Positive Behavioral Supports

What is VTPBiS, Vermont Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports?

Vermont Family Network works with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring families information about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (VTPBiS) and the many benefits for children and schools. VTPBiS is a decision-making framework that guides selection, integration, and implementation of the best evidence based academic and behavioral practices for improving academic and behavioral outcomes.

How can families be engaged in VTPBiS?

Parents need some basic information about PBIS. The guide provides information for parents about VTPBiS, with specific examples of how parents and families can participate in this process. VTPBiS is being implemented in many Vermont schools, to varying degrees; from awareness and readiness levels to full implementation that includes school-wide planning, to small group interventions, to individual plans. Other useful tools can be found on the Vermont PBIS website including a Family Engagement Survey and Family Engagement Resources.

PBScoverPositive Behavior Supports: A Guide for Parents

NOTE: Positive Behavior Supports: A Guide for Parents was developed by the Vermont Family Network (VFN) and the Vermont Agency of Education and is supported through the Vermont State Improvement Grant (CFDA 84.323A), U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the Vermont Family Network and the Vermont Agency of Education and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Education. This work may be reproduced and distributed freely. It is also available on the Vermont Agency of Education website

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Positive Behavior Supports (VTPBiS) is a school-wide approach to creating a positive and safe climate in which students can learn and grow. Throughout the country schools are implementing positive behavior supports in order to improve discipline practices and to help students succeed in school. Vermont’s VTPBiS State Leadership Team has been working to bring VTPBiS to Vermont schools. Currently over 50 schools, pre-K through high school, are adopting VTPBiS.

As a parent of a school-aged child, you know how important a safe and effective school environment is to learning. VTPBiS is used with all students and across all school environments, including the lunchroom and playground. When schools take a positive approach toward addressing discipline, school climate improves. Students spend more time in their classrooms rather than in the principal’s office, and teachers spend more time on instruction rather than on discipline.

In this booklet you will read about how and why VTPBiS works and what you should know if your school is implementing this approach. We have included information about parent involvement in VTPBiS and ways in which families and schools can work together on behalf of individual children and the school community as a whole.

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What is VTPBiS?

At a VTPBiS school, teachers, administrators, counselors, and family members work together to teach and support behavior expectations at school. VTPBiS exists to improve the behavior of all students in all school environments. Schools create and teach a set of behavior expectations and positively acknowledge students for those behaviors. All school personnel are responsible for knowing the behavior expectations and providing consistent positive feedback to students.

VTPBiS involves three tiers of intervention (see Fig. 1 below), starting with the “Universal” level, which is designed to support all students. About 15% of students will need the “Targeted” level of support through small-group interventions. Students with the greatest behavior challenges, about 5%, may require support at the “Intensive” level, which involves individualized and specialized interventions.

VTPBiS is not a specific intervention or practice but a framework that enables schools to make decisions about student behavior. It requires schools to identify and use practices that have proven to be effective or evidence-based in each of the three tiers of support for students. The use of evidence-based practices eliminates “hit or miss” in addressing behavior problems.

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How does VTPBiS improve school climate?

According to the National Center on Positive Interventions and Behavioral Supports, schools nationwide that effectively adopt a VTPBiS system are more likely to have environments that:

• Engage more students in learning

• Prevent major behavior problems

• Are safer and inclusive

• Respond to student behavior effectively and positively

• Improve interventions for students with more significant mental health and behavior problems

• Enhance achievement for all students.

Research shows that VTPBiS reduces suspensions, expulsions, and dropout rates. Fewer students are referred to special education because they receive support early on within the general education environment. A school-wide approach to setting behavior expectations and recognizing appropriate student behavior helps all students make appropriate choices.

VTPBiS schools in Vermont are showing positive results. The Vermont Department of Education reports a significant decline in office discipline referrals in schools fully implementing VTPBiS. As of 2009, schools representing 27 supervisory unions were implementing some level of VTPBiS as part of their school improvement efforts. This means that more than 18,000 general education students, 2,500 students with disabilities, and 4,400 educators are involved in VTPBiS in Vermont.

Families play an important role in the VTPBiS process by giving input and participating in the development and implementation of the school-wide or Universal level. For students needing additional support at the Targeted or Intensive levels of VTPBiS, families provide information to the team about their son or daughter, help develop education and behavior plans, and work with the school to create consistency for the student. VTPBiS schools that effectively engage families create a welcoming, family-friendly environment.

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Who is responsible for VTPBiS in the schools?

