Dr. Sheldon Eakins: (00:00)
Welcome, Advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. I got a return guest with me today. Dr. Ambra Green was on Episode 85. So you got to reach back a little bit to hear our conversation on how to reduce discipline referrals of students in special education. So I brought Dr. Green back on because I wanted to chat with her in regard to PBIS: Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. And this is her jam. We talked briefly about this. I see her posting time and time again on Twitter, about PBIS. And I know this is something that she's passionate about. So without further ado, Dr. Green, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Ambra Green: (00:51)
Yes. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk with you again.
Well, the pleasure is mine, and I want folks to know a little bit about you. So could you share where you're at and what's your professional role at this time?
Sure. I am at the University of Texas at Arlington. I am an assistant professor there, so I teach undergraduate students or rolling out a master's level program. I'm the program coordinator there, and that's pretty much it. I can do research in the school districts there as well.
Cool. And I guess we should also add that you're at home, just like I'm at home. We're forced to be home right now with everything going on. We're recording this in April, so we're still dealing with COVID-19. So we're all at home, but your paychecks, they get mailed out of the University of Texas at Arlington.
Yes, that is correct. I am at home following government rules, but my paycheck comes from the University of Texas at Arlington. That's correct.
Okay. All right. So let's talk about PBIS. Could you start us off by sharing what PBIS should look like in schools?
Right, yes. So PBIS is a multi-tiered system of support, and that comes out of a medical field or a medical model. And by multi-tiered systems of support, I mean that student supports or services are provided in levels or tiers according to what the student needs, what an individual student needs. So the more a student needs will yield more supports or targeted supports for that student in schools, the multi-tiered system of support is something that's tangible. It's more in a framework, or in theory, there are three different tiers. There's tier one, which is typically called the universal level and at the universal level, that's where there are students who receive the same general behavioral expectations across the school, everybody ascribes to the same three or five behavioral expectations. they're developed, They're taught in all classrooms, they're modeled, they're practiced, and then students are provided reinforcement for exhibiting those behavioral expectations.
The expectations at the tier one level are mainly focused on the behaviors that are desired, that teachers want to see. It's not focusing on behaviors that teachers do not want to see. So in schools that are not implementing PBIS, you may see behavioral expectations that say a lot of "Do Not Call Out" or "Don't Run." Whereas PBIS, the behaviors are focused on what we want to see. So we'll say, "Raise your hand If you'd like to be called on" or "Walk down the hallway." Also, these behaviors at the tier one level should be culturally responsive. And so faculty and students can develop those expectations together. Faculty and staff should receive training on what it means to be culturally responsive so that they can assess their biases in those [inaudible] that may cloud their perspectives on the behavior. So when implemented correctly at the tier one level, you can anticipate to see about 80% of students in the school who will meet those general expectations.
So then that leaves us with another 20% of students who are not meeting those expectations, or we call them non-responders. They do not respond to their expectations. What happens with those students is, well, That means they need an additional level of support. So they're still going to get the tier one support, but we're going to give them more targeted support for their needs because they need more support. Those supports can come in the way of maybe like a small group, pro-social skills, or self-management that reflects the function of the student's behavior. Once students receive tier two services, they may be fine. And ideally would want to remove those tier two services so that they can learn how to manage their own behaviors and then only need the tier one general services like other students. However, some students [are] non-responding to tier two.
So then we will add another level of support. So what we call our tier three supports. And those are even more targeted. They're actually individualized support for that student. And we're looking at functions of behavior. We're looking at doing a functional behavior assessment, and we're also addressing the student's academic and behavioral outcomes. And that's key because, in research and education, we don't really know what is happening or what the relationship is between academics or behavior. Is a student exhibiting undesired behavior because they're struggling academically, or are they behind academically because of their behavior? So at the tier three-level, we're looking at ideally both of those components, and then you can expect about one to 5% of students that will be needing tier three supports. So that's what it looks like as a framework in schools, you may not walk into a building and see where there's tier one, tier two, tier three, but you'll definitely be able to see the schoolwide matrix of what behaviors are expected at the classroom level. You should see teachers giving out positive reinforcement, whether it's verbal or the tangible token or ticket or money or bucks or something like that for the students.
