You are on page 1of 14

Running head: SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

Discipline Practices in Schools: School­Wide Positive Behaviour Support
University of Calgary

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

2

 Discipline is a term frequently used within the school system.  The word discipline 
originates from the same Latin root as the word disciple, meaning to teach or comprehend (Skiba
& Peterson, 2000).  School discipline is intrinsic to how instruction and correction are to be 
provided (Skiba & Peterson, 2000).  Teachers have the ever­present goal of a class with “good” 
discipline and principals strive to avoid a reputation of having “weak” discipline in their schools 
(Roesen, 2005).  Schools have the important goal of maximizing academic achievement and 
promoting the social competence of all students (Sugai & Horner, 2009).  Adding to the struggle 
are public demands for effective discipline techniques that foster environments where teachers 
can teach and students can learn (Roesen, 2005).  However, the methods used to accomplish 
these goals have adapted over the years. One of the challenges with understanding discipline in 
schools is that school discipline has not been considered a branch of knowledge (Roesen, 2005).  
This has resulted in a lack of empirical data, theory and relatively few books or contemporary 
experts in the area of school­wide discipline (Roesen, 2005).  Research that has taken place has 
often focused on classroom discipline rather than school­wide discipline (Roesen, 2005). 
While research on school­based discipline may be lacking, there has been a considerable 
amount of research conducted exploring evidence­based behaviour interventions.  Feedback 
received through the Annual Gallop Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools has 
indicated that lack of discipline is the most serious problem that North America is currently 
facing (Martin & Nuzzi, 2001).  Although schools are considered one of the safest places for 
children, media attention on acts of violence, bullying, student victimization and isolated acts 
involving school shootings has led to increased insistence on safer schools (Rose & Gallop, 
2005; Sugai & Horner, 2008).  Concerns regarding fighting, violence, vandalism, lack of 

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

3

discipline and truancy are not new, but changes such as the inclusion of all children in the 
general education setting have added to challenges with the management and control of student 
behaviour (Sugai & Horner, 2008).  Over the years, many schools have attempted to “get tough” 
by establishing policies to increase discipline and control (Simonsen, Sugai & Negron, 2008).  
One might ask whether or not these efforts to discipline students have been effective and where 
this style of response to behaviour originated? A brief review of the modern historical 
background of school­wide behavior responses helps provide a greater context.
Brief Modern History of Discipline in Schools
  In the period between the 1950s and 1980s, school discipline was accomplished with the
classroom teacher or school principal issuing punishment  (Martin & Nuzzi, 2001; Hanson, 
2005).  Depending on the severity of the behaviour, children received a phone call home, 
detention, suspension or expulsion.  There were also times when children may have been hit with
the disciplinary instrument of a rod or strap.  Known as corporal punishment, this was a 
deliberate act used to inflict pain and punish the student for their misconduct.  There was a deep­
rooted historical belief that forms of physical punishment or threats of punishment were essential
for teaching and managing discipline in schools.  However, corporal punishment, often paired 
with public embarrassment, started to be a less favored method of school discipline during the 
human rights movement of the 1960s (Hanson, 2005).  
In the 1970s and 1980s, many schools began the gradual shift from corporal punishment 
to more humane alternatives such as in­school suspensions and expulsions (Hanson 2005).  The 
Toronto Board of Education began the fight for the abolition of corporal punishment in 1971 
(Axelrod, 2010).  However, many areas in Canada continued to use this method of discipline into

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

4

the 1990s.  One may question the justification for this method of discipline, but as Axelrod 
(2010) stated, many people felt that “if used appropriately, it would secure or restore order, 
discipline the body and motivate the mind, imbue religious and moral lessons, and both punish 
and prevent aberrant behaviour” (2010, p. 1).  Opponents of corporal punishment argued that 
these methods psychologically harmed students.  Some researchers have further stated that 
corporal punishment would actually increase the frequency of misbehavior because of both the 
adult attention and the implicit lesson that violence was the way to deal with and solve problems 
(Martin & Nuzzi, 2001).  Yet, it was not until 2004 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that 
corporal punishment was an “unreasonable application of force in the maintenance of classroom 
discipline” (Axelrod, 2010, p.1).  
Many additional factors have occurred historically, influencing school discipline 
practices and eventually leading society towards more positive behaviour approaches.  In 1968, 
the first issue of the Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis was published.  The journal marked a
pivotal time in the history of the application of studying functional relations between adult and 
child behaviour (Sugai & Horner, 2002).  This application of behavioral principals led to an 
improved understanding of human behaviour and most importantly, a great deal of research.  
However, it was not until 1987 that the United States Department of Education funded a national
research center on non­aversive behaviour management strategies. Shortly thereafter an article 
was published describing the emergence of a technology of aversive behaviour support that 
would later be renamed positive behavior support (Dunlap, Sailor, Horner & Sugai, 2009). The
late 1980s became a time of increased advocacy and policy initiatives to promote community and
educational inclusion for people with disabilities and functional, non-aversive interventions for
behaviour needs (Dunlap et. al., 2009). These forces helped influence school policy.