A VTPBiS team made up of school staff, such as the principal, general educators, school psychologist, special educators, guidance counselors, cafeteria workers, and others are responsible for developing and carrying out the school-wide VTPBiS system. Schools also appoint an in school VTPBiS coordinator and a district-level VTPBiS coach to help staff implement the system. Parents may also be members of the schoolwide team. At regular meetings, the VTPBiS team reviews school-wide student data and looks at how the system is working overall.

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What is included in a school-wide VTPBiS system?

VTPBiS focuses on three elements to create an effective school-wide VTPBiS system—data, evidenced-based practices, and systems.

A. Data is a key element of VTPBiS. Teachers and others collect, share, and use data about student behavior and progress throughout the VTPBiS process. For example, classroom teachers will keep track of the number of out-of-class referrals and the number of positive acknowledgments students receive. This data is used in multiple ways, such as adjusting teaching methods, addressing behavior issues, and evaluating the VTPBiS results.

B. Schools use evidence-based practices in order to increase student learning and decrease classroom disruptions. Evidence-based practices are interventions that have proven to work well with students and that provide schools with tools that enable them to achieve positive results for student behavior. Two practices that have proven effective in improving behavior include giving students regular positive feedback for appropriate behavior and providing fair and corrective practices when students misbehave.

C. VTPBiS schools create systems that can stand the test of time. It takes from three to five years to fully implement a school-wide system using a three-tiered approach. This is accomplished through a VTPBiS Action Plan that is created and consistently monitored by a VTPBiS School Leadership Team, with the support of external coaches and ongoing professional development for school staff.

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How does the three-tiered VTPBiS system work?

Universal Level of Supports

Universal supports include strategies and practices that schools use with all students and that generally work for about 80% of the student population. This level of support requires schools to:

• Agree on and implement a common approach to discipline

• Identify and teach a small number of expectations for student behavior

• Reinforce students for appropriate behavior using various positive acknowledgments

• Have procedures in place for discouraging inappropriate behavior

• Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the discipline system on a regular basis.

At the Universal level, for example, teachers will post rules for behavior in their classrooms, teach the students what is expected of them, and positively acknowledge them when these behaviors are demonstrated. In addition, all teachers have agreed upon procedures for discouraging problem  behaviors.

Targeted Level of Supports

Targeted supports assist about 15% of students who aren’t responding to interventions used at the Universal level. These students often struggle academically or socially. Interventions usually involve small groups of students and some individualized supports. At the Targeted
level, school staff may:

• Screen students who are at risk for behavior problems

• Monitor student progress

• Provide the student with more structure, predictability, and feedback

• Increase home to school communication

• Gather and use data to make decisions.

Based on the data collected, the teacher will identify students who need extra help. These students may receive small group instruction in social skills, be assigned an adult mentor, or learn self-management skills.

Intensive Level of Supports

The need for Intensive supports occurs with approximately 5% of students who have the most significant behavior problems and for whom Universal and Targeted interventions have not worked. Most often students will have a mental health disorder, serious emotional problems, and/or significant behavior challenges that require a high degree of individualized attention and support. These students may or may not be receiving special education services. At this level, interventions often include a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) of the student, a Behavior Support Plan (BSP), and possibly a comprehensive education evaluation to determine whether he or she is eligible for special education.

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What are Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Support Plans?

When your child has significant behavior problems, it is important to understand fully the function these behaviors play and what can be done to address them. A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a multi-step process that enables the school team and your family to address problem behaviors that you want to change. Steps in an FBA include:

  • Identifying the problem behaviors that need to be changed
  • Gathering information from a variety of sources (including families) about why, when and where the behavior occurs, using methods such as observations, interviews, education records
  • Developing a hypothesis about why problem behaviors are happening. This is a best guess that takes into account the settings in which the behaviors are most likely and least likely to occur.
  • Identifying appropriate behaviors to teach the child that will replace inappropriate behaviors
  • Developing and implementing a Behavior Support Plan (BSP) that includes positive steps for changing problem behaviors
  • Monitoring and evaluating the BSP.

If your child receives special education or Section 504 services, positive behavior interventions may be written into the IEP or 504 Plan. Please note you retain the right to request a special education evaluation at any time if you suspect that your child has a disability that negatively affects learning.

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What can I do to get involved in VTPBiS?

Parent involvement is a key factor in the success of VTPBiS for their child and in their child’s school. Research tells us that parent involvement helps to improve student learning and schools in general. There are several ways for you to participate in VTPBiS. Here are some suggestions that will help to enrich the VTPBiS system in your child’s school as well as statewide.

• Learn about VTPBiS at your child’s school and provide feedback about the process.

• Ask to participate on the state, district, or school VTPBiS Leadership team.

• Help your school design parent involvement activities in VTPBiS.

