PBS (or PBIS) has a lot of appealing features for a school looking to adopt a schoolwide discipline plan or even just a schoolwide discipline philosophy.

The value of the emphasis on recognizing and promoting positive behaviors instead of looking for and punishing negative behaviors is inarguable. As a framing system (in other words, how do we as a staff look at and think about student behavior) and a messaging system (in other words, how are we as a staff talking to students about and responding to behavior) it’s pretty great.

If you adopted simply the framing and messaging of PBIS and stopped there, I’d say you’ve done something that could make a really positive contribution to your school. But it’s the details that trouble me a little bit. Here’s Ross Greene on the differences between PBIS and CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving), the approach he advocates in his book Lost at School:

The two models are certainly similar in their emphasis on proactive, preventive intervention and in the belief that children with challenging behavior should be treated with the same level of interest and importance as children with academic challenges. . . .

… while PBS allows for the possibility of lagging skills as an explanation for challenging behavior, it places a strong emphasis on using environmental reinforcers to train replacement behaviors.

But perhaps the most striking difference between the two models is that PBS doesn’t involve collaboration between adult and kid; it is an adult-driven model. There is no major emphasis on collaborating with kids to identify their concerns (only a major emphasis on identifying adult concerns) and no emphasis on enlisting the kid in coming up with a mutually satisfactory action plan, rather, the adults come up with the action plans.

In this sense, PBS represents the traditional “doing to” model of discipline while CPS represents a more progressive “doing with” model.

But I can’t sit in judgment of anyone using what some might consider a “less evolved” system of discipline if that system works to meet their needs. It’s easy to write a book or a blog about the platonic ideals of school discipline without forgetting that competing priorities make implementing ideal systems extremely difficult when practical systems are already in place. (Greene’s retort to this in his book is that collaborative problem solving will eventually save time. It’s probably true but not that encouraging. It kind of reminds me of when one person says “We can’t afford to” and the response is “We can’t afford not to.”)

It’s important to keep in mind that every system or program that today looks foolish, misguided, or outdated, was once hailed as a silver bullet to solve some educational problem somewhere. Remembering this helps us to not fall for fads while still being open-minded enough to recognize the power of new ideas and solutions.


2 thoughts on “The difference between PBS and CPS

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