • Will you have a special form they fill out?

          • One school uses a triplicate form that the teacher keeps on file. There are three sections on the form. When a child reaches their third minor- the teacher sends the form in to the principal.

          • Another school has the teacher keep 3 by 5 cards on file for each student. When the child has five minors, the teacher sends down the five cards to the principal and the principal determines if the five cards should be turned into a major.

    • When interviewing staff about office discipline referrals, these are some of the typical comments heard:

      • From staff:

        • “I send them to the office and principal never does anything.”

        • “The kids like going down to the office.”

      • From administrators:

        • “I don’t know what the staff want me to do. They send these kids down here for not having a pencil and I’m supposed to send them to the guillotine?”

    • Before you begin the next section, it’s important to have this discussion:

      • If a child has been to ISS 37 times before Christmas it means that discipline action is not an effective deterrent to behavior.

      • This means proactive strategies need to be put in place rather than reactive strategies.

        • Have a discussion about what kind of trainings the staff would like to have for building positive interventions and effective strategies to use with chronic behaviors.

          • So often when staff have gone to building level behavior support teams for help with chronic behaviors they have heard the same remarks:

          • Ask the staff if they would like to have more tools for their tool belt and what specifically they would like to have help on:

            • Communication patterns to decrease defiant behavior

            • Curriculum modification strategies to assist those students whose behaviors are due to a feeling of incompetence

            • Strategies for working with children with low self-esteem

            • Etc.
    • Ask the staff to discuss what they would like to happen when a child comes to the office for each of these behaviors:

  • Abusive language

  • Fighting/ Physical aggression

  • Defiance/Disrespect

  • Harassment/Bullying

  • Dress Code

  • Inappropriate Display Affection

  • Electronic Violation

  • Lying/ Cheating

  • Skipping class

  • Other

    • A discussion also should take place about the function of behavior so that all proactive planning that occurs regarding the above situations are supported in function based foundations:

      • Did the behavior occur due to:

        • Gaining attention from adults or peers?

        • Gaining access to tangibles?

        • Gaining access to sensory input?

        • Escaping from adult or peer attention?

          • Escaping from a bullying situation

        • Escaping from work or activities?

        • Escaping from sensory

          • Lights

          • Sounds

          • Smells

          • Touch

          • Taste

        • Escaping from pain

          • Mental

          • Physical

    • Knowing or understanding the function of a behavior helps the team proactively plan antecedent modifications to ensure the appropriate behaviors.

Suspension Alternatives

I recently pulled up the SWIS data on a school and looked at ODR’s by student and found a student who had been suspended 133 times by October. Obviously, this was especially positive for that student.

Here’s a story to illustrate the function behind “getting out of school”. A school district called in a behavior specialist because they had the highest out of school suspension in the state and asked for help to get off the “list”. The behavior specialist asked the school to look at their data and to be ready to share it when she got there. When she arrived, the school administrator proudly declared that 82% of their children got an out of school suspension for the same behavior. The behavior specialist was excited. This meant that they could put one major intervention in place that would take care of a bunch of those students and then see who was left and put some intensive interventions in place for those students. When the behavior specialist said, “What behavior did 82% of the students do to earn an out of school suspension?” The administrator replied, “They skipped school.” The behavior specialist said, “Tell me more.” The administrator said, “When a child skips school it is an automatic two day out of school suspension.”

The behavior specialist said, “Why do you suppose kids skip school?” The administrator said, “Because they don’t want to be here.”

The behavior specialist waited for a bit and then said, “So, at your school it’s a two-fer?” “The kids take one and you give them two more.”

The behavior specialist said, “How come you do that?” The team said, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” (If you always do what you’ve always done….you will always get what you always got.)

The behavior specialist shared this story:

A brilliant young man that I know very well was driven to school daily by his mother. He had an IQ of 155 and she knew the statistics on children of gifted intelligence and boredom with school. She watched him walk in the front door of the school before she drove off to ensure he went to school. One day she came home early due to an illness and found dishes in the sink that weren’t there that morning. Based on the contents of those dishes, she knew which child had been home. She called the school and asked the secretary if her child was in school that day. The secretary said, “No, he’s absent today. His mother called……Oh….do you want to talk to the principal?” After looking at the data, it was obvious this child had had his pretend mother call in five times so far that year.

