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Positive behavior support (PBS) is an approach to managing students who present behavioral challenges in the classroom.

This lesson defines PBS and provides strategies for and examples of dealing with behavior challenges.

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What Is Positive Behavior Support?

James, one of your students, stares at you with the same witless expression, waiting for you to turn your back. As soon as you do, the invisible missile that was in his left hand is launched across the room, striking Susan in the forehead.

One of your best students, Susan is now upset and looks to you for justice. When you pause, she lifts up her paper, displaying the prominent A, and makes a face at James, who becomes enraged.Positive behavior support (PBS) is a general term for educational practices that promote positive student behaviors and avoid rewarding negative student behaviors. The idea is that students consistently do what works for them. When students exhibit the same challenging behavior, it is because that approach has previously produced the desired results. The purpose of PBS is to identify the reasons for the challenging behavior, teach alternate approaches, reward positive behaviors, and minimize factors that trigger the challenging behavior.


Define the Behavior and Determine the Cause

Specify exactly what the behavior is and define the environment under which the behavior happens. Observe and talk to the students to find out why they’re behaving this way, and what they want. Try to establish a connection between the environment and the behavior.

Once you have a reasonable picture, you can begin to make changes.

Improve the Environment

Every student has special needs of some kind, and some students cannot handle an environment that fails to accommodate theirs. For example, an easily-distracted student surrounded by environmental stimuli is a trouble spot waiting to happen. Students who have trouble hearing or seeing may act up because they’re frustrated about not being able to effectively interact. Watch for irritating stimuli, such as strong aromas or uncomfortable proximities, which may impact high-sensitivity students.

Reduce Uncertainty

Students can become very uncomfortable when they don’t know what is going on.

Use schedules, calendars, announcements, reminders, regular routines, and specified criteria to keep a high level of communication and predictability surrounding the student experience.

Provide Autonomy

Giving students choices conveys the feeling that they are in some way in charge of their lives. Offer them behavioral choices with higher satisfaction potential than their current choices.


Variety and individuality are important keys to interest and engagement, so it’s important to alter instructional approaches to meet individual needs. For example, if a student’s focus is kinesthetic, introduce a tactile or movement aspect to the presentation/exercise.

Form a Brotherhood

Create teams of students to work with each other by mentoring, tutoring, helping out, being a classroom buddy, and caring. Often, those who present challenging behavior feel isolated and vulnerable. Bullying and acting up are based in fear and insecurity. Give the students a support system that they can always rely on, whether or not you’re involved, by creating ties between them.

Provide Rewards

Adjust the systems in the classroom so that behaving appropriately – not just being the smartest or most effective – is rewarded. In other words, make it profitable to follow the rules by using encouragement, advantages, privileges, and admiration to make the students feel special when they’re trying to do the right thing.

Teach Alternate Skills

As you learn student motivations, you can begin to train them in the practices that will consistently produce the rewards they want. Teach those skills to troubled students, and they will use their new-found skills to good purpose. A student who is rewarded for her new skills in courtesy is less likely to see throwing a fit as valid.



After you establish James’ behavior exactly (the blank grin, the challenges while your back is turned, and how he behaves when his behavior is challenged), try to get James to open up about why he’s behaving this way.

He seeks attention and has difficulty with his assignments, which creates internal stress. Visits to the principal’s office or to a time-out session relieve the tension, and allow him to experience a different environment.Assure James that he will receive all of the positive attention he wants, if he will agree to behave and attempt his assignments. In addition, promise to move him toward success and celebrate those successes. Find a partner for him – James lights up at these possibilities, and realizes that he now has choices and allies.

Alter the curriculum to address James’ uncertainties, and relocate him for optimum positive attention and minimal negative attention (such as children laughing or Susan getting angry).


A superior student, Susan taunts her classmates, especially James, and sometimes drives them to frenzy. She prominently displays her grades and adopts a ‘high and mighty’ attitude. Talking to Susan, you find that she has a highly competitive environment at home, with high expectations and few rewards. You also find that she does not feel challenged by the material in the classroom. You make a deal with Susan: If she will refrain from making the other students feel inferior, you will establish a reward system that celebrates her excellent work.

In addition, you will add some new, creative material that will add interest and challenge.

Lesson Summary

Positive behavioral support is a general term for classroom management strategies designed to help teachers understand why challenging behavior occurs, address the motivation behind the behavior, and alter the learning environment to provide positive support and encouragement for the desired behavior. It also encourages teachers to remove any rewards that are perpetuating the negative behavior.Strategies include altering the classroom, changing the curriculum, establishing reward and encouragement systems, offering alternative behavior choices, reducing uncertainty, removing excess stresses, and more. Although it can be time-consuming, PBS is generally considered one of the most effective ways to produce long-term positive changes in the classroom.

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