For the past four years, the Northeast Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Academy, an evidence-based professional development program in the area of social-emotional development, has been used across the state of Massachusetts. Administered by the Neag School of Education through its affiliation with the Northeast PBIS (NEPBIS) Network, a loose affiliation of state education leaders in the Northeast, the PBIS Academy has announced it will continue its partnership with Massachusetts through the spring of 2022, after a bid to renew its contract for four additional years was recently approved.
The Academy, developed in 2014 with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and UConn’s Center for Behavioral Education and Research, is the longest-running academy in Massachusetts and has earned nearly $4 million in total funding. It provides training to schoolwide leadership teams and coaches, as well as a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) to meet the academic, social, and behavioral needs of all students.
In implementing the program, the DESE prioritizes those schools that are performing in the lowest 20% of schools statewide, and that demonstrate readiness not only to establish a representative PBIS leadership team and internal coaches, but also to ensure participation and support from school administrators and staff.
Adam Feinberg, NEPBIS Network director and assistant research professor at the Neag School, works with three other Neag School faculty, Brandi Simonsen, Jennnifer Freeman,and Susannah Everett, to coordinate the NEPBIS Network. Each has professional training and experience in implementing MTSS at regional and national levels.
“MTSS is a framework which helps organize how schools really identify and support systems that support staff, data that supports decision making, and practices that support students across a three-tier prevention model,” says Feinberg.
“One of our middle school teams has been incredibly successful and just keeps building and building. It has really gone beyond our expectations.”
—Mary Ann Jackman, assistant superintendent, Weymouth (Mass.) Public Schools
The PBIS framework’s three-tier prevention model consists of the following:
- Tier I: Establishes cohesive behavioral expectations and a consistent application of positive reinforcement to improve overall school climate;
- Tier II: Helps schools develop systems to support students who are not responding to the universal practices due to social, emotional, or behavioral challenges, and need more focused attention;
- Tier III: Provides individualized and intensive interventions and support to students who are not responsive to the primary and secondary levels of prevention, in order to reduce problematic behaviors and improve life outcomes.
To support implementation of the PBIS framework, each school forms a team of six to eight representative staff members to participate in a three-year training program, with individual training days allocated to team training, coaches’ training, and on-site technical assistance. Two members of the PBIS team serve as coaches, or internal experts and facilitators who lead the school’s implementation of the PBIS framework. The technical assistance helps apply the training content to the individualized needs and priorities of each school.
Following the six days of training in the first year, teams meet for three days in the second year to assess implementation, deal with any issues that come along, and deep-dive into certain topics, such as classroom domain support and crisis response.
“The first year is the most intensive because the schools are really building their framework,” Feinberg says. “The focus is to develop products of their plan, send it out to staff for feedback and revisions, and then get ready for what will hopefully be an implementation year in Year Two.”
The third year consists of two training days that serve as a time to get routines down in the implementation process and share ideas with other participating schools through roundtable talks and a poster-sharing session.
“Teams really like the structure of the training because they get content, but then they really get a lot of time just to work on their product as a team,” says Feinberg. “They are also given tools to help them track their progress and help with data-based decision making.”
The PBIS Academy utilizes a yearly self-assessment, the Schoolwide PBIS Tiered Fidelity Inventory, and a PBIS Team Implementation Checklist, which schools complete two to three times a year to evaluate PBIS implementation in schools and create action plans to address areas that need improvement.
“The PBIS program has made our students aware of what the behavioral expectations are, and it has allowed us to be responsive to behavior before it becomes crisis behavior.”
— John Crocker, school mental health and behavioral services director, Methuen (Mass.) Public Schools
Methuen (Mass.) Public Schools began implementing the PBIS framework during the 2014-15 school year. John Crocker, director of school mental health and behavioral services at Methuen Public Schools, serves as the coordinator for the Methuen High School PBIS team and oversees all PBIS teams across the district. He says PBIS has allowed Methuen schools to identify behavioral problem areas and direct action plans to resolve those problems.
“I am really proud of how we use data,” Crocker says. “We are making data-driven decisions, and we are using data to support our aggregate-level needs and inform our intervention needs for groups and for individual students.”
Crocker also credits the PBIS program with the opportunity it has created for many more students to be recognized for what they do. Methuen Public Schools have established a “Ranger Pride” point system to reinforce positive behavior, a practice that personalizes the PBIS program to reflect the district’s community values and expectations.
“The PBIS program has made our students aware of what the behavioral expectations are, and it has allowed us to be responsive to behavior before it becomes crisis behavior,” says Crocker.
Weymouth (Mass.) Public Schools is a PBIS participant consisting of eight primary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. Mary Ann Jackman, assistant superintendent of Weymouth Public Schools, says Weymouth chose to implement PBIS because there was a need for a systematic support structure for social-emotional learning and student behavior, as well as a need for continuity across the district.
“The PBIS team members are very excited to be a part of the teams and have, for the most part, been consistent throughout,” Jackman says. “One of our middle school teams has been incredibly successful and just keeps building and building. It has really gone beyond our expectations.”
The next step for Weymouth is to utilize the teams of teacher-leaders to introduce social-emotional learning into the PBIS framework and to launch a full, sustainable implementation of PBIS at the seventh- to 12th-grade levels, says Jackman.
As for the PBIS Academy, Feinberg identifies three major goals for the program moving forward:
- Help schools more quickly set up systems to look at data so that they are able to track outcomes and look at data more effectively;
- Draw more attention to culturally responsive practices so that schools can locate disproportionality much quicker and work toward fostering equity across the school;
- Build easy ways to support district management so that district administrators are able to direct PBIS after the three-year training and sustain the positive impacts.
“Schools report a general overall improvement of school climate and much more prosocial behavior since implementing PBIS,” says Feinberg. “Routines across the school are better understood by staff and students, which makes the flow of the day a much more positive experience.”