The Problems with the Manage-and-Discipline Approach to PBiS

Every year I can tell how well teachers and administrators think that their school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBiS/PBiS) systems are working because there is a massive uptick in my readership stats for behavioral management related posts and, in particular, those outlining my perspective that PBiS is a failed model and in desperate need of being replaced (here, and here).

The search terms that lead to my blog are enlightening (examples from Feb-April 2019):

  • limitations of positive behavior supports

  • teachers say the pbis discipline model is broken

  • pbis not effective

  • pbis doesnt work

  • pbis controversy

  • problems with pbis in schools

  • growing problems with pbis

  • pbis fail

  • the negative effects of pbis system

Sadly, this is not where it ends. A week or two later, search terms such as these emerge (examples from March to May 2019) :

  • pbis gives all the power to misbehaving students

  • basket hold restraint

  • How do I restrain a child with autism

  • how do teachers physically restrain toddlers

  • can I physically sit on my child during a restraint

  • sarcastic quotes for someone who asks for things they dont deserve

  • how to restrain a child at school

  • how to safely restrain a patient

  • how do you know if restraint is being used improperly

  • approved restraint techniques

The search terms that lead to my web site suggest that after the winter break there is a general breakdown in school-wide discipline. Not long afterwards, this breakdown in discipline is followed by an increase in the use of restraint and other disproportionately aggressive responses on the part of adults toward student misbehavior.

As I will allude to later in this post, there also is an increase in the number of teachers venting on social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) about how “terrible” and “out of control” the kids in their classes have become in April and May.  

I also get a significant increase in teachers purchasing the behavioral data sheets I call a “Behavioral First Aid Kit” and posted on Teachers Pay Teachers. There is also an uptick in emails I receive seeking information on how to perform functional analyses of problem behavior and what options remain when the teachers say they have done “all I can do for this student” and are at their wits end.

While I was pondering all of this and trying to put what I perceive to be the repercussions for school-wide and classroom behavior systems into words; I saw a new research paper and gave it a read. The ideas it put forth are intriguing and it provides a novel perspective which we can use to assess PBiS and perhaps posit a few alternative approaches. 

The research paper was this one: David Armstrong (2019), Addressing the wicked problem of behaviour in schools, International Journal of Inclusive Education, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2019.1597183. Free download link through si-hub is here.


I will start with the fundamental premise of Armstrong’s article, which sums up the issues with PBiS as an approach (emphasis mine):

Insights within developmental psychology about child and adolescent behaviour are often profound in their implications for children’s education. Despite their significance, these insights are often disregarded by much current educational practice and policy pertinent to children’s conduct in Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand and the US. Educational practice is often intellectually muddled and uninformed about child and adolescent behaviour and is often reinforced by ill-considered public policy (Armstrong 2014; Slee 2013; Ball 2013). The manage and discipline approach to student conduct in schools and outlined later in this article describes a collection of assumptions about children’s behaviour which are a by-product of this intellectually confused thinking.

In this sense student behaviour in schools fits the definition as a ‘wicked problem’ for educational policy and practice: complex; highly resistant to resolution; and requiring a ‘requires a reassessment of some of the traditional ways of working and solving problems’ (Briggs 2013). This article details the undesirable consequences of this persistent problem, with particular reference to students affected by disability and those with [Mental Health] MH difficulties. Radical change in attitudes toward student conduct in schools is advocated and the adoption of practices which better align with research from developmental psychology.

In plain English, this article explains how the policies and assumptions behind “behavioral management” fail to take natural childhood development into account—not to mention outright ignoring the unique needs of children and adolescents with mental or behavioral health challenges. Later in the article, Anderson points out the “behavioral management industry” tends to push purportedly evidence-based methods, but the actual evidence base is rather scant and primarily consists of anecdotal evidence presented as empirical data.

As we have seen in the United States, policy regarding behavioral management techniques is almost always reactive to moral or public panic regarding something presented in the media–these reactive policies practically always result in schools targeting, excluding, and prosecuting minorites that were not involved in the original crime in any way (example here).

This tendency runs anathema to careful and thoughtful consideration of the available lines of empirical research. Thoughtful and unbiased review of evidence-based research and actual school data are necessary steps when performing data-informed decision making. In other words, when impetus is placed on solving a problem quickly, it often results in adopting methods that look like the perfect fit on the surface, but upon scrutiny, lack the necessary evidence and prove ineffective in the long term. 

One very unpleasant truth regarding the motivation of the behavioral management policy underlying PBiS in the U.S. education system is the fact that behavioral and classroom management techniques are not designed to foster the development of social skills and emotional maturation of students. Behavior management programs are now designed to maximize educational and academic outcomes (i.e., maximize uninterrupted teaching and learning time in the classroom that leads to improved standardized test scores).