Okay. Thank you. Now I got a couple of questions because it's a tiered system. And could you maybe clarify the difference between maybe PBIS and say RTI system? Because I know RTI is also usually a three-tiered system. Is there something specific that's different between the two that you know of?
That's a good question. So it is really -- RTI is also a multi-tiered system of support. Like you mentioned, when we use the phrase "RTI" or the term "RTI," Typically, we're talking about academics. When we talk about PBIS, we are talking about behavior. They really go hand in hand, they work the same way. They both build on supports as students need additional support. They provide targeted or individualized levels of support based on what the student needs. So they work exactly the same. They're both multi-tiered systems of support. We just tend to talk about them differently when we're talking about academics versus behavior.
Got it. Now, have you seen them work in tandem at schools, or are they separated most of the time?
They should work in tandem. I've seen them separated, but more and more, because we're starting to use the term multi-tier system of support as an umbrella term. Now, schools and districts are getting more on board with realizing, "Oh, these work the exact same way." We really need to have one MTSS -- multi-tiered system and support team -- that looks at academics and behavior of the student at the same time. So they should be working in tandem.
Got it. Okay. Now you explained the system, like you said, the framework of the system, and I want to kind of get a little bit more into detail as far as kind of what that looks like. I think most of us can understand that tier one is like you said, the general population, the majority of your students are going to fit within that framework, that category, if you will. Could you walk us through a little bit more on what the tier two, for example, the small group -- is that a place in the school where the small group happens or is that done in the classroom? What does that tier two look like? And even the tier three look like more specifically.
Sure. So, tier two can be done by the classroom teacher. It can be done in the classroom -- it's very low effort but is an additional support for the students. So, like I mentioned, the small group, pro-social skills instruction that can be done by the teacher, or that can be done by a counselor or someone else that does social skills instruction during maybe an off period for the student or during lunch or something like that. So it's implemented by all staff in the school, it's really a hands-on approach and can be done in the classroom. It does not have to be done outside of the classroom somewhere else.
And in tier three, it was -- how's that look?
Tier three is more individualized. So thinking about, again, as I mentioned, functional behavioral assessment, that is when a student is, or someone with expertise in functional behavioral assessments will observe a student and go through a theoretical framework for how to identify functions of the student behavior. And then, that functional behavioral assessment will then help the person who has conducted it, determine what individualized support that student needs specifically based on the function of their behavior. So if the student who seems like is exhibiting an undesired behavior, because they want adult attention, that's determined by the functional behavior assessment, then the behavioral specialist or the special education teacher will then identify an intervention that will meet the student's function of behavior while making sure to address or decrease the undesired behavior. So there's not really one intervention that I can point you to for tier three supports. It's really -- it's so individualized that it depends on the student.
Okay. And I've done some FBAs before in my work. And you do the observations. And then, like you said, you kind of make some recommendations as far as an individual plan for behavior. And again, ultimately, we don't want them to stay in tier three. I want them to be able to kind of work their way back to tier one. So I want to ask you, we've talked about what PBIS is and the different tiers, could you share with us some of the benefits of PBIS?
Sure, PBIS has had many different research studies conducted to determine the benefits of PBIS. So there are student benefits that are such as increased academic achievement. We're seeing students' academic scores increase. Social-emotional competence is another benefit that students [inaudible] can show. There's a reduction in bullying behaviors for students and also reported rates of drug and alcohol abuse. And particularly for students with disabilities, we see increased social and academic outcomes for those students as well. And then across the schools and districts, we are seeing a reduction in office discipline referrals and exclusionary practices, which is big. Exclusionary practices I'm referring to [are] in-school suspension, out of school suspension and expulsion specifically. And we've also seen a reduction in restraint and seclusion as well as increased rates of school organizational health and school climate. And for teachers, we see research has demonstrated that teachers feel more efficacious in dealing with undesired behavior, and they have a better perception of school safety.
So overall [it] sounds like there's a lot of benefits to PBIS, and that's how it's supposed to look. You know, I've actually had conversations with folks who aren't -- they're not advocates for PBIS. And I kind of wanted to chat with you about that a little later on, as far as maybe some of the myths or challenges out there might have formed some of their ideas and opinions. But before we get to that question, I wanted to ask you, how do we get started? And maybe not just get started cause sometimes a new principal comes in and they say, they're trying to implement a PBIS or a new dean, or somebody comes in, how does it get started? And what are some ways that we can sustain a schoolwide approach to PBIS?
