A Not-So-Positive Look at PBIS
By Mikaela Wojick
Public education is flush with abbreviations and acronyms for nearly every aspect of school. My teammates and I actually joke about the sheer number of alphabet combinations in meetings, so much so that we keep a multi-year running list just to keep them all straight.
One specific acronym currently standing front and center in education is PBIS. After twenty years in teaching, I can honestly say that those four letters scare me more than most of the underlying threats to the education system in this country. This statement is coming from a veteran elementary teacher who unflappably performs through active shooter drills, pay scale freezes, and the ever-present over-the-top parent preaching about her ‘gifted’ child and how her ‘critical’ needs are not being met.
For those not in the biz, PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Incentive System. To most educators, there is little or close to nothing ‘positive’ about it. You see, for the past few years, this behavioral management system has been implemented in our schools and is designed to ‘reward’ children for behavior they should already be doing, reward them for just showing up and functioning as an average, decent student in school.
Yes. You read that correctly. We are supposed to be giving children external motivational tactics, in most cases ‘prizes,’ for being ‘good students’ in school. Let that sink in. I’m being asked to give a ‘bird-buck,’ which is nothing more than an oversized dollar bill printed on red construction paper, to a child every single time they are walking down the hall quietly so they don’t disturb others working. Or for pushing their chair in after leaving a lesson in the library. Or, my personal favorite, for placing used napkins and lunch trash into receptacles once lunch is finished. You know, so it doesn’t just get left on the lunch tables.
Yes, indeed. This is what public school has become. And it doesn’t end there! After all of these over-the-top achievers and out-of-the-box thinkers have accumulated their ‘loot,’ they can then spend them on things like extra recess, lunch in the room with a teacher, and the most coveted item in the room – an entire day sitting on… wait for it… the wheelie teacher chair!
What fun, right? I mean, it makes perfect sense for children to earn ‘extra recess.’ For all the people out there shouting that “our kids are obese; we need fresh air,” just stop it. I get it. My kids get an hour or more of outdoor recess time each day already. Period. Stay in your lane. Focus.
In actuality, the extra recess reward starts to become challenging for the teacher. The second it is ‘earned,’ students cash in, which requires said teacher to be outside supervising the student as they obviously can’t go out by themselves. Oh goody. Now everyone benefits from Johnny’s quick thinking to lay down a paper towel on the water spill… after he spilled the darn water in the first place, for the fifth time this week. Wouldn’t you be a repeat offender of dumb behavior if you knew you would eventually be rewarded for it?
Okay, maybe that reward doesn’t make sense, but surely this is more suitable: teachers giving up their one and only, protected thirty-minute break per day so they can eat in their classrooms on uncomfortable children’s furniture since their super-kind kids get their adult office chair on wheels during lunch. Right?
No. It is not. It is ridiculous. Bottom line, we should not, and I mean society in general, should NOT be praising kids for doing what they damn well should be doing anyway. These kids are ultimately becoming contributing citizens in society, one day, right? That’s the goal. Shouldn’t they be doing these things correctly in the first place? Shouldn’t they learn to be and do good just for intrinsic reasons rather than half-brained external rewards?
And we can’t forget the message this type of management program instills in the kids who could care less already. These are the ‘bad kids,’ according to PBIS supporters. Those kids continue to care less and less and less. And you know where this whole system of positivity derived from? It’s the teachers’ fault, if you ask administrators or directors. We were calling too much attention to Joey’s bad behavior by addressing it with a consequence. A punishment. It singles out those troublemakers out for being the jerks they are. Sadly, most administrative officials, the ones making classroom policies, haven’t stepped foot inside a classroom since the iPhone was invented.
We need to stop having ‘conversations’ with kids about their bad behavior and start dishing out warranted ‘consequences’ for said behavior. We need to stop ‘rewarding’ making good choices with ‘prizes’ and start instilling accountability in kids. PBIS is driving good teachers away, and sadly, no amount of ‘bird buck’ incentives is going to bring them back.... then what?
6/23/2019 10:39:27 am
Well said by a highly experienced and VERY well respected teacher! All children would do well if they had Mikaela as their teacher!
7/13/2019 04:37:18 pm
Mikaela, the key criticism of PBIS your piece offers is "We are supposed to be giving children external motivational tactics [and] should NOT be praising kids for doing what they damn well should be doing anyway. [...] Shouldn’t they learn to be and do good just for intrinsic reasons rather than half-brained external rewards?"
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