Preventing Trouble: Making Schools Safer Places Using Positive Behavior Supports

Article excerpt


Effective management of disruptive behaviors in schools is a national concern. While substantial resources are often allocated toward individual students who exhibit challenging behavior, less emphasis is placed on preventative interventions in common areas such as hallways, cafeterias and playgrounds. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a multi-component Positive Behavior Support (PBS) intervention consisting of positive practice, pre-correction, verbal praise, reinforcement, correction of inappropriate behavior, active supervision, discussion of behavior with students and on-time dismissal could improve middle school students' problematic hallway behaviors. The 5-week intervention phase resulted in a very large reduction between baseline and treatment phases of 42.36% across 950 students. This study provides evidence that readily available and cost-effective techniques can be used to make school common areas safer and more orderly. Implications for the use of school-based PBS practices are discussed.


Effective school-wide management of disruptive behaviors and safety for students and adults continues to be a major national concern (Lewis & Sugai, 1999; Scott, 2001; Turnbull et al., 2002). While school personnel expend substantial resources on managing challenging behavior exhibited by individual students, there is less emphasis placed on the prevention of behavior problem in non-classroom settings such as hallways, playgrounds and cafeterias (Safran & Oswald, 2003). These common areas frequently lack established routines and clear behavioral expectations, resulting in high rates of problematic behavior (Leedy, Bates, & Safran, 2004; Todd, Horner, Anderson, & Spriggs, 2002). Absent preventative strategies, schools often rely on punitive practices such as office discipline referrals, suspension and expulsion that frequently do little to create safer educational environments (Lewis & Garrison-Harrell, 1999). This study addresses the critical challenge of improving middle school student behavior in non-classroom settings through the use of positive behavior supports (PBS).

Described as a team-based system to facilitate student success, PBS is increasingly being adopted as a school-wide, preventive strategy to manage problem behaviors (Scott, 2001). According to this process, school-based PBS teams initially acknowledge the need for behavioral change, then develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of evidence-based intervention strategies. Depending on school-wide priorities, interventions can concentrate on any of four systems. First, the school-wide system centers on the entire student body, such as a universally applied violence prevention program (Lewis, Sugai, & Colvin., 1998). Second, interventions in specific classrooms can use practices such as teaching and enforcing positive classroom rules to prevent behavior problems. Third, in the individual student system, a behavior intervention plan can be developed to target at-risk youngsters requiring intensive supports (Turnbull et al., 2002). Finally, in specific non-classroom settings such as hallways and cafeterias, practices such as active supervision and teaching prosocial behaviors can be utilized (Safran & Oswald, 2003).

Although in its early stages, research demonstrates that PBS practices have been effectively applied in a variety of specific non-classroom settings. For example, excessive hallway noise during lunch was identified as a significant problem in a rural middle school (Kartub, Taylor-Green, March, & Horner, 2000). The intervention consisted of a 7-minute training session for each lunch period. This "role-playing" session instructed students to distinguish appropriate noise levels during lunch transitions. Visual cues, including dimming hall lighting and displaying a blinking light, and implementing a group reward system were also implemented. …