Well, within the framework of PBIS, it's based on a team approach, a team model so that when there's turnover, it's not just one person who knows all the information, it's a team approach. And hopefully, the PBIS can still be implemented with fidelity and can sustain a turnover. And not just with the full team, but everyone in the school also has knowledge of PBIS and the workings of PBIS. Now because PBIS is a nationally recognized intervention or prevention approach. There's a national technical assistance center for PBIS that's funded by the Office of Special Education Programs out of the Department of Education. And their website is PBIS.org. I mentioned that because the national center has made sure that there's a state contact for every state, as well as the District of Columbia and the US territories. So if someone wants to get started, then they can go to that website, and they can find their contact.
That contact will also set them up with like a local contact person, either educational service center or regional service center and who then provides them with typically it's very sophisticated training, coaching, and professional learning sessions that can get the teams, the PBIS school teams or district teams started. And like I said, typically, that's done through an educational or regional service center, and they provide those very in-depth, step-by-step guidance for starting PBIS. And so that focuses really on the tier one and then increasing as you go with implementing tier two and tier three, but as well as sustainability.
Ultimately, we want this to be sustainable. We don't want to just get on halfway and [inaudible] in some sense and then kind of fizzles out or don't get the teacher buy-in because you want it to be a schoolwide approach. And not just a couple of classrooms, we want the school to promote it as well. So let's talk about some challenges because I think that's important because let's say if we're talking about starting it from the ground up, or maybe if we're a school that already has PBIS, maybe we can speak to -- what are some of the challenges or myth that are centered around PBIS that you've come across?
One of the challenges like you mentioned is buy-in and getting teacher by district buy-in. Now, this is definitely a challenge because we in the education field have tended to look at school discipline or behavior in a punitive manner. We were not teaching pro-social skills. All we're doing is punishing behaviors that we don't like, and we don't want to see. So that's one of the challenges, but there are also myths that PBIS doesn't work. It only awards the good kids. "It doesn't work for our students." And so that -- my rebuttal is PBIS as a framework. It's not a packaged curriculum. So there's flexibility in how you implement, right? How you decide to develop your classroom expectations, how you decide to teach them, and how you decide to reinforce them. The framework itself is just designed to improve and integrate all the data within the school, the systems, and the practices that can affect student outcomes.
So there's flexibility in a lot of it to make those things work. So each one of those components, the systems, the data, and the practices have to function together in order for the school or the district to accurately say that they're implementing PBIS yet because a lot of times, schools or districts are saying we implement PBIS or something like it. And then they're not seeing the results that they want to see or that they've heard can be found from PBIS. So that would mean that they're not implementing it with fidelity. And that's a very important part of implementation when you're implementing anything. But particularly PBIS is you need to implement it with fidelity or as it's intended so that you can then see that yes, PBIS does work. And it's a system to provide reinforcement for all students, not just good students. And it does work for all students.
Another misconception or myth is that PBIS maintains inequities and is a system of oppression. And I get that a lot in the work that I do. So just for a little background, PBIS was originally developed as an intervention for students with significant behavior challenges in schools. And the idea was to reduce the inequitable rates of suspension and expulsion received by those students for exhibiting undesired behaviors. So in the mere framework, the tiered approach, in general, is a means of implementing equity. However, their rebuttal tends to be around race and ethnicity. So as far as inequities experience for students of color and native students, the national center has done a better job of explicitly communicating that equity and equitable practices must be established at the tier one level. This includes, as I mentioned earlier, but culturally responsive practices and the culturally responsive behavior expectations, making sure that the discipline policies and procedures are written in a manner that doesn't marginalize a particular group of students and increasing the use of an equitable implementation of evidence-based practices.
So the national center partners, along with other researchers in the field, are continuing to conduct research that can demonstrate the relationship between PBIS and equitable outcomes for students of color, native students, and students with disabilities. But I will say the onus is only on the PPIs framework, right? If PBIS is implemented in a system that ascribes to reactive practices and punishment, rather than preventative practices that are positive and they ascribe to a system of equality, rather than equity then, one, the school's not implementing PBIS with fidelity and, two, outcomes for marginalized groups are going to remain inequitable. You're just putting a practice in place that is, yes, Then maintaining equity without shifting a paradigm among the leaders in the school, among the teachers in the school, and no amount of PBIS implementation alone, I believe can yield a paradigm shift in that particular unit, so large systematic changes and paradigm shifts are required at that point to also address the systems of oppression that are prevalent in our schools and districts.