One signitifcant implication I have observed of this change is that the academic progress of other students in the classroom is now often used as the primary outcome variable for student behavior. For example, “Is there a disruption to the learning of other students?” is the first question asked by school behavior teams, even before, “What is he/she doing that is disruptive?” and both of these questions are asked long before the social and emotional needs of the child who is misbehaving are taken into consideration–if at all. In other words, a child with a developmental disability, behavior/conduct disorder, and/or mental health challenges are now often punished more severely for their behavior causing other students to be off task rather than for the action itself

To quote Armstrong:

One unhelpful outcome of this emphasis upon academic performance and academic outcomes is that student misbehavior is often positioned by policy documents as an obstacle to achievement of core academic progress for the whole class/cohort and ultimately for the school in meeting key curriculum targets (DFE 2010). Whilst this might have an apparent utilitarian logic, in practice, the results of this emphasis is that it supports decisions which are discriminatory an results in the exclusion of often highly vulnerable students whose conduct is conveniently framed as threatening the ‘core business’ of schooling: academic attainment (Graham, 2008). Slee (2013) described this dynamic as belonging to ‘a political economy of exclusion and inclusion (904) and contends that a growth in officially diagnosed Behavioural disorders is used to justify educational exclusion for students whose behaviour is regarded as unacceptable by teachers.

Armstrong contends the traditional system teachers use in classrooms can be considered, “manage-and-discipline” models. Thise concept of manage-and-discipline is based on from theories regarding how to optimally exercise power. To oversimplify a bit, this means that the school is the key institution of “moral and social regulation,” and the teacher is the primary agent for enforcing social and moral norms.

The concept of a “manage-and-discipline” approach definitely grabbed my attention as schools are home to many power struggles, so I immediately resonated with this description. Now, Armstrong does not explicitly place PBiS in the category of manage-and-discipline; I do. 

According to Armstrong, the manage-and-discipline model depends on the following incorrect and flawed assumptions. My comments are below each numbered assumption.

  1. Behaviour as a fundamental phenomenon can be quantified and controlled

People like to think this is true, but I reject this deterministic way of thinking. I have worked with several kids and adults that behave in unpredictable ways given the antecedent stimuli. I have covered this in an earlier post

Behavioral research has even shown that C. elegans nematode worms and fruit flies can act spontaneously and unpredictably as if they were independent agents (i.e., unpredictable) rather than merely responding to cues in the environment. (link

  1. Children’s behavior can be reduced to variables which can be manipulated and managed.

This is a rather convenient assumption, and one that underlies every form of behavioral therapy I have encountered, the most common example being the assertions of ABA that behavior can be controlled by careful modification of antecedents and consequences in the environment. However, like all ideas that sound too good to be true, this is. See here for my explanation as to why. 

When we purport to reduce behavior into quantifiable and straightforward variables, we tend to oversimplify what we see, and we use Procrustean methods to fit everything we see into predefined boxes that do not fit the behaviors at all. 

  1. Given the right skills and training, the teacher can have complete technical control over the classroom behavioural environment

I giggled when I read this. I would love complete control. We all would. But we live in reality, and reality is different than fantasy. When it comes to controlling the behavior of people around you, one learns rather quickly that control is an illusion. Also, in my experience, a “perfect” behavioral environment is not sufficient to motivate “good”, or even “appropriate” behavior if other student needs are not addressed. 

My counterexamples are Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Pathological Demand Avoidance. These mental/behavioral health diagnoses came into being when professionals determined that some children were unable–rather than unwilling–to perform tasks requested of them. This refusal was constant, regardless of the skillset of the teacher or therapist.

  1. Technical, professional skills necessary for behavioural compliance of students are required by teachers

We need to teach professional skills for managing classrooms insofar as not systematically triggering students and being the antecedent for meltdowns. However, to assume that all that is lacking for classrooms to run like clockwork is for teachers to learn the technical skills necessary to motivate, maintain, and enforce “compliance” out of their students is rather scary.

The implications of this idea are not ethical. We are teaching vulnerable kids that they, rather than their behavioral choices, are “bad” or “inappropriate”and the only way they can be good is to obey an adult. This is neither an acceptable nor an effective way to teach or build character; rather, this type of instruction has the short and long term effect of being a very efficient way to turn these kids into victims to the whims and caprice of strangers, bullies, and any other people they encounter. 