The mother asked the principal what was going to happen to her child for skipping and the principal replied, “Well, you work in the district. Don’t worry about it. Boys will be boys.”

Wrong answer… the mother not wanting to create waves in the district she worked in decided to move her child to another district. She lived in a big enough city to move a few miles and be within another school district. She interviewed schools about their “skipping” policies before she looked for a house in their school district. She found one she loved their procedures:

  • When a child skips:

    • The School Resource Officer (SRO) goes to the home and picks up the child and escorts them back to school and walks them from class to class the rest of that day.

    • The school assigns a Saturday detention.

      • BINGO- give a child more of what they don’t want- not more of what they want.

      • The school provides transportation and incentives to parents who get their children to Saturday detention.

  • Post script on the school calling in the behavior specialist:

    • They employed Saturday school as an intervention and decreased their OSS

    • They did have to put some intensive interventions in place for those students whose behavior did not change from Saturday detentions

    • Here are some of the interventions they put in place:

      • Pre-teaching upcoming lessons for those students whose behaviors were a direct result of being a struggling learner

        • Offering free tutoring classes to any student who is making a “C” or lower

          • Offering extended lunch period to those students who are making “A’s or B’s” and tutoring for those students struggling

          • Administrative staff supervise extended lunch period while all staff are available for assisting students making “C’s or lower”

            • This takes some scheduling but many schools are employing this strategy with great results.

      • Check-in /Check-out (CICO) procedures for those students with low-self esteem issues

        • See www.pbis.org for more information about CICO

      • Social Skill training for those students who were engaging in bullying and gang activities resulting in avoidance behaviors
        • See Bully-proofing your PBIS school available at elementary and secondary levels on www.pbis.org

      • Parenting classes for parents struggling with effective strategies on getting kids up in the morning, dealing with poor study skills, etc.

More Suspension Alternatives:

Restitution or Logical Consequences

  • If a student creates a mess in the bathroom then one solution rather than suspending them from school would be to have them stay after school and help the custodian clean all the restrooms.

    • A logical consequence would be that the child cannot go to the restroom unescorted.

    • Logical consequences are interventions that make sense based on the behavior.

  • Restitution means the child engages in behaviors that are “in-kind” to the damage created by their behavior. In other words, charging the parents money for damages only punishes the parents. The restitution should fall upon the shoulders of the child who created the problem. They can repair, clean, improve the things they damaged.


  • Children who have behaviors in class such as: cussing, throwing objects, flipping someone off, etc.

  • Rather than kicking a child out of class for this offense it might be helpful to first determine where this behavior is coming from. Sometimes, the root issue is inability to perform the skills in class. The child would rather be labeled a bully or class clown than “stupid” so the child blurts out the most obscene words known to man etc.

    • If lack of knowledge is the case, then providing a tutoring session before or after school would be the answer rather than expelling them from class, thus causing further loss of learning.
    • For example, if on Tuesday we are going to be learning how to square numbers in Math, we would teach the student to mastery on Monday the first steps of this process so they could answer the first question the teacher asks in the anticipatory set phase of the lesson.

Social Skills Training

  • Required attendance at a Saturday Social Skills training event might deter some abusive language in the classroom. I used to teach a class at a local junior college on Saturday called “Good Manners Make Hearts Smile.” For some students it was mandatory attendance and for others, it was something they wanted to attend. This was an 8 week course on etiquette, manners, eating, socializing, etc.

  • Think sheets

    • I like social autopsies because children like them. It’s a sheet (see page 13) where the child talks and the adult takes dictation or the child writes or draws the steps that led to the death of the social situation. Thanks to all the Crime Scene Investigation shows, all students know what an autopsy is now. Rick Lavoie coined the term in 1993 but it didn’t catch on back then.

  • Student Teacher Rating Sheet (see page 14-32)

      • This is rather like the Check In/Check Out program. I have added an additional component to it. All the directions are included.

      • I like to ask students to rate their own behavior and match the adult for points. This is all explained in pages 14-32.

      • I also like the pay-off for positive behavior to happen at home for school behavior. The message is: “School and Home are working together”.

Here’s what was going on:

Here’s what I did that caused a social error:

Here’s what happened when I did that:

Here’s what I should do to make things right:

Here’s what I’ll do next time to keep it alive:

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