I'm glad you mentioned that because I've had a few conversations about PBIS and "What is undesired behavior? that's subjective." And this individual may feel that this student is performing undesired behavior and PBIS as an opportunity for us to develop these robots and [inaudible] this way of how we expect our students to behave. What does that mean to us? And I think, you know, on the head with, first of all, it needs to be fidelity. We have to be doing this correctly, and we need to be culturally responsive. I'd love to hear maybe if you have an example cause you mentioned the flexibility part, it's not a prepackage step one, step two type of framework, but something that we can look at as guidelines, but could you share, maybe, an example of what being flexible with our PBIS can look like?
One example and maybe the biggest example is in the behavioral expectations. So all PBIS says is you should create behavioral expectations for your school or for your district. That's it. Each district is able to develop their expectations. So maybe be responsible, be respectful with another one, be polite, we'll say it to those three for school A. there could be another three to five behavioral expectations for school B. So there's flexibility and the number of expectations that you have, but there's also flexibility in what that means and what that looks like. in school A, "Be polite" may look different than "be polite" in school B. And what does that mean? What does that look like? That is to be developed by that school with the teachers and the students. That's also bringing in that piece about cultural responsiveness, so there's in that.
Okay, thank you. Now I want to shift gears over to one of the things that we see a lot in our PBIS systems are rewards, ceremonies, student of the month -- mentioned like a coin or a dollar, you know, sort school bucks or something. They can redeem at a school store and all those things. What is your take on the incentives? How should it be done effectively, so it doesn't end up being an opportunity for just the quote-unquote, good students to get more rewards while the quote-unquote bad students get less rewards?
We, as educators, have to make sure that we are setting up the environment for all of our students to be successful. If we are doing that, then it should be easy for us to reinforce the students with whatever reinforcement system that we have at the school. So if a lot of students are not getting rewarded, then that lets me know that perhaps, maybe we're not using the system. Or two, we are not setting up the environment for the students to be successful. I mentioned earlier that in PBIS, we're focusing on the behaviors we want to see in the students. So if we're looking for those behaviors and we are pre correcting those students to exhibit those behaviors, that also gives us an opportunity to then reinforce the students for exhibiting those behaviors. So we're up for looking for more positive, we'll see more positive, and then we can reinforce the student.
Got it. Okay. Ambra, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?
One final word would be "fight." And so I'm saying fight for the rights of our students, especially those that continue to be marginalized by systems of oppression. Do the greater amount of good, not for the greater amount of students, but for each student. That would be my words of advice.
When you said fight, I thought it was an acronym cause we've been talking to PBIS. What does that stand for?
I should have come up with something like that, but nope.
no worries. You had me going. I was like, Oh, okay. Fight. Okay. Friendly inventions. I don't know I was waiting for it, but I liked that you brought that up and you're right. We have to be advocates. And that's what we do here is we talk about advocacy because that's important. And if we don't speak up, if we don't fight, then ultimately our students are impacted in that. So those are some great words to live by. If we have some folks that want to reach out to you and want to connect, what's the best way to connect with you online?
You can go to my Twitter account. That is Ambra -- or @AmberLGreen and connect with me there.
There it is. All right. Once again, I have Dr. Ambra Green here with us, and it has truly been a pleasure as always -- a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you again for your time.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
Are you subscribed to the podcast? If you’re not, I want to encourage you to do that today. I don’t want you to miss an episode. Click here to subscribe in iTunes!
Now if you enjoy listening to the show, I would be really grateful if you left me a review over on iTunes, too. Those reviews help other advocates find the podcast and they’re also fun for me to go in and read. Just click here to review, select “Ratings and Reviews” and “Write a Review” and let me know what your favorite part of the podcast is. Thank you!
This FREE download will give you 10 strategies to help you develop an equity competent mindset (AND give you a shot of confidence that you can become an ADVOCATE for your students!).