Positive Behavior Support (PBS) Planning

What is the next step after the functional behavioral assessment is completed?

When team members have completed the functional behavioral assessment and are confident they have identified the correct hypothesis statement for a student's problem behavior, the next step is PBS planning. The goal of the planning process is to directly link the functional behavioral assessment findings to PBS interventions. If you are not familiar with functional behavioral assessment strategies, view more information before continuing with PBS planning. Each of the major elements of the hypothesis statement, including setting events, antecedents, the problem behavior, and consequences, can be used to design interventions. In fact, most positive behavior support plans include interventions that address each element of the hypothesis statement. Consider the following hypothesis statement for Katrina.

Setting Events

Antecedents (Triggers)

Problem Behavior


Fighting on playground before math

Teacher asks Katrina to work on new math assignment

Katrina crumples the assignment and throws it on the floor

Katrina is given an "F" on the assignment and sent to office (Katrina has escaped a difficult task)

Katrina's team conducted a functional behavioral assessment using interviews with Katrina, her teacher, the playground monitor, the counselor, and Katrina's mother. Observations were conducted on the playground and during math and English. A star was placed on the graph measuring the frequency of assignment crumpling every time Katrina got into a fight on the playground. The team also kept track of easy and hard math assignments and discovered Katrina was more likely to crumple her assignments when she was given new and more difficult math assignments. The team's hypothesis was that Katrina crumpled assignments to escape from difficult math work and she was more likely to engage in this problem behavior when she had been fighting on the playground right before class. With the hypothesis statement completed, the team could move to the next step: PBS Planning.

Why is the team process so important in PBS Planning?

It is common to assume that a PBS plan will describe how a person will change his or her behavior. Actually, the PBS plan describes how teachers, parents, and other team members will change their behavior. The PBS plan is an outline of the steps that will be taken to modify the environment and teach a student new social and communication skills. It helps the team focus, establishes accountability for completing tasks, and ensures communication and consistent intervention implementation.

Team collaboration is very important since PBS planning requires everyone to work together to implement intervention strategies. One way to ensure a PBS plan will be implemented effectively is to make sure it is a "good contextual fit" for the people who will be implementing the interventions. A PBS plan with good contextual fit considers the values of the individual team members (including the student), the skills needed to implement interventions, and the resources necessary for effective implementation. The selection of the PBS interventions should be based upon a collaborative team approach. Including the individuals who will implement the interventions in the planning process increases the likelihood the PBS plan will be used. Expert recommendations from a behavior specialist can be very useful, but without the team's input the interventions may not be a good contextual fit.

Sometimes working as a team can be challenging. In many classrooms, sending a student to the office or giving a time-out is a common intervention, regardless of the function maintaining the student's problem behavior. If the student's problem behavior is maintained by escape from people, tasks, or activities in the classroom, being sent to the office or being given a time out will not only be ineffective, it may increase the likelihood of the student's problem behavior in the future. However, it can be difficult to convince team members to change their strategies, especially when the PBS process is first being introduced.

One particularly effective strategy for team-based decision making is to use the hypothesis statement as a guide for brainstorming interventions. This ensures the team stays focused on the function maintaining a student's problem behavior. The team can use the hypothesis statement as a guide to brainstorm possible interventions starting with setting events, antecedents, teaching new skills, and consequences. Instructions describing how to brainstorm interventions using the hypothesis statement as a guide is available in the tool section of this module.

An important outcome of the brainstorming strategy is to identify an appropriate behavior to teach that results in the same outcome and is as easy, or easier, for the student to engage in than the problem behavior. In other words, the appropriate behavior must be "functionally equivalent" to the problem behavior the team seeks to replace. This communication intervention should also include strategies for decreasing the reinforcement a student receives while engaging in problem behavior. For instance, Katrina will continue to crumple up her assignment and throw it on the floor if she has to raise her hand for long periods of time or the teacher tells her she must wait before obtaining assistance. The PBS Interventions module describes how to design communication interventions in more detail.

