What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (2023)

At the high school where Maria teaches, test scores are very low and behavior problems have skyrocketed. Maria feels that she spends a lot more time writing course references than she does teaching these days. She is ready for some changes, but she is concerned about her district's announcement that they will be implementing a PBIS program this year. Isn't it just a show where you give out points and hand out nifty prizes? No way, she assures her director. Okay, Maria says, so what is PBIS and how will it help me and my students?

What is GDP?

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (1)

Fuente:Florida PBIS

PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. The concept has been around for decades, but the actual phrase/acronym comes from the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).Learn more about the history of PBIS here.

PBIS began as a way to help students with behavioral disorders, but has since found its way into the broader educational arena. EITHERCenter at PBISdescribes it as "an evidence-based, layered framework to support students' behavioral, academic, social, emotional, and mental health." It is not a resume; rather, it is a foundational system that supports students, school staff, and families as they work toward positive behavior change.

This program provides a common language at different educational levels for students, teachers, and staff. The goal is to promote and maintain positive relationships between students and staff, reducing the number of disciplinary actions through preventative measures. It's not about punishment and fear, it's about change and intervention. When done correctly and faithfully, it can have positive effects on the culture of the school.

What are the fundamentals of PBIS?

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (2)

Fuente:PBIS Rewards


Whether used in the classroom, school, or district, PBIS is a highly personalized program, right down to the student level. Students' participation in the program differs according to their personal needs.Explore the levels in detail here.

  • Level 1: These practices and systems establish a regular and proactive base of support, preventing unwanted behavior. Schools provide these universal supports to all students throughout the school.
  • Tier 2: The practices and systems at Tier 2 support students who are at risk of developing more serious behavior problems before these behaviors begin. These supports help students develop the skills they need to benefit from the school's core programs.
  • Tier 3: Students receive more intensive and individualized support to improve their academic and behavioral results. At this level, schools rely on formal assessments to determine a student's needs.

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (3)

Fuente:Center at PBIS

At all levels, the same basic elements apply. These elements are interconnected and all focus on delivering positive results for all students at all levels.


The best education systems provide a good experience for all students. This means tailoring practices to meet individual needs, which can vary greatly. PBIS Equity focuses on discipline, which is often applied disproportionately across cultural and socioeconomic groups. PBIS seeks to address and correct this problem by providing all students with an environment that allows them to learn and succeed.Learn more about equity at PBIS here.


Implementing PBIS in a school or district requires a commitment to create and maintain systems that support the program. Teachers and administrators must receive the education and training they need, not just once, but on an ongoing basis. Families are also part of the system, as consistency and persistence are important.Learn more about the importance of PBIS systems here.


One of the true strengths of PBIS is its focus on meaningful data. Schools and districts can tailor this data to help them make productive decisions and understand what works and what doesn't.Learn more about the effective use of PBIS data here.


PBIS practices are those that faculty and administrators commit to administering the program. There is no single set of approved practices, although many include point and reward systems. Instead, educators work to choose evidence-based methods that fit their community's culture and expectations. This means that PBIS may look different at different schools, but the end goal is always the same: meaningful student outcomes.Learn more about PBIS practices in the classroom.

What is the evidence behind PBIS?

Since PBIS calls itself "evidence-based," you may be wondering what that evidence is. Schools have collected PBIS data for many years. These are just some of the findings of a report fromBazelon Mental Health Legal Center:

  • Over a five-year period, math and reading standardized test scores in Anne Arundel County, Maryland were higher in schools using PBIS.
  • In Illinois, 62% of third grade students in PBIS schools met the Illinois State Performance Test Reading Standard, compared to 47% in non-PBIS schools.
  • A 2004 study of an urban PBIS elementary school found that the annual rate of disciplinary referrals to the office dropped by 562 and suspensions dropped by 55 over a two-year period.

Read the full report to learn more.

Is PBIS right for my school?

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (4)

It is obvious that challenging behaviors and a disruptive school climate interfere with academic progress. PBIS has been proven to change the factors that help students and their achievement. In PBIS schools, students have more time in school and more time to learn. What successful PBIS schools have in common is full implementation. You can't change behaviors or raise morale if you don't apply all levels of support. It is a three to five year training process for faculty and staff, as well as a three to five year turnaround process for the school.

While any school can potentially benefit from PBIS, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. True success requires buy-in and participation from students, staff, administration, and families. It takes time to implement the program and may require more work on the part of the team initially. But when everyone works together and is committed, the results can be real and rewarding.

A PBIS Success Story

A teacher shared his school's experience inWeAreTeachers HELPLINE group without Facebook:

“This is our second year with PBIS and it has been a slow process, but it is working. I always see a lot of posts about PBIS as bribery, but if your school is doing it like this, you are doing it wrong. Our PBIS team has undergone massive training and we meet regularly to create a common language and actions based on the student data I am in charge of collecting.

“We have tickets that can be used to buy school supplies and some fun things like school clothes, but the tickets are given discreetly and a reason is always given as to why the student received them. We use the terms 'Be Respectful, Responsible, Engaged and Safe', found on the ticket, and circle the trait in which the student excels. For example, one of my classes is talkative. If our hand signal doesn't work fast enough, I'll continue to teach as I silently hand out tickets to those who are doing what they must. We also made behavior matrices in all areas of the school, which we regularly review with all grades.

"It's working. It's about staff speaking the same language and coming together to support students. You can't start with the most difficult kids, you have to start with 80% and then move on to the other levels to make it work Running through the levels or just buying the rewards won't work, but the kids definitely see that we as teachers support each other with language and actions, and the differences between the HS kids who received PBIS and those who did not receive in the top grades are amazing!

not for everyone

Unfortunately, PBIS programs can fail, especially when support and buy-in are simply not there. Here are some thoughts shared by another HELPLINE teacher:

“In a rural high school, I have been using it for 3 years and I don't like it. If management doesn't keep up with discipline and parents, the system is moot. We have a class that doesn't get references and the other two that accumulate a heap. Some kids don't mind signing a piece of paper. There are no consequences for getting a minor. When a student accumulates 3, there are consequences and they earn a specialization. However, there are no consequences for racking up runs. It is a useless system if the management is not strict with the consequences”.

Ultimately, these two opposing stories show that all schools need to do their research and make the decision that feels right to them.

How do we get started with PBIS?

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (5)

First, understand that this will take time. You can't do a one day training launch and expect the program to be successful. This will require professional development, school leadership, and careful planning. Ideally, administrators and teachers work together to develop the program and then share it with students and their families.

Many states have their own PBIS programs and websites, so do some research to see if yours can help you get started. If not, here are some respected resources to try:

Has your school already tried PBIS? Come share your experiences and ask for advice on theWeAreTeachers HELPLINE group without Facebook.

Also, take a lookWhat teachers need to know about Restorative Justice.

What is GDP? An overview for teachers and schools (6)


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