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

5

School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support
Positive Behaviour Support is derived from the foundation of applied behaviour analysis
(Dunlap et al., 2009; Singer & Wang, 2009; McIntosh et al., 2013). As Singer and Wang (2009)
note, PBS was “originally a breakaway movement from the field of ABA based on moral
revulsion at aversive treatments developed and promoted by prominent behavior analysts”
(p.18). ABA, based on the radical behavior theory proposed by Skinner, focuses on the
relationship between the antecedents and consequences of behaviour. Early proponents of PBS
believed that there were more positive and effective alternatives to aversive treatments. They
considered the harsh methods often employed through ABA as immoral and that the goal of
behavioral interventions should not only change targeted behaviors, but rather to improve the
quality of life of the individual (Singer & Wang, 2009). PBS interventions reject practices that
involve the inflection of pain, restriction of freedom or depriving pleasure (Dunlap et al., 2009).
Many concepts found within ABA have served as a springboard for the development of
PBS. ABA created educational methods and intervention strategies used within PBS such as
fading, chaining, prompting and reinforcing to help reduce challenging behaviors. However,
these methods are implemented in a PBS system under the belief that the best time to intervene
with problem behaviour is before it occurs. In contrast, traditional ABA approaches involve
using aversive procedures that respond to problem behavior with reactive strategies. Although
PBS remains a subtype of ABA, it has moved away from many of the ABA origins. In particular,
it has moved from smaller micro social interventions associated with ABA into larger social
contexts, such as school-wide supports (Singer & Wang, 2009).
SW-PBS (also referred to as Positive Behaviour Support, Positive Behavior for Learning
or Positive Behaviour, Interactions and Learning Environment in Schools [PALS]) is a

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

6

preventative, data-driven model that includes strategies to teach, reward and support students to
behave and thereby promote a positive school climate (McIntosh, Ty, Horner & Sugai, 2013).
SW-PBS is defined by its core features of a school-wide focus to prevent as much as respond to
behaviour, teaching and recognizing expected behaviour, instructional consequences for
challenging behaviour, multiple tiers of intervention to meet the needs of all students, and finally
the collection and use of data to help guide decision making (McIntosh et. al., 2013). Combining
aspects of behavioral, cognitive, biophysical, developmental and environmental psychology,
interventions implemented vary depending on the school context (Dunlap et al., 2009; McIntosh
et al., 2013). There are currently over 16,000 schools implementing SW-PBS in the United
States with implementation also occurring in Canada, Australia and Norway (McIntosh et al.,
2013).
By focusing on the whole school, SW-PBS attempts to address the social and behavioral
needs of all enrolled students. The aforementioned elements of SW-PBS emphasize the need to
improve the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance with supporting student behaviour. As
indicated by leading SW-PBS experts Sugai and Horner (2008), implementing this school-wide
discipline system requires a school to develop a statement of purpose (clear objective and
rationale for SW-PBS structure), clearly defined expectations and behavioral examples (i.e.
respect ourselves, respect others, respect the environment, respect learning), procedures for
teaching expectations and expected behaviors (teach directly, supervise, provide feedback),
procedures for encouraging expected behaviors (high to low frequency), procedures for
preventing problem behaviors (minor to major rule violations) and finally, procedures for record
keeping and decision making that provides regular feedback to staff regarding implementation
efforts. Within the classroom, teachers are encouraged to teach children expectations and

