School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

  • May 13th, 2011
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What is School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports?

School Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is a proactive approach to discipline that promotes appropriate student behavior and increased learning. Traditionally, models of school discipline tend to be reactive (i.e., student misbehavior results in punitive consequences). The word “approach” is key in that SWPBIS provides direction, not a canned program, for developing a comprehensive system of behavior support tailored to individual school needs.

The system is based upon a three-tiered model. The first tier (universal) serves as the foundation upon which the other two tiers are built. This tier provides a system of supports to all students in a school based on preventative practices which emphasize teaching and reinforcing expected student behaviors. Tier two (secondary) provides targeted interventions to support students classified as “at risk,” who require more intervention than is typically provided within tier one universal support. Supports offered in tier three (tertiary) require the most intensive level of intervention for students with the most significant behavioral/emotional support needs.

This three-tiered approach does not require less effort than current, non-SWPBIS practices, but it channels and focuses school-based efforts, making them more efficient and effective. Characteristics of SWPBIS:

  • Interventions are planned and positive rather than reactive and punitive
  • Conditions (antecedents) contributing to inappropriate behavior are carefully managed or eliminated
  • Multiple opportunities for positive, corrective feedback are created while negative critical feedback is limited or eliminated
  • Prosocial behaviors are taught directly, practiced frequently, and routinized so that they become automatic

Research supports that a positive, direct instructional approach is more effective than traditional punishment-based alternatives in improving student academic success and improving overall school climate (Horner, 2000; Myers, 2001).

Is There More Than One Model of SWPBIS?

SWPBIS approaches are as varied as the schools in which they are applied. The approach adopted by the Bureau of Special Education/Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) was developed by Rob Horner, George Sugai, and others associated with the University of Oregon. This research-based approach is recognized nationally and is supported by a federal grant through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Their website is recognized and supported by the OSEP Center on Positive Behavior Support and Interventions:

It is important to realize that SWPBIS is intended for all students, not just students who receive special education services. The SWPBIS approach is structured to provide a blueprint to support all students in a school, from the most compliant to those requiring the most intensive supports. This approach:

  • is research based;
  • promotes accountability and sustainability through data collection and planned, well articulated individual building to district level structures; and
  • fosters school-community partnerships at all levels.

Furthermore, the SWPBS model conceptually aligns with Pennsylvania’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support framework.

Why is an SWPBIS System Necessary for a School?

In light of the need to increase In light of the need to increase No Child Left Behind based Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores incrementally so all students reach the proficient level by 2014, effective and efficient use of school time is paramount. SWPBIS can help significantly in maximizing the time students are engaged in relevant learning tasks.

Time “off task” is not only unpleasant for staff but also decreases time for instruction; therefore, an approach to school discipline (e.g., SWPBIS) which maximizes learning time is of tremendous value to schools or districts seeking the proficient level of academic achievement for all students. Research has shown that changes such as:

  • differentiated instructional practices;
  • improved instructional delivery;
  • consistent, nonpunitive discipline practices;
  • opportunities to learn prosocial and self-management skills;
  • consistent, clear rules and high performance expectations; and
  • consistent enforcement of rules
  • contribute to high achievement and prosocial behavior in children and adolescents. (Colvin, Kameenui, & Sugai, 1993; Mayer, 1995; Walker and Sprague, 1995).

The SWPBIS approach provides a continuum of prevention and intervention supports at each of the three tiers: universal (for all students), secondary (for students at risk), and tertiary (for students with intensive needs). At the tertiary level, SWPBIS embraces the conceptual approaches of wraparound and/or person-centered planning for students who have challenging behavioral needs requiring intensive support.


Barrett, S., Eber, L., & Weist, M. (Eds). (2013). Advancing education effectiveness: Interconnecting school mental health and school-wide positive behavior support. Retrieved from

Colvin, G., Kameenui, E.J., & Sugai, G. (1993). School-wide and classroom management: Reconceptualizing the integration and management of students with behavior problems in general education. Education and Treatment of Children, 16(1), 361-381.

Horner, R. (2000). Positive behavior supports. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 57(2), 97-105.

Lembke, E. & Stichterm, J. (2006). Utilizing a system of screening and progress monitoring within a three-tiered model of instruction: Implications for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Beyond Behavior, Spring, 3-9.

Mayer, G. (1995). Preventing antisocial behavior in school. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28(1), 476-478.

Myers, D. (2001, April). Creating a continuum of effective behavioral supports. Paper presented at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, Harrisburg, PA.

PaTTAN Publication: An Introduction to Pennsylvania’s Schoolwide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Walker, H.M., & Sprague, J.R. (1995). The path to school failure, delinquency, and violence: Causal factors and some potential solutions. Intervention in School and Clinic, 35(2), 67-73.

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