  1. Those who do not respond to this exercise of power are unmanageable: a threat to the orderly classroom

The view that misbehavior is an explicit threat to orderliness is one of the problems I see within the implementation of PBiS in the U.S. educational system. When a student does not respond the way we predict when we use “behaviorally management techniques”, we label them as “defiant” and their behavioral choices are labeled “intentional”, “escalating”, and “malicious” (e.g., teachers report, “Oh, he knows full what he is doing and he can turn it on and off whenever he wants. That’s why you never see it“). This leap from observing what amounts to banal disobedience and escalating it to a report that the student as exhibiting willful intransigence is one reason why students with disabilities or mental health challenges, as well as minority students are disproportionally subject to restraint, seclusion, and exclusion (US report, also this report).

Systems such as the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model were designed to directly refute this assumption. In the CPS model, we interpret any student struggling to behave appropriately to either 1) not yet have developed the skills to behave correctly (i.e., a skill deficit), or 2) there is a valid reason for the student to behave the way that they are and we as adults and teachers need to work with the student to design a mutually beneficial solution to their problem; thus helping the student behave as expected.  

Reliance upon these assumptions has resulted in district-wide, school-wide, and classroom behavioral management systems whereby minor offenses are met with swift, disproportionate, and draconian interventions.

Nevertheless (emphasis mine):

[the] emphasis on discipline and behaviour is likely to be inappropriate at best for students with significant MH difficulties (Armstrong 2014, Maclean’s 2010); in many of these cases, a punitive response to student behaviour often leads to a spiral of escalation, prompting suspension, exclusion or simply withdrawal from school.”

There is an association between the increasing use of exclusion and in school suspension (seclusion) as the first recourse for the behavioral challenge and the increase in police presence/inclusion in the U.S. school system (Link). This has increasingly resulted in school administrators using resident police officers to intervene in relatively minor classroom disciplinary issues (e.g., not putting a cellular phone away in class). What used to be resolved by teachers in the classroom now far too often result in arrests and court appearances, particularly for minorities: This is what we refer to as the “school to prison pipeline”, which again disproportionately impacts students with disabilities and/or concomitant mental health challenges. Unsurprisingly,  the cost of increasing police presence in school has prevented many school districts from hiring mental health professionals such as school psychologists, social workers, and counselors trained to work with at-risk students to build the skills necessary for them to de-escalate their own behavior. This trend runs counter to federal mandates that emphasize social and emotional skill development, rather than draconian consequences and exclusion,  as a crucial component of educational success (Link). 

Armstrong further points out,

Exclusion of students with disabilities, or those who are psychologically unwell, is also legally problematic, as schools risk contravening national or state/local disability legislation (Cumming, Strnadova, and Dowse 2016).

As stated by the National Counsel on Disabilities (NCD) here (also here for further relevant policy statements):

  • All races have members with disabilities.
  • Among incarcerated youth, 85 percent have learning and/or emotional disabilities, yet only 37 percent receive special education in school. Most were either undiagnosed or not properly served in school.
  • Many students have invisible disabilities, such as specific learning disability (SLD), emotional disturbance, posttraumatic stress disorder, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Schools suspended students with disabilities and students of color at many times the rate of their white counterparts.
  • Schools suspend students of color with individualized education plans (IEPs), whether they have disabilities or not, to the most disproportionate degree.

Professionally, I have seen school districts bend over backward to develop methods to expressly exclude “difficult” students with mental health diagnoses or behavioral disturbances from school while still maintaining the absolute minimum of services to maintain federal compliance. A typical example is excluding a student with a disability and placing them on a “home/hospital” service whereby they often only receive 1-2 hours of instruction for each day they are outside the school setting beyond the 10 days a school can legally suspend them (discussion here). This practice rests on a dubious legal footing, and many school districts have chosen to set up alternative school settings to transfer students with mental health and behavioral disorders to as a way to provide compensatory instruction after repeated exclusion (link). Use of alternative schooling as to maintain active seclusion of students with disabilities and/or mental health challenges is a clear contravention of federal mandates that these settings be used only as a last resort (link).

At the time Armstrong wrote this article there was a controversy in Australia regarding a school team repeatedly placing an autistic boy being placed in a cage. Since then, the U.S. has been dealing with similar reports (Google link). As alluded to in my introductory paragraph to this post, these media reports seem to become increasingly prevalent as the U.S. nears the end of the school year. Anecdotally, I was called into schools to intervene with more “severe behavior kids” more in March-May than the entire rest of the year. These situations were often so far gone that teachers were spending significant portions of the day restraining students and administrators were working to justify forcing student placement changes (e.g., move the student to behavior units without first performing necessary interventions).

