Positive Behavior Support: Teaching and Acknowledging Expected Behaviors in an Urban High School

By Morrissey, Kelly L.; Bohanon, Hank et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2010 | Go to article overview

Positive Behavior Support: Teaching and Acknowledging Expected Behaviors in an Urban High School


Morrissey, Kelly L., Bohanon, Hank, Fenning, Pamela, Teaching Exceptional Children


Schools are changing rapidly, and the pressure is on to find ways to effectively support the growing diversity of student needs found in general education classrooms (Knitzer, 1993; Lohrmann, Boggs, & Bambara, 2006). Traditional reactive approaches to discipline are repeatedly failing to improve the behaviors of many students, including students from diverse populations and with exceptionalities (Sinclair, Christenson, & Thurlow, 2005; Sutherland & Wehby, 2001). Reactionary discipline approaches, particularly suspension and expulsion, result in removal of students most in need of instructional minutes, especially children of minority backgrounds and those with academic problems (Skiba & Rausch, 2006). Urban high schools, which serve students of diverse backgrounds, are in dire need of proactive approaches to discipline that will support student behavior rather than remove them through exclusionary discipline practices.

Positive behavior support (PBS) is one such model that is gaining empirical evidence of success as a method for addressing schoolwide behavioral issues, classroom management, and individual support systems for students with and without special needs (Taylor-Green & Kartub, 2000; Turnbull et al., 2002; Warren et al., 2003).

Teaching and acknowledging appropriate behaviors on a prevention-oriented basis, rather than reacting through suspension once a problem occurs, may be the first step in turning the tide toward safer schools designed for keeping students in school and experiencing success.

The Need for a Proactive Approach

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (JDEA 2004) mandates that students with special needs have access to the general education curriculum in the least restrictive environment possible (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Although research indicates that the general education environment leads to better educational outcomes for students with special needs and is not detrimental to students without special needs (Idol, 2006), it does pose new challenges for teachers. Students with disabilities are more likely to have behavioral difficulties, have trouble engaging in school, and move along the continuum from attendance problems to dropping out of school (Sinclair et al., 2005; Sutherland & Wehby, 2001). Often teachers without special education training are now responsible for students with these increased academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs, and many of them feel anxious about this prospect. Staff members in inclusive general educational environments need more comprehensive techniques for behavior management as their school populations change.

Thus far, many schools have addressed concerns about handling discipline by creating increasingly punitive reactionary policies. These policies have led to numerous incidents involving seemingly trivial behaviors, such as sharing over-thecounter pain medication or holding up a paper gun, resulting in suspension or expulsion of students (Skiba & Knesting, 2001; Skiba & Rausch, 2006; Tebo, 2000). Along with these controversial incidents, suspension is widely used in reaction to minor incidents such as attendance problems (Skiba & Knesting, 2001). A recent analysis of discipline policies revealed that the vast majority of techniques being used in schools are punitive, and many schools have little to no proactive measures in their policies (Penning, Theodos, Benner, & BohanonEdmonson, 2004; Fenning et al., 2008). Although consequences for problem behaviors are necessary, the steady occurrence of several types of school crime, violence, and misbehavior (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2003) indicates that for students wiüi and without disabilities, the current punitive measures to change behaviors are ineffective.

The results of current research indicate that an overreliance on punitive policies is not only ineffective at changing behavior (Reynolds et al.

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Positive Behavior Support: Teaching and Acknowledging Expected Behaviors in an Urban High School
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