The Principles and Practices of Virginia High Schools which Implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Framework to Reduce Office Discipline Referrals

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Virginia Tech

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) frameworks, formerly known as effective school-wide discipline, started in 2005 as a State initiative to help raise student achievement by addressing the overlapping relationship between classroom conduct and academic achievement (Virginia Department of Education, 2009, superintendent's message). Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports implemented as part of the effective school-wide discipline practices in the Commonwealth of Virginia are seeing strong reductions in referrals and student exclusions/suspensions from school (Ciolfi, Shin, and Harris, 2011). Over 90,500 individual students were suspended or expelled from a Virginia school in 2010-2011; many of them more than once (2011 p.1). As paradigms switch from reactionary to prevention, school-wide approaches to discipline utilizing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports are becoming more frequently used as a tool to reduce the number of office discipline referrals (ODR) and to keep students in class. Since the state has now 223 schools supporting the PBIS framework from 43 different school divisions, a study of the principles and practices of the most successful high school implementations could help high schools which are struggling with managing student conduct issues. By providing a compilation of those principles and practices that school leaders utilized to implement a highly effective Positive Behavioral Intervention Process, schools could focus on them to more successfully incorporate Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports frameworks in their high schools.

Three questions guided the work for this study. First, were there specific principles that the high schools using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports operated by to successfully implement and reduce office discipline referrals? Secondly, were there certain practices that these high schools also employed which garnered success? Lastly, what artifacts could the successful schools provide demonstrating their successful implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework that would provide benefit to beginning or struggling high schools implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?

A qualitative study was used utilizing the grounded theory method and cross school comparisons of data. Interviewing superintendent-designated leaders from nine high schools that reduced office discipline referrals (ODR), uncovered the principles and practices common to the successful high schools employing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. There were twelve interviews: three group interviews with 2 respondents each and nine individual interviews. The twelve interviews involved 15 people:

• four division-level personnel: three were division leaders who were also PBIS Division Coaches and one who was titled PBIS Division Coordinator • eight school administrators (five principals and three assistant principals) • three teachers who also were designated as PBIS School Coaches

No interviewee designated by the superintendent refused to be interviewed. Reviews of the data collected were analyzed across all divisions to report these principles and practices. These principles and practices could be shared with new high schools to consider prior to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework programs being implemented. As more high schools employ Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and are studied regarding reducing the number of office discipline referrals, the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Education can utilize these longitudinal data to craft more effective support for the programs across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

All data were extracted from the recordings and then charted for common elements. Three principles emerged that led to the theoretical propositions those high schools that reduced ODR had:

  1. PBIS Leaders who created a minimal set of school-wide rules.
  2. PBIS leaders who believed improving school climate for staff learners improved student behaviors.
  3. PBIS leaders who asserted that all school staff must be consistent with application of rules.

Additionally the data reviewed were analyzed and the researcher discovered that high schools that reduce office discipline referrals (ODR) have common practices where:

  1. PBIS leaders recognized positive behaviors and defined the expectations to the school.
  2. PBIS leaders involved other learning community members and empowered students.
  3. PBIS leaders analyzed and disaggregated data to inform their procedures.
  4. PBIS leaders trained staff members and promoted school expectations.

Additionally the data collected from the 12 interviews had respondents stating the single greatest obstacle that they encountered while implementing PBIS to reduce ODR which led to more implications for practice. Thus, the following lists the top obstacles that all respondents referred to in their interviews:

  1. Nine interviews had respondents who listed the top obstacle as establishing consistency in both staff participation and rule application.
  2. Six interviews also had respondents that listed finding time to implement PBIS strategies and interventions was their greatest obstacle.
  3. One interview had a respondent who also stated finding funding was his main obstacle.

Providing these data enabled high schools interested in implementing PBIS to be aware of these obstacles so those schools may avoid the pitfalls encountered as high schools employed PBIS frameworks to reduce ODR. However, all twelve interviews were noted with success stories that respondents felt were directly related to their reduction of ODR.

  1. Six interviews had respondents that reported enhanced relationships between students, teachers, and administrators (within the school).
  2. Seven interviews had participants that described how student successes enhanced school pride and school promotion.
  3. Three interviews had respondents that discussed the improved relationships with community partners and parents.
Discipline, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, office discipline referrals