Another advantage of the PBS brainstorming strategy is that using the hypothesis statement increases the number of interventions that are used to prevent problem behavior from occurring. The most common intervention strategies used in schools are reactive because they are implemented after a behavior occurs. Can you identify the proactive and preventative parts of Katrina's brainstorming form?

How can a team use the information from a functional behavioral assessment that describes situations and events when the student is successful?

The functional behavioral assessment should identify the variables that predict the nonoccurrence of problem behavior. The team can use information about the events, situations, and people who are associated with a student's success to redesign problematic settings. For instance, in Katrina's case, the team discovered there were several classes where Katrina rarely engaged in problem behavior. The teachers in these classes often started the class with assignments that ensured all of the students would experience academic success on a frequent basis and provided high levels of praise for appropriate behavior. Katrina was also more likely to participate in class assignments when she sat in the front of the classroom. This information was very useful as the team brainstormed intervention strategies.

How does the team implement a PBS plan?

The key to a successful PBS plan is the organization processes used by the team. An important strategy for organizing the PBS planning meetings is to develop an implementation plan. A written PBS plan describes what interventions will be implemented. The implementation plan documents how each intervention will be accomplished. The implementation plan drives the team meetings and actually begins with functional behavioral assessment. Meeting minutes are used to document which team members will be responsible for different tasks and activities. Regular meeting times are used to coordinate ongoing PBS efforts and to decide whether the data collected indicate that changes in the PBS plan are needed.

What does the written PBS plan look like?

In some cases, a brief PBS plan (e.g. 1-3 pages) is sufficient to describe information needed for the team to follow. A student who engages in more serious problem behavior will require a longer PBS plan in order to provide the details necessary for team members to successfully implement the interventions. Regardless of whether a team is supporting a student with minor problem behaviors or a student who has more complex support needs, the key elements of the PBS plan remain the same. Important elements of a written PBS plan include:

  • information about the student,
  • the problem behaviors of concern,
  • a summary of the functional behavioral assessment,
  • descriptions of the interventions to be implemented,
  • a plan for evaluating the interventions.
  • and signatures of the team members committed to the plan.
  • Katrina's teacher counted the number of crumpled math assignments each week and made a visual graph. She also made a graph of Katrina's grades before and after the PBS plan was implemented;
  • the school psychologist brought a graph of the number of office referrals that Katrina received each month;
  • the playground monitor kept track of the number of fights Katrina was involved in at recess;
  • the social worker observed during recess and counted how many times Katrina used the new social skills she had learned in her targeted social skills group;
  • the team evaluated changes in Katrina's quality of life and the contextual fit of the PBS plan by summarizing and comparing survey results completed during the functional behavioral assessment and two months after the interventions were implemented.

The paraeducator observed Katrina three times a week and counted how many times Katrina asked for assistance; and,
The team members each shared different responsibilities for evaluating the plan so the amount of work was not overwhelming. The PBS plan clearly had a positive effect, so the team decided to continue implementing the interventions. The team also scheduled follow-up meetings so they could continue to evaluate Katrina's progress.

How does the individual PBS planning process fit within school systems?

Most schools have systems for addressing the needs of individual students with academic or behavior problems. Although the process is different across states, districts, and schools, the purpose of a support team is to provide students with the additional academic and/or behavioral support they need to be successful. In some schools, student support teams focus exclusively on the pre-referral process for special education. However, many schools are adopting school-wide PBS and re-organizing their student support teams to support both general and special education students. The functional behavioral assessment and PBS planning tools and processes described on the Special Connections website are embedded within student support systems to create effective problem solving strategies for teachers. The School-Wide PBS Module has more information about how student support teams can embed individualized PBS planning. In addition, the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports has a list of professionals across the United States who can assist in school-wide PBS including how to embed individualized PBS planning into a school's student support system.

How do I learn more about PBS planning?

If you are new to the PBS planning process, it will be important to find someone with a background and expertise in positive behavior support to facilitate the team process. Every PBS planning team should have a person participating who has been trained in positive behavior support or applied behavior analysis to ensure that the team has access to information about the principles of behavior.

Developed by: Rachel Freeman, University of Kansas