A Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach employs multi-tiered systems to help all students develop school-ready behaviors. Even so, the research shows that the basic PBIS approach to behavior is not enough for trauma-affected youth. Read on to find out what these students need instead.
Before explaining why PBIS is not enough, let's talk about what it means in the first place.
PBIS is a 3-tiered structure.
Tier 1 PBIS:
Tier one interventions support all students in a school. For PBIS, Tier one interventions teach student what the basic school expectations are and what they look like. Expectations are usually a simple list of 3-4 things stated in the positive. For example: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be On Task.
In addition to teaching the basic school expectations, Tier one interventions involve a positive reinforcement system. It is used with all students in the school and is usually a currency system. Students can earn tickets or tokens for exemplifying the basic school expectations. Not only should they receive a physical object, but the adult initiating the reward should also include a significant verbal reinforcement.
Tier 2 PBIS:
After Tier one, Tier two interventions target students who need a little more support. Beyond teaching and rewarding basic expectations, Tier two includes a treatment team and behavior plan. Students work with adults in the team to identify problem behaviors and have check-ins throughout the day. Check-ins should help students process incidents and get some extra positive reinforcement when appropriate. At check-ins, they work to track their behavior throughout the day.
Tier 3 PBIS:
Tier three is focused on the fewest number of students. It is more therapeutic in nature. As such, students might check in with a therapist as well as with teachers and aides throughout the day. It is in addition to Tier two and Tier one supports.
The Trauma-Informed Approach:
When students' behavior problems are directly related to traumatic experiences, PBIS isn't quite enough. Instead, trauma-affected students need a more nuanced approach. The trauma-informed approach is grounded in building relationships with key adults. Schools that are successfully implementing trauma-informed approaches operate on a three-tiered system, just like PBIS. Here's how they differ.
Trauma-Informed Tier 1:
Trauma-informed Tier one starts at the classroom level, implementing trauma-informed disciplinary and instructional practices. Because of this, all teachers in a trauma-informed system receive training in trauma-informed approaches and implement them with all students. This approach to discipline requires a paradigm shift grounded in teachers' new understanding of how trauma impacts the brain and body. It includes a move away from exclusionary discipline practices like detention, suspension, and expulsion and moves toward a relationship-based method for supporting students in developing self-regulation and replacement behaviors.
Trauma-Informed Tier 2:
As with traditional PBIS, trauma-informed Tier two students receive more attention. It is based in our understanding of trauma.
Trauma-Informed Tier 3:
Lastly, trauma-informed Tier three students receive trauma-specific clinical treatment. Therapeutic approaches that are trauma-informed are different from other behavior management counseling approaches.
Why PBIS is Not Enough: Highlighting Differences:
Trauma-informed systems attend to relationship-based approaches, help students develop replacement behaviors and self-control, and provide trauma-informed therapy. The trauma-informed approach can actually help students rewire their brains. Of course, PBIS is fine for many students. However, it lacks the necessary trauma-informed support and tools for students who have experienced trauma.
Check out the video that inspired this post!
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.