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Classroom-Wide Universal Supports for Behavior Management

            It’s almost the beginning of the school year.  Teachers are busy planning for the learning that will occur this year.  They are creating bulletin boards, designing the daily schedule, making copies of get-to-know-you sheets for the first day of school, and imaging what their class will be like.  The school atmosphere is filled with excitement and anticipation for the year to come.
In addition to preparing for learning and decorating the classroom environment, this is also the time of year when teachers should be thinking about how they will address behavior challenges that arise in their classrooms.  As is the reality for teaching academic skills, behavior management should be designed around the use of evidence-based practices.  One of the most effective practices for behavior management is the use of Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports, also known as PBIS.  PBIS includes three tiers as outlined in the figure below.

            When designing a classroom for the upcoming school year, teachers should take the time to design effective Tier 1 Universal Support for all students in the classroom.  These supports will include classroom rules and routines, building relationships, and consistency in implementation.  Tier 1 supports are used for all students in the classroom and in all classroom activities and settings; the same general expectations exist in the classroom during the math lesson and on the playground during recess (Horner, Sugai, & Anderson, 2010).  
            Tier 1 supports involve the use of classroom rules and expectations that are explicitly taught and consistently reinforced.  Ideally, your classroom should have 3-5 overarching rules that encompass everything you expect from students (Stormont, Lewis, Beckner, & Johnson, 2008).  The rules should be stated in positive terms and tell children exactly what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.  Many schools use an acronym or create a saying to help students remember the rules.  Before the school year begins, the rules should be created and posted where students can see them.  For younger children, it is beneficial to include visual cues along with the words.  Personally, I like the rules “Bee Respectful, Bee Responsible, & Bee Honest” and I use a buzzing bee as a visual.  When we practice the rules, we buzz like bees – this makes learning the rules fun for the students and they are more likely to remember them because of the fun activity associated with the rules.  Everything that I want my students to do falls into the three categories that I have established in my rules, so after teaching my rules, I will teach my students what it means to be respectful, responsible, and honest.
            Once the school year begins, teachers should dedicate time to teaching the rules to students.  Classroom rules and expectations should be taught in the same way that we teach academic skills; teaching behavior requires explicit instruction (Evertson, Emmer, & Worsham, 2000).  Teachers should design lesson plans to teach behavior that include instruction (Sugai & Horner, 2006), modeling (Stormont, 2002), immediate practice (Carter & Ellis, 2016), continued review and practice throughout the school year (Hester, Hendrickson, & Gable, 2009), and immediate feedback (Sugai & Horner, 2006). When my students are not following the rules, I might ask them if their actions show that they are “bee-ing” responsible and buzz like a bee as I ask.  This will serve as a gentle reminder of the classroom rule and will show students that I recognize that they are not following that rule.
            When good quality Tier 1 universal supports are in place, over 80% of students will behave as expected the majority of the time (Horner & Sugai, 2015).  This will leave teachers with more time for academic instruction and more time to address the challenging behaviors from just a few students.  Ideally, PBIS should be implemented school-wide and all adults in the school building should have the same expectations for all students.  However, when this is not an option, classroom-wide implementation is a viable alternative.
Carter, M.A., & Ellis, C. (2016). Work ‘with’ me: Learning prosocial behaviors. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 41(4), 106-114.

Evertson, C., Emmer, E.T., & Worsham, M.E. (2000).  Classroom management for elementary teachers (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. 

Hester, P.P., Hendrickson, J.M., & Gable, R.A. (2009). Forty years later- The value of praise, ignoring, and rules for preschoolers at risk for behavior disorders. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(4), 513-535.

Horner, R.H., & Sugai, G. (2015). School-wide PBIS: An example of applied behavior analysis implemented at a scale of social importance. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 8(1), 80-85.

Horner, R.H., Sugai, G., & Anderson, C.M. (2010). Examining the evidence base for school-wide positive behavior support. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(8), 1-14.

Stormont, M. (2002). Externalizing behavior problems in young children: Contributing factors and early intervention. Psychology in the Schools, 39(2), 127-138.

Stormont, M., Lewis, T.J., Beckner, R., & Johnson, N.W. (2008). Implementing positive behavior support systems in early childhood and elementary settings. Thousand Oaks, CA: 
Corwin Press.

Sugai, G., & Horner, R.H. (2006). A promising approach for expanding and sustaining school-wide positive behavior support. School Psychology Review, 35(2), 245-259.

Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University, where she prepares future Special Education teachers and conducts research in the areas of early childhood behavior management and the use of UDL in online teacher preparation.  She can be contacted at