In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section School-Wide Positive Behavior Support

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General Implementation
  • Universal Support School-Wide
  • Universal Support in the Classroom
  • Targeted Support
  • Intensive Individualized Support
  • Support in Alternative Settings

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Education School-Wide Positive Behavior Support
Brandi M. Simonsen, George Sugai
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0001


School-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS), also known as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), is a framework for organizing positive, proactive, and evidence-based behavioral practices within a school setting that has been implemented in more than 18,000 schools in the United States. Detailed overviews of SWPBS are available online at the US National Technical Assistance Center on PBIS. SWPBS emphasizes universal prevention (tier 1) practices that are implemented by all staff to support all students across all settings. Further, SWPBS employs a continuum of supports that increase in intensity based on students’ responsiveness to intervention. This continuum is typically described as providing two additional tiers of support: targeted group supports (tier 2) and intensive individualized supports (tier 3). In the subsections of this entry, we provide a general interview and describe the critical features of and empirical support for each tier. In addition, we provide a brief discussion of SWPBS in alternative settings (e.g., alternative schools and juvenile justice) with relevant citations.

General Overviews

Based on decades of behavioral (e.g., Baer, et al. 1968; Skinner 1953) and prevention (e.g., Caplan 1964) theory and science, SWPBS is an empirically supported (Horner, et al. 2010; Safran and Oswald 2003) prevention-oriented (Walker, et al. 1996) framework for implementing positive behavior support (Sugai, et al. 2000; Sugai and Horner 2002). Resources in this section provide readers with an understanding of the theoretical roots and general features of the school-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) framework.

  • Baer, Donald M., Montrose M. Wolf, and Todd R. Risley. 1968. Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 1.1 (Spring): 91–97.

    DOI: 10.1901/jaba.1968.1-91

    This landmark article describes seven dimensions of applied behavior analysis (ABA), the applied theory and science that underlie much of the work in SWPBS. The seven dimensions of ABA include applied, behavioral, analytic, technological, conceptual systems, effective, and generality.

  • Caplan, Gerald. 1964. Principles of preventive psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.

    This text provides a foundational understanding of preventative practices in mental health that serve as important guiding principles for SWPBS implementation, especially the logic of three-tiered prevention: (a) primary prevention (reducing emergence of new problems), (b) secondary prevention (reducing length of existing problems), and (c) tertiary prevention (reducing complications and severity of existing problems).

  • Horner, Robert H., George Sugai, and Cynthia M. Anderson. 2010. Examining the evidence base for school-wide positive behavior support. Focus on Exceptional Children 42.8: 1–14.

    Across numerous studies, researchers have documented the positive outcomes of implementing intervention practices within each tier of SWPBS. In this article, the authors review relevant research on practices included within each tier and describe the organization of these supports in a framework. They conclude that SWPBS is an evidence-based practice in typical schools for decreasing problem behavior and increasing prosocial behavior.

  • Safran, Stephen P., and Karen Oswald. 2003. Positive behavior supports: Can schools reshape disciplinary practices? Exceptional Children 69.3 (Spring): 361–373.

    Schools implementing SWPBS use data to guide implementation of behavioral supports (based on the principles of ABA) school-wide, in specific settings, and to support individual students whose behaviors indicate the need for intensive intervention. Early evidence supports the efficacy of SWPBS, and additional research is needed.

  • Skinner, B. F. 1953. Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

    Behavioral theory is the foundation for ABA and SWPBS. In this text, Skinner provides an overview of behavioral theory, including discussions on education and culture that have direct implications for SWPBS, an educational approach for establishing and maintaining positive and proactive school and classroom cultures.

  • Sugai, George, and Robert H. Horner. 2002. The evolution of discipline practices: School-wide positive behavior supports. Child and Family Behavior Therapy 24.1–2: 23–50.

    DOI: 10.1300/J019v24n01_03

    The development of what is currently referred to as “PBIS” (or SWPBS) has been shaped by a long history of research and demonstration activities and results. The early behavioral roots of SWPBS are described and a variety of influences are noted; for example, applied behavior analysis, positive behavior supports and individuals with severe intellectual disabilities, effective positive behavior supports, and positive behavioral interventions and supports.

  • Sugai, George, Robert H. Horner, Glen Dunlap, et al. 2000. Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 2.3: 131–143.

    DOI: 10.1177/109830070000200302

    The reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1997 introduced the concept of PBIS as a means of improving the behavioral outcomes of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. The authors of this paper describe the terminology associated with PBIS, the conceptual foundations supporting PBIS practices and systems, and the assessment and intervention practices and systems that compose the PBIS framework.

  • Walker, Hill M., Robert H. Horner, George Sugai, et al. 1996. Integrated approaches to preventing antisocial behavior patterns among school-age children and youth. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 4.4: 194–209.

    DOI: 10.1177/106342669600400401

    Although it is now common to consider three tiers of prevention in multiple school models (e.g., SWPBS, response to intervention, multi-tiered systems of supports), Walker and the other authors of this article were among the first to translate three-tiered prevention logic into an educational setting, describing three tiers of support that are now characteristic of SWPBS.

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