School safety is of significant importance to parents, educators, communities and the nation.
“A key component to the provision of a sound educational system has, and always will be, school safety,” said Rebecca Heaton Hall, solicitor for a number of school districts in Pennsylvania.
“The key for schools is to have programs, policies and procedures in place that are a proactive rather than reactive approach. Effective planning, training, programs and technology that have been evidenced to promote safety and security are imperative.”
Similar to a public health model of disease prevention, intervention and treatment, best practices in educating children would indicate that all students should have ongoing behavioral instruction as part of a preventive framework.
At present, no federal mandates exist to provide preventative behavioral instruction for all students, nor is there a required mandate to focus on students in need of additional support through preventative measures.
Yet, now more than ever, it is critical for preschools and school-aged settings to implement sound and consistent schoolwide positive behavioral intervention and support practices.
These are needed to prevent behavioral concerns and quickly deal with them when they occur. Waiting until a child is in need of substantial mental health treatment is no longer an option for parents, educators and the community as a whole.
It is important to note that SWPBIS is a whole-school approach, in which evidence-based positive behavioral interventions are used to improve organizational practices and create effective learning environments. Additionally, SWPBIS is not a specific program, but rather a framework for putting into place procedures and systems that support the delivery of these interventions.
Very similar to the public health model, all students receive primary basic preventative support and, as needed, may receive additional support through second and third tiers of support.
Approximately 80 percent of students will respond to primary, or Tier 1, support. Fifteen percent will require secondary, Tier 2 intervention, while approximately 5 percent of students will not respond to the first two levels and will need Tier 3 support tailored to their individual needs.
Research indicates that SWPBIS leads to decreases in problematic behavior, office disciplinary referrals, suspensions and expulsions at school. Additional benefits of school-wide positive behavior intervention and support include an improved school climate, organizational health, teacher self-efficacy and increased time in instruction.
Nationally, research is beginning to demonstrate a positive link between SWPBIS and academic success. Many schools, districts and states throughout the country have been implementing SWPBIS with favorable results. Implementing a framework that focuses on teaching, rather than punishing, behavior and is responsive to children’s needs is imperative in order to create and maintain safe educational climates.
A study conducted by researchers in Pennsylvania analyzing the effectiveness of SWPBIS found favorable results on several overall outcomes, including staff reporting fewer risk factors associated with problematic outcomes, such as school violence, while also reporting higher protective factors, including resiliency, positive student expectations and safe school climates.
These positive outcomes are indicative of the need for further implementation, as well as training and support, for schools and families on the importance of positive behavioral support and interventions.
Jessica Dirsmith is a certified school psychologist. She practices in the State College Area School District and teaches at Penn State.