• Work with the school to engage community support and additional resources for VTPBiS.

• Participate on Targeted or Intensive level teams as they relate to your child.

To find out whether your child’s school is a VTPBiS school or to get more involved in the VTPBiS system, contact the principal or talk to your child’s teacher. If your child’s school is not a VTPBiS school, schedule a meeting with the principal to discuss the development of a school-wide VTPBiS system.

If your child attends a VTPBiS school, here are some questions to ask to help you better understand how the system works.

• What is in place at the Universal level of VTPBiS in the clasroom and school-wide?

• What are the school-wide and classroom behavior expectations?

• How will the school communicate with me if my child needs extra help with behavior?

• If my child is having behavior problems, what evidence-based interventions will be used to help my child?

• What assessments will be used to develop a behavior plan for my child?

• How will the school inform me about the results of collecting information on my child?

• How will I be notified and involved if my child needs Targeted or Intensive supports?

• What resources are available in the school and community to help with improving my child’s behavior?

• How can I work with the school to promote VTPBiS at home?

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What can I do to help my child with at-risk behavior?

Children who have difficulties following classroom rules or who receive multiple out-of-class referrals may need additional supports beyond the Universal level that all students receive. For example, a child may get into arguments with peers or not be able to stay in his seat. The school should notify you when your child’s behavior requires Targeted level supports. Your child may be referred to the school’s Educational Support Team (EST), the VTPBiS Targeted Team, or the VTPBiS Intensive Team. The team reviews data on your child’s behavior and may make recommendations for further assessments or develop a behavior support plan. Although parents are not required members of these teams, the school should ask you to share information about your child that will help them better understand why the behaviors are occurring and how to prevent them.

At the Targeted level, your child may receive additional instruction, such as social skills training or the teacher may modify classroom work. This might include having your child check in and out daily with a teacher to receive prompts for following school-wide behavior expectations and to get additional positive feedback. During this time, data will be collected and your child’s progress will be monitored. You should receive information about your child’s progress and be able to see the data reports.

To help your child, it’s important to communicate with the school on a regular basis, not only when a crisis or challenge arises. Your child will benefit when you reinforce school routines and predictable known schedules at home. Talk in advance to your child about changes and upcoming events to allow for additional processing time.

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How can I be involved if my child needs Intensive level supports?

If your child has complex social/behavioral challenges, he or she may receive intensive, individualized support based at the Intensive level. You will be involved with your child’s evaluation, education, and behavior plan. The knowledge you bring to the table about your child’s development, medical history, strengths, interests, and needs is an important resource to the team in creating an effective Behavior Support Plan (BSP). A strong artnership between your family and the school helps to create consistency across home and school settings and to improve results for your child.

If your child is already receiving special education or Section 504 supports, the information you share with the team will be used to develop individualized academic and behavior support through an IEP or 504 plan. Your child may also have a separate behavior support plan. Other agencies may work with you in meeting your child’s mental health and behavior needs. Local community mental health agencies often provide services that schools cannot to offer, such as mental health counseling, intensive family-based services, or wraparound services. If your child is not on an IEP or 504 plan, you or the school may make a referral for a special education or Section 504 evaluation.

When your child needs services from multiple agencies, he or she may benefit from a Coordinated Service Plan. You or the school may request a Coordinated Service Plan Team meeting to discuss your child’s needs and how to coordinate services between agencies, such as education, mental health, and family services. The plan, while not an actual entitlement to services, describes how services and supports will be delivered and who will deliver them.

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NOTE: Since the acronym PBS has been replaced by VTPBiS, these web links below may eventually change. Try replacing VTPBiS or PBiS where ‘pbs’ is in the name if you find a broken link.

Association for Positive Behavioral Support – The Association for Positive Behavior Support is an international organization dedicated to the advancement of positive behavior support.

Bazelon Center for Mental Health – The Bazelon Center is dedicated to advancing the rights of children and adults with mental illness. To find articles about VTPBiS, use the site’s search function.

National Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports – The Center assists states in implementing school-wide Positive Behavior Supports to improve problem behavior and enhance learning environments.

Positive Behavior Support Services: Overview of Vermont Initiative – Rae Ann Knopf, Vermont Department of Education

Vermont Agency of Education VTPBiS Leadership Team – The Agency of Education provides training on VTPBiS and technical assistance to Vermont schools implementing VTPBiS.

Vermont Family Network (VFN) – VFN is a family support and advocacy organization. Staff can answer questions about your child’s behavior, VTPBiS, and parent involvement in the VTPBiS process.

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Link to: Upcoming Trainings for Positive Behavioral Supports (VTPBiS)

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