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

7

routines for classroom activities and maximize essential behavior management practices such as
movement throughout the classroom and frequent positive contacts with students (Sugai &
Horner, 2008). A commonly referenced recommendation to help promote a positive social
climate is for teachers to have a ratio of six to eight positive interactions for every negative
reaction (Sugai & Horner, 2008). Supervision and behavior management in non-classroom
settings is encouraged to be overt, active and efficient (Sugai & Horner, 2008).
SW-PBS is based on a continuum of behavior support where the intensity of support
increases in relation to the behaviour needs of the student (Sugai & Horner, 2008). Support is
divided into primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. The goal of primary prevention is to
inhibit the development or likelihood of problem behaviour by teaching and encouraging
appropriate behaviors and altering or removing factors that might lead to at risk behaviour (Sugai
& Horner, 2008). Secondary prevention focuses on removing or reducing risk factors such as
lack of supervision and increasing protective factors such as remedial programming, family
assistance, school or community supports (Sugai & Horner, 2008). Tertiary prevention focuses
on reducing complex, intense and severe behaviors with individual students (Sugai & Horner,
2008). This is a system that depends on the collective functioning and collaboration of all
members within a school community. Although SW-PBS is a practice that is gaining popularity
in many regions, how effective is this support?
Research on School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support
There has been a great deal of research conducted supporting outcomes, practices and
systems of SW-PBS. Several studies have shown decreased rates of problem behaviors in nonclassroom settings through the use of systemic and consistent supervision, positive feedback and
social skills instruction. A study conducted by Anne Todd and her colleagues (2002) indicated

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

8

SW-PBS reduced the number of behavioral referrals, improved the school climate and increased
overall staff satisfaction within the small rural school that was studied. Another study evaluating
the effectiveness of SW-PBS in an elementary school indicates that the use of clear, consistent
behavioral expectations and complimentary assemblies led to a 134.9% increase in positive
school behaviors and overall school climate (Leedy, Bates & Safran, 2004). Curtis and his
colleagues (2010) conducted a four-year longitudinal study of an elementary school
implementing SW-PBS in the United States. They found a 40% to 67% decrease in behavioral
referrals and out of school suspensions. It is not overly surprising that explicit instruction of
expected behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviour has shown a decrease in problem
behaviors, but does this impact academic performance?
Research conducted on the success of SW-PBS has also demonstrated that improvements
in student behaviour and school climate have positive effects on academic performance. Lassen
and his colleagues (2006) conducted a three-year long study to exam the effects of SW-PBS on
an inner city middle school. The results indicated that the students’ academic performance on
standardized tests of reading and math increased with decreased suspensions and lost
instructional time due to problem behavior. A study conducted by McIntosh and colleagues
(2011) evaluating the effects of SW-PBS in a Canadian school in British Columbia demonstrated
that students who attended schools with a moderate to high fidelity of SW-PBS had higher
academic achievement than students at low fidelity schools or schools without SW-PBS.
Similarly, two randomized, wait-list control trials showed increases in academic achievement
measured through standardized achievement tests after schools implemented SW-PBS (Horner et
al., 2009; Bradshaw, Mitchell & Leaf, 2010).
Finally, there is an increasing expectation that schools will provide socially acceptable

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

9

and efficient interventions that foster safe and productive environments where aggressive
behaviour is minimized. Research has indicated that schools that emphasize teaching social
skills, parent involvement, and positive and preventative classroom and school-wide discipline
are likely to experience decreases in antisocial behaviors such as vandalism, harassment and acts
of aggression. A case study conducted by McCurdy and colleagues (2003) on the
implementation of SW-PBS in an ethically and racially diverse inner-city elementary school
resulted in significant reductions in discipline referrals, most importantly with student assaults
and antisocial behaviour. An interesting finding in this study was the reduction in antisocial
behaviour on the playground and in the schoolyard. These frequently problematic areas of the
school are often supervised by aides with minimal to no formal training in behaviour
management strategies. The unstructured nature of play compounds this problem, leading to an
increase in antisocial behaviors and disciplinary and office referrals. After implementing SWPBS, the school in this study saw a 53.8% decrease in referrals originating in the schoolyard
(McCurdy et. al., 2003). One can imagine the positive impact on the overall school environment
as well as the reduced amount of teacher and administration time required to attend to and
manage the behavior.
The only negative aspect about SW-PBS is that research finds SW-PBS to be more
effective if it is a school wide program, therefore the whole school needs to adopt the program.
In addition, adopting and teaching SW-PBS to educators can me time consuming and costly,
therefore many schools to not have the time and resources to adopt a SW-PBS program.
Conclusion
SW-PBS is gaining interest as educators shift from a reactive approach to a more
proactive model to help prevent minor and serious behaviour in schools. SW­PBS clearly leads 

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

10

to increased student learning and improvements in social behaviour.  Schools that implement 
SW­PBS with integrity are creating environments that are not only preventing problems, but also
increasing positive and appropriate behavior.  

