PBIS, or Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports is part of the same type of behavior management systems that use often complex systems to punish and reward behavior in the hopes that students will behave in a way hoped by schools and teachers.
You may have heard this called the “carrot and stick” approach: reward behavior you want to see more of, and punish behavior you want to see less of. Sounds great. Except how it’s not.
- It expects the unreasonable. It’s unreasonable to think that if adults simply handled the situations better, the kids would be perfect angels. Friends, this is simply not true. Not all behavior is a result of adult interaction or lack thereof. The creator of PBIS was criticized for basing his ideas on animals, and I’ve even seen a pretty well-known book about PBIS that compares this dynamic to dogs and how we shouldn’t blame dogs for their behavior, and instead we should blame the owners. I’m going to state the obvious: kids aren’t dogs. Kids are complex humans with much more cognitive ability than canines. Under these systems, the students who behave well would probably have behaved well anyway, and the worst behaved students often end up with the most rewards.
- The creator of PBIS completely rejected the idea of free will. He believed that we only behaved the way we did because of the reinforcement we received. To me, acting as though students cannot be trusted to learn how behaving in certain ways makes it more pleasant to be at school is completely disrespectful to them. It sends this message: You cannot be trusted to make good decisions and must be rewarded or punished over and over again. You will never “graduate” from this program. You’re lucky you have us here to reward and punish you. You are my puppet, and you dance to the pull of your strings. It’s insulting.
PBIS recommends comments like, “I like the way Aisha is sitting.” Supposedly, the other students are supposed to A) care about what the teacher likes, and B) want to be like Aisha. The reality is that they now hate Aisha, and she is very likely to end up getting bullied by other students if this kind of thing happens often. Also, the other kids who were also sitting appropriately but who didn’t get singled out for this manipulative false praise are thinking, “Why didn’t he say anything about how I am sitting? I’m sitting nicely.” And next time, they just might not even care how they’re sitting because they know they won’t be noticed anyway.
I didn’t even mention how fake it can feel, how often kids don’t even care about the rewards, how much time it wastes, and how it often results in group punishment/reward. Some may be wondering what I suggest you do instead. Well, frankly, just about anything. That sounds flippant, and I don’t mean it that way, but there are some basic practices that help:
consistency and clarity in expectation
building of true relationships
real consequences for unacceptable behavior
recognition of the fact that
children are still learning and growing
I know that it is likely that some with disagree with me, and I would invite those of you who do disagree to actually read some of the real research done on the danger of rewards and true motivational theory.
In the meantime, you get five minutes of reward recess for finishing this article.