School-wide Behavior Expectations: Creating a Culturally Responsive Environment Where ALL Students Thrive

by | Aug 2, 2021


As a school principal, you may feel uncertain about creating a proactive approach to prevent problem behaviors from occurring when students return to school this fall.  Some students have experienced trauma due to the loss of loved ones during the pandemic, were not able to attend virtual instruction on a consistent basis, and had a myriad of other issues that may have impacted their families. 

At the heart, of your concerns is to ensure that all teachers are prepared to teach students proactive and positive behavioral strategies to ensure that students feel supported and safe.  In this article, we’ll outline the elements of an effective school-wide behavior plan, look at some examples of schools that have successfully implemented school-wide expectations, and examine the next steps in your planning process.

What is a School-wide Behavior Plan?

A school-wide behavior plan implements proactive and consistent behavior management procedures for the entire school rather than expecting teachers to develop plans for their individual classrooms.

A 2005 report in Principal suggests that a “schoolwide approach to discipline that is focused, proactive, and consistent is more likely to be effective than the classroom-by-classroom approach used by many schools.” With such an approach, school leaders can work collaboratively with teachers to find procedures that reinforce positive behaviors and prevent misbehaviors.

5 Components of an Effective School-wide Behavior Plan

Principals find that effective school-wide behavior plans include the following five elements:

  1. Clear behavioral expectations — All students, teachers, and staff must understand the behavioral expectations and consequences for misbehavior.
  2. Consistency — Teachers and staff must implement behavioral procedures with fidelity so students learn to trust the stated expectations.
  3. Fairness — The Pacific Resources for Education and Learning explain that disciplinary policies “need to be age-appropriate, clear, and repeatedly communicated to students and parents.”
  4. Foresight — Educators should plan ahead for behavioral issues that are likely to come up in the future. How will your schoolwork with students who need extra support to meet behavioral expectations?
  5. Collaboration among the entire staff — When all teachers and staff have a voice in the decision-making process, they offer diverse “boots on the ground” perspectives related to their fields of expertise. Additionally, educators are more likely to enforce behavioral procedures consistently when they have helped create them.

Learn more about how collaborative decision-making drives school excellence.

What is School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)?

Many schools implement the school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) framework to support their behavior plans. The Center on PBIS explains that school wide PBIS “establishes a social culture and the behavior supports needed to improve social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes for all students.” The framework can be customized to meet your school and community’s unique needs.

4 Key Elements of School-wide PBIS

 The Center on PBIS outlines four key components of a school-wide PBIS framework:

  1. Locally meaningful and culturally relevant outcomes — School leaders should evaluate student and community data to set goals for their school-wide PBIS strategy. For example, you may consider data on student learning, local educational equity concerns, and cultures represented in the local community to define focused behavioral outcomes.
  2. Empirically-supported practices — Look for educational research to guide your development of evidence-based behavioral practices. (For example, we recently published an article about evidence-based practices in restorative justice.) Then consider how these practices should be adapted to meet your community’s cultural needs.
  3. Systems to support implementation — Consider the policies, training, procedures, and extra support your educators need to effectively implement the school-wide behavioral strategy. Learn how to plan ongoing, job-embedded professional development to help your team continuously improve their behavior management practices.
  4. Data-driven decision-making — Create a leadership team responsible for collecting, monitoring, and evaluating data related to the PBIS implementation. This team can help tweak PBIS systems to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

The school wide PBIS framework does not prescribe specific procedures or rules your school should implement. This way, your team can implement practices that promote the specific behavior outcomes valued at your school and meet your student’s unique needs.

3 Tiers of School-wide PBIS

School-wide PBIS recognizes that some students need more support than others to meet behavioral expectations. PBIS offers three tiers of support for students with different needs:

  • Tier 1: Universal — All students receive Tier 1 support to learn about the school’s behavior expectations and practice prosocial skills. Tier 1 support should meet the needs of at least 80% of students.
  • Tier 2: Targeted — When a student is not adequately supported by Tier 1 support, they receive Tier 2 support that provides additional learning opportunities. These supports may take the form of one-on-one or small group instruction. Tier 2 support should meet the needs of 5-15% of your students.
  • Tier 3: Intensive, Individualized — Some students may need individualized plans informed by their academic, physical, medical, mental health, and other needs. Tier 3 support should help 3-5% of your students with the highest needs.

Read more about each of these support tiers on the PBIS Center website.

Examples of School-wide Behavior Expectations

Let’s take a look at some examples of schools that have successfully implemented school-wide PBIS to promote positive student outcomes.

P.K. Yonge, K-12 School

Edutopia shares how this Florida school uses the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework, which incorporates both the Response to Intervention (RTI) and PBIS frameworks.

P.K. Yonge has an internal Student Success Team made up of representatives from across all levels of school leadership to make decisions about the support students receive in each tier of the framework. The team meets about once per month to check in on students’ behavioral progress, gather input from teachers and parents, and decide what types of support students need.

In Tier 1, teachers lead all elementary school students through a daily check-in to reinforce behavioral expectations. Weekly, students attend a large group meeting “where a specific topic, such as bullying, conflict resolution, or friendship, is focused on.”

In Tier 2, students who need extra support are broken into small groups to learn alongside others who share a common need. For example, 2-4 students who all experience body issues may meet together for a few learning sessions.

In Tier 3, students who have been in Tier 2 for more than nine weeks receive one-on-one time with a Guidance Counselor. The Guidance Counselor leads each student through individualized exercises and activities and checks in regularly to ensure they understand and master the content and skills taught.

To solidify a “core culture of what students and teachers should expect for student behavior,” teachers and school leaders use consistent language which normalizes behavior expectations.

Lowery Middle School

Assistant Principal Paul Sampson describes how his school uses evidence-based practices to improve student behavior.

Lowery Middle School has an instructional leadership team, including teachers and administrators, responsible for implementing school-wide PBIS. Working in collaboration with teachers, this team identified six positive behaviors, and three negative behaviors to monitor and address. The instructional leadership team tracks data related to these targeted behaviors, provides weekly training for teachers about behavior management and manages the school’s behavioral processes.

Teachers at Lowery Middle School incorporate behavioral expectations into their regular instruction to help students understand the direct connection between positive behaviors (such as showing perseverance) and positive outcomes (such as achieving higher grades). Positive behavior is also reinforced with incentives like Paw Bucks, which students can cash in to enjoy “free dress” days and other special events.

These new practices have helped the school reduce suspensions, expulsions, and teacher turnover while simultaneously improving students’ growth.

Next Steps: How to Implement School-wide Behavior Expectations

Creating positive change in your school’s culture may feel like a daunting task. Here are a few steps you can take right now to start developing a school-wide behavior plan:

  • Meet with teachers and support staff to define targeted goals for your student’s behavior. What are the most critical areas of need? Which positive behaviors are the highest priorities for driving positive outcomes?
  • Appoint a School Behavior Leadership Team with representatives from across all levels of school leadership to lead the implementation of a school-wide behavior plan.
  • Spend intentional time getting to know evidence-based practices for developing a behavior plan that is equitable for all students.
  • Consult with experienced education leaders who can support your school-wide behavioral planning.

CSAS consultants are well-seasoned educational leaders who have been in your shoes and are excited to support your school’s goals. We work with schools, districts, and state Departments of Education around the country to help leaders adopt evidence-based practices for whole-school improvement.

Schedule a free consultation call with one of our experienced consultants to help us understand the challenges you want to address at your school. We’ll get to know your team’s strengths and areas for opportunity and help you examine relevant educational research to build a school-wide behavior strategy.

You can also send us an email to describe your goals and needs. We look forward to supporting you!