Schoolwide behavior support takes longer to implement in high school

10.08.21 SLE ORIENTATION WEEK- MENTOR GROUP MEETINGSchoolwide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) is most commonly used in elementary schools to manage student behavior.  But it also can work well in high schools,  even though implementation takes longer and poses special challenges, according to a recent study in The High School Journal.

Implementation of SWPBS often will take a minimum of two years because high schools are more complex organizations than elementary and middle schools, researchers say.  High schools have more people, more departments,  larger campuses and more extracurricular activities, making it more complicated for faculty to meet and to build consensus. Traditionally, initiatives in high schools are implemented at a department or grade level rather than at a school-wide level as is required for SWPBS.

“In fact, in one participating state, high schools referred to their first year of implementation as a ‘zero year’ because, during much of this first year, they were developing strategies to work together and obtain school-wide buy-in to SWPBS,” researchers write.

“The high school staff reported that the addition of a ‘zero year’, one focused on planning and establishing foundational components (e.g., system-wide communication and buy-in, team structure, organization of data) to the levels of implementation aligned their progress better when compared with the elementary and middle schools in their districts.”

The study, which examined the implementation of SWPBS in 8 schools serving over 15,525 students across a 3-year period, explores many of the different challenges high schools face in adopting this approach to managing student behavior.  Participating schools were part of a larger longitudinal study funded by the U.S. Department of Education examining the effectiveness of the implementation of SWPBS model in high school settings.

Recent estimates suggest that at least 19,054 schools are actively implementing SWPBS but only 2,403 (12.6%) are high schools.

“Although the exact reasons for this slow adoption rate by high schools are not entirely clear, implementation strategies used in elementary schools fail to take into consideration the unique contextual features of high schools,” the researchers write.

Among the modifications that are needed to implement SWPBS at the high school is to include student input. High school students in high school are more autonomous than younger students and place greater value on being actively involved in decision-making.  Schools need to involve their students in decision making to ensure successful implementation of SWPBS, according to the researchers.

Faculty may be less likely to view reinforcing appropriate social behavior as their responsibility at this developmental level.  Increased disengagement of adolescents from school, more violent types of misbehavior and the increased frequency of behavioral problems pose other challenges.

Researchers found significant progress implementing  many of the key components of SWPBS over their 3-year study.  The Schoolwide Evaluation Tool (SET), originally designed for the primary level, was used to measure implementation.  Researchers report that SET was found to have good reliability and validity at the high school level.

Trained staff at the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports interviewed and observed students, administrators, and teachers and evaluated the 8 schools on the following 7 components:

a) Defining behavioral expectations

b) Teaching behavioral expectations

c) Rewarding students for meeting behavioral expectations

d) Having systems for responding to behavioral violations

e) Engaging in behavioral monitoring and decision-making

f)  Management practices

g) District-level support for ongoing implementation

To adapt SET for high school, researchers also assessed whether:

a)     Staff members in the previous 2 months acknowledged students (not including informal verbal praise) in ways that are different from the schoolwide reward system

b)     The administrator reported that there is a mechanism for getting student input for PBS and that the input is representative of the student body

c)      50% or more of students thought students provided input into the PBS program (i.e. survey, in teach meetings, etc.)

d)     50%  or more of students thought there is an adult in the school that knows them and they felt they would go to if they needed help

“High schools may already have some defined expectations for students, but due to the decentralized structure of high schools (e.g., different expectations based on department or individual teacher expectations) these expectations were not schoolwide and were often stated in the negative (e.g., no cell phones) or what students should not do rather than the positive behaviors in which they should engage,” researchers write.

“Implementing Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support in High School Settings: Analysis of Eight High Schools,” by Flannery, K. Brigid et al. , The High School Journal, 2013, Volume 96, Number 4, pps. 267-282.

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