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Ask the ‘TASC is a PBIS advice column from the RSE-TASC Specialists

Question: What is the best way to implement PBIS in a middle school? A high school?

Response 1:

Andrew Ecker, 

Special Education School Improvement Specialist

You’re right!  High school PBIS is different than elementary school PBIS.  And… you’re right again!  High school PBIS is similar to elementary school PBIS.  Let’s start with what we know to be consistent across all ages: the why; i.e., the academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes we want every student to achieve.  From there we develop and implement the necessary systems and practices to achieve those outcomes and the necessary data systems so we can monitor progress and make logical, data-driven decisions (National TAC PBIS, 2017).  If your PBIS team can follow those keys, you’re most likely on the right track no matter the age of your students or the setting/location of your school.

The big difference between high school and elementary PBIS is that high school PBIS requires specific attention that is given to the school’s contextual influences; i.e., size, culture, and developmental level (Flannery & Kato, 2012).  Please see Dale’s links, below, for in-depth detail into these influences.  You might encounter staff in your high school who only know PBIS as an elementary school framework.  If so, affirm their belief, because PBIS is indeed more prevalent in elementary schools than secondary schools.  But then add that “high school-specific research (see the links below) has been conducted and it supports PBIS’s impact on improved high school students’ outcomes when we pay close attention to our school’s context – as our school team wants to do here”.  Another bit of resistance you might encounter is staff who say “behavior is an elementary school issue – the students should already know this”.  Again, I like to affirm the comment, “you’re right, it would have been great if the student(s) learned this behavior earlier”.  I then like to support the staff’s teaching strengths by saying, “even though we would have wanted the student(s) to know the behavior already, we have to do what we already do best to help students who are struggling.  When a student is struggling in any academic area, no matter when they “should have learned” something, we teach, reteach etc.”  I think this empowers teachers by reinforcing that they can, and do, already help students who are struggling “with something they should already know”.  We’re teachers, no matter the subject.  A final comment might be, “you’re right, they should know this, so if we don’t teach the behavior, who will?”  (College?  Job?  Prison?)  We would never pass along reading instruction to the next people, we’d teach it.

Remember, high school PBIS is different than elementary PBIS, but no matter what, it all starts with student outcomes, development and implementation of systems and practices, and on-going utilization of data to inform decisions.

Response 2:

Dale Langley, 

Behavior Specialist

mplementing PBIS in a school – at any grade level – must be built using the essential elements and must be personalized to the school culture and climate – for any setting. So on the one hand, implementing in a middle school or high school does bring about unique challenges because of the age and social, emotional, and developmental needs of your students.  On the other hand, when encountering resistance to implementing PBIS in a preschool or residential setting or elementary school will necessitate the same skill needed at middle and high school of personalizing what a positive proactive behavior system looks like and how it functions to best support staff teaching and acknowledging student behavior.

For some high school specific resources, check out:

For information on middle school implementation, review:

An article from neaToday on a middle school in Montgomery County, MD

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