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

11

References
Bradshaw, C. P., Mitchell, M. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2010). Examining the effects of schoolwide 
positive behavioral interventions and supports on student outcomes results from a 
randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools. Journal of Positive 
Behavior Interventions, 12(3), 133­148.
Curtis, R., Van Horne, J. W., Robertson, P., & Karvonen, M. (2010). Outcomes of a school­wide
positive behavioral support program. Professional School Counseling, 13(3), 159­164.
Dunlap, G., Sailor, W., Horner, R. H., & Sugai, G. (2009). Overview and history of positive 
behavior support. In Handbook of positive behavior support (pp. 3­16). Springer US.
Greene, R. W. (2009). Lost at school: Why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling 
through the cracks and how we can help them. SimonandSchuster.com.
Hanson, A. L. (2005). Have Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policies Turned into a Nightmare­
The American Dream's Promise of Equal Educational Opportunity Grounded in Brown v.
Board of Education. UC Davis J. Juv. L. & Pol'y, 9, 289.
Hattie, J., & Anderman, E. M. (Eds.). (2013). International Guide to Student Achievement. 
Routledge.
Horner, R. H., Sugai, G., Smolkowski, K., Eber, L., Nakasato, J., Todd, A. W., & Esperanza, J. 
(2009). A randomized, wait­list controlled effectiveness trial assessing school­wide 
positive behavior support in elementary schools. Journal of Positive Behavior 
Interventions, 11(3), 133­144.

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

12

Lassen, S. R., Steele, M. M. and Sailor, W. (2006), The relationship of school­wide Positive 
Behavior Support to academic achievement in an urban middle school. Psychology in 
Schools. 43, 701–712. doi: 10.1002/pits.20177
Leedy, A., Bates, P., & Safran, S. P. (2004). Bridging the Research­to­Practice Gap: Improving 
Hallway Behavior Using Positive Behavior Supports. Behavioral Disorders, 29(2), 130­
139.
Luiselli, J. K., Putman, R. F., Handler, M. W., & Feinberg, A/ B. (2005).   Whole
 
 ‐School 
Positive Behaviour Support: Effects on student discipline problems and academic 
performance. Educational Psychology
 
  , 25( 2­3)
McIntosh, K., Reinke, W. M., & Herman, K. E. (2009). School­wide analysis of data for social 
behavior problems: Assessing outcomes, selecting targets for intervention, and 
identifying need for support. The practical handbook of school psychology, 135­156.
McIntosh, K., Bennett, J. L., & Price, K. (2011). Evaluation of social and academic effects of 
School­wide Positive Behaviour Support in a Canadian school district. Exceptionality 
Education International, 21(1), 46­60.
McCurdy, B. L., Mannella, M. C., & Eldridge, N. (2003). Positive Behavior Support in Urban 
Schools Can We Prevent the Escalation of Antisocial Behavior?. Journal of Positive 
Behavior Interventions, 5(3), 158­170.
McGraw, K., & Koonce, D. A. (2011). Role of the School Psychologist: Orchestrating the 
Continuum of School­Wide Positive Behavior Support. Communique, 39(8), 4­6.
Martin, K., & Nuzzi, R. J. (2001). Discipline past and present: Shifting paradigms for effective 
practice. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 5(2).

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

13

Noguera, P. A. (1995). Preventing and producing violence: A critical analysis of responses to 
school violence. Harvard Educational Review, 65(2), 189­213.
Rose, L. C., & Gallup, A. M. (2005). The 37th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the 
public's attitudes toward the public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), 41­57.
Rosen, L. (2005). School discipline: Best practices for administrators. Corwin­volume 
discounts.
Simonsen, B., Sugai, G., & Negron, M. (2008). Schoolwide positive behavior supports primary 
systems and practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(6), 32­40.
Singer, G. H., & Wang, M. (2009). The intellectual roots of positive behavior support and their 
implications for its development. In Handbook of positive behavior support (pp. 17­46). 
Springer US.
Skiba, R. J., & Peterson, R. L. (2000). School discipline at a crossroads: From zero tolerance to 
early response. Exceptional Children, 66(3), 335­396.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. (2002). The evolution of discipline practices: School­wide positive 
behavior supports. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 24(1­2), 23­50.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2008). What we know and need to know about preventing problem 
behavior in schools. Exceptionality, 16(2), 67­77.
Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2009). Responsiveness­to­intervention and school­wide positive 
behavior supports: Integration of multi­tiered system approaches. Exceptionality, 17(4), 
223­237.

SCHOOL-WIDE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT

14

Todd, A., Haugen, L., Anderson, K., & Spriggs M. (2002).  Teaching Recess: Low­Cost Efforts 
Producing Effective Results.  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4, 46­52, 
doi:10.1177/109830070200400108
Ysseldyke, J. E., Dawson, P., Lehr, C., Reschly, D., Reynolds, M., & Telzrow, C. (1997). School
psychology: A blueprint for training and practice II. Bethesda, MD: National Association
of School Psychologists.