Behavioral problems go hand in hand with learning difficulties (Todd, Horner, & Sugai, 1999). Oftentimes, it is unclear when a student is disruptive in the classroom if it is primarily due to a learning or a behavioral problem. Since challenging behaviors may often lead to learning difficulties and visa-versa, it is prudent for teachers to have adequate measures implemented in the classroom to prevent emerging or escalating disruptive behaviors.
The research clearly indicates that teachers who were instructed in creating effective rules and procedures, along with monitoring their implementation, were more effective than teachers who were not instructed in this training (Sugai & Horner, 2002). Programs using behavioral principles as their basis create structure in the classroom that studies have shown to be effective for disruptive students with learning, emotional and behavioral difficulties, along with general education students. Educators have recommended putting into place a program called “Positive Behavior Support” that implements empirically validated behavioral principles. This program emphasizes proactive and preventive measures for addressing problematic behaviors instead of reactive measures that school systems commonly employ.
The main features of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) consist of: (a) “a prevention-focused continuum of support, (b) proactive instructional approaches to teaching and improving social behaviors, (c) conceptually sound and empirically-validated practices, (d) systems change to support effective practices, and (e) data-based decision making” (Sugai & Horner, 2002, p. 131).
A serious and thoughtful reflection of pedagogic practices is part of the proactive process to facilitate a positive educational environment. The goals are to maximize academic outcomes and implement appropriate rules and procedures.
PBS is implemented at four main levels: the school (students and staff), the classroom (instructional and behavior management), a specific setting on school grounds (e.g., parking lots, library, hallways), and the individual student. These levels are predicated on the concept that implementation of effective rules and procedures on a school-wide basis will facilitate avoidance of many problematic behaviors. For the smaller number of students who do not adhere to or benefit from this school-wide discipline, school staff provides additional academic and behavioral supports. Finally, high risk students who do not respond to the latter intervention may receive highly intensive and individualized interventions that may include Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and specialized behavior intervention plans.
Another important component of PBS includes a systems perspective that views an individual as part of a complex network with many interacting components. A basic assumption of a systems perspective includes the notion that if a person changes one component of the system, the entire system is affected. The four main levels require a balanced integrative approach in order to facilitate an optimal environment. The systems that implement the recommended practices must be in place for support, monitoring, and evaluation so that they are likely to succeed.
Development of Standards, Rules, or Procedures
An example of implementing PBS in the classroom can be found in the research efforts of Freiberg, Connell, & Lorentz (2001) who studied the successful effects of a specific program called Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline. This program promotes good classroom management techniques and emphasizes the need for students to be included as citizens instead of tourists in the classroom. The focus of this research-based program, builds on shared responsibility between teachers and students with regard to learning and classroom organization. In the beginning of the school year, students and teachers together establish rules for the classroom. Rules and routines are clearly posted in the classroom and students fill out job applications applying for tasks that may consist of passing out papers or assisting the teacher. The teacher then reviews the applications, conducts interviews, and then chooses students based on their stated interests. It incorporates not only behavioral principles, but it is also based on a constructivist approach that emphasizes active student learning and participation. The Consistency Management program has been shown to increase academic achievement, teacher and student attendance, classroom organization, reduce interruptions, and allow for better teaching planning that had a positive impact on increasing teaching and learning time. Some effective components of The Consistency Management program consist of:
A strong need for clear, concise, systematically designed, taught, and reinforced rules. When possible, it is appropriate for teachers to include students in developing the behavior norms of the class, especially in middle and high school. Students who participate in the process tend to own the rules that make them more likely to adhere to them.
Teachers need to operationally define expected appropriate behavior norms in clear terms. All too often, educators may believe that they are instructing students unambiguously, but they need to present clear definitions that define specifically the parameters of appropriate behavior and then model these behaviors to the students.
An overabundance of rules could jeopardize the comprehension, implementation, and enforcement. Therefore, it makes good sense to limit the classroom list of rules to a minimum, such as less than ten. The teacher can always remove rules that have consistently not been violated and add rules when needed.
Teachers should monitor, evaluate, and give corrective feedback to students concerning their behavior to make sure that it conforms to the accepted norms of the classroom.
Effective rules and procedures are just one part of PBS, but an essential component. Successful planning that promotes proactive rather than just reactive measures will ensure a safer, and more structured classroom environment that will reduce disruptions and optimize learning for all students that will be seen throughout the school year.
Freiberg, H. J., Connell, M. L., & Lorentz, J. (2001). Effects of consistency management on student mathematics achievement in seven chapter 1 elementary schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk, 6, 249-270.
Sugai. G., & Horner, R. H. (2002). Introduction to the special series on positive behavior support in schools. Journal of Emotional and Behavior Disorders, 3, 30-35.
Todd, A. W., Horner, R. H., & Sugai, G. (1999). Self-monitoring and self-recruited praise: Effects on problem behavior, academic engagement, and work completion in a typical classroom. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 1, 66-76.
Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs.