November 13, 2015

PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) is an approach designed to increase the amount of positive feedback students receive from educators in an effort to help students succeed both academically and socially. PBIS is not, however, a packaged curriculum. You’ll find plenty of examples online describing how different schools have implemented the PBIS approach, but you won’t find a specific script or manual to follow step by step. PBIS is intended to be a framework for educators; one in which each teacher or administrator can develop his or her own methods that best suit the school and the student body.

How, then, can you know if you’re providing the most effective amount of positive feedback to students? The answer is simple: follow the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio. Generally speaking, a teacher that follows the 5 to 1 ratio will acknowledge students’ positive behavior at least 5 times more often than acknowledging students’ undesirable or problematic behaviors.

When following the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio, teachers acknowledge students’ positive behavior 5 times more often than undesirable actions.

Acknowledging Student Behavior

The first step in implementing the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio is understanding what constitutes acknowledgment of different types of behavior; which isn’t as obvious as it may sound. Your acknowledgment may be either verbal or an appropriate, and easily understood, physical gesture (a thumbs-up signal, a high five, or simply a nod, for example). Whether the behavior is positive or negative, the tone of your acknowledgment should be one of respect for the student. The goal is to draw attention to the behavior. Verbal acknowledgment of desirable behavior is easy: “You’ve done an excellent job in correctly finishing the assignment before the end of class.” Verbal acknowledgment of an undesirable behavior isn’t always so obvious: “This is the time to remain quiet and in your seats, with your eyes on me. Thank you.”

Key Features of the PBIS 5 to 1 Ratio

  • Acknowledge the behavior immediately after it takes place. The timing of the acknowledgment is just as important as the tone.
  • Be specific in your acknowledgment. Include a precise description of the behavior in your acknowledgment.
  • Make it sincere. As most of us know all too well, students are just as capable of identifying sincerity in another person as adults are (sometimes even more so).
  • Vary your acknowledgment. Don’t get into the habit of repeating the same verbiage over and over again.
  • Make your acknowledgment student referenced. In other words, acknowledge the effort that a student puts forth in comparison to how he or she has done in the past; NOT how the student behaves when compared to other students.

When following the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio, teachers must ensure acknowledgements of behavior are student focused.

While it’s important to always strive to provide acknowledgment in as positive a manner as possible, none of us are perfect. Eventually – and inevitably – you will respond negatively, particularly if the student behavior is extreme. And that’s okay. The important thing to remember, with PBIS 5 to 1 and the PBIS approach overall, is the ratio. As long as you respond positively 5 times more often than you do in a negative way, your implementation of the approach will probably be effective.

Don’t be surprised if this is something you need to work on. Most of us don’t intuitively use the 5 to 1 ratio concept in our personal lives, much less in the classroom. It may help to post a note to yourself somewhere around your desk as a reminder. Eventually, however, positive acknowledgment will become easier and easier. Just as it takes time to break old habits, it also takes time to develop new ones. Once you become accustomed to this new habit, you could very well discover that the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio benefits not only your students, but you, the teacher, as well.

If you want to find out more about PBIS in general, or the PBIS 5 to 1 ratio in particular, contact the education professionals at TeamYou today. We provide PBIS software, as well as professional development, training, and coaching for teachers and administrators.

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