Armstrong assesses the evidence for schoolwide PBiS and suggests that there is an overall lack of data necessary to support the practice; primarily due to the lack of experimental control and/or pre-intervention data. He further asserts that SWPBiS, PBiS, Functional Behavioral Assessments, and other so-called “evidence-based” alternatives to the explicit manage-and-discipline model have not translated into practice in the U.S. I have a slightly different opinion, which is that we in the U.S. use PBiS as a manage-and-discipline model, we just provide “positive” incentives during the manage phase in the form of “reinforcements” or “incentives” (link).

Specifically, Armstrong stated (emphasis mine):

Indeed, a recent article by Skiba and Losen (2016), which reviews school discipline in the US over the last 20 years, highlights instead the increasing dominance of ‘zero-tolerance policies and frequent out-of-school suspensions and expulsions’ (5) in response to behavioural transgressions by students. Flynn et al. (2016), in their detailed and recent study, highlight the increased use of suspensions and exclusion in the US over the last 10 years. This timeframe is the same period in which PBS and SWPBS been extensively promoted by the US Federal Government as an evidence-based way to reduce exclusions on behavioural grounds. This comparison indicates that PBS and SWPBS have not, on the face of it, been successful in reducing exclusion rates through reforming educational practice in US schools.

I feel the implications of this are upon us. The U.S. education system is actively regressing toward zero-tolerance and “no excuses” systems that allow us to simply kick kids out of school—or remove them from the mainstream track and into self-contained classroom settings–to increasing “access to education” for the other students in the classroom (examples of “zero tolerance” and “no excuses” discipline policies: link, link, link).

As Armstrong said,

Where reform fails, there is a high chance to return to a manage-and-discipline model a a fallback option for schools in response to behaviours by students with disabilities of MH difficulties. Flynn et al. (2016), together with McIntosh et al. (2014) highlight research evidence suggesting that this regression has often occurred in US schools where SWPBS or PBS have been abandoned, to the particular detriment of students with disabilities and also individuals from African-American backgrounds (Flynn et al. 2016).



I stepped into a minefield when I suggested on social media that students do not just misbehave in class out of nowhere to stick it to teachers. I suggested that teachers and the classroom environment often contribute, if not provide outright triggers, that result in student behavioral outbursts. What I learned rather quickly is that there is a large and extremely vocal contingent of zero-tolerance/”no excuses” teacher advocates that perceive any and all criticism of classroom management a direct affront on the teaching profession as a whole. It was rather sobering to see how quickly these adults were willing to adopt the “woe is me” approach to playing the victim to the students in their classroom, with blame laid squarely on the shoulders of the child and their parents. 

This was the original tweet:

I responded with the tweet below. I do not believe that students pop off without a reason. I also do not believe that “all behavior is communication” unless we have deprived the student of all other available modes of communication by our actions.

For clarity, I am referring to the situations when I was brought into the classroom to observe and work with explosive children who were in very genuine danger of being excluded from school (and many were). I never intended to suggest my experience fits the “every classroom, every time” situation. However, I do actually believe that greater than 99% of the time misbehavior occurs because we, as adults, do something that is either unfair or highly stressful and the student is reacting as best they know how.

Here are two illustrative response of individuals who apparently took issue with my words. There were a lot more where that these came from.

So why do I bring this up? Mainly because–as a profession–we cannot make inroads toward having school be safe and a comfortable space for all students until all of us adults grow up a tiny bit by swallowing our pride, and taking stock of our role and responsibility as leaders in the classroom. How else can we expect our students to learn how they are supposed to express their emotions if we never show them how to do so appropriately?

I will volunteer that I have most certainly triggered student misbehavior. Sometimes I did not yet know them well enough to know that my actions or approach to a situation were going to set them off, and sometimes I did know and continued what I was doing nonetheless. Whenever students showed an extreme reaction or meltdown in response to something I did, we had a discussion afterward wherein I apologized for pushing their button or triggering them. I never let them off scot-free, they did misbehave and needed to learn how to respond more appropriately, but I made a clear point of letting them know that I understand that I contributed to the problem and I am willing to “teacher up” and apologize to them. As necessary, I have let my entire classroom of students know I realize I did something that contributed to their friend losing control, and I apologize to them for the resulting chaos.


We cannot build positive relationships with students based on mutual trust and respect if we perceive them as hellions and ourselves alternatively as saints for tolerating them or as victims to their misbehavior. We cannot create a relationship of trust when we are sarcastic toward the students. Neither are we trustworthy when we gossip about how bad certain students are are in the faculty lunchroom (or go so far as publicly giving an autistic students–any student for that matter–an award for being the “most annoying student“).

As Armstrong suggested (emphasis mine):

Research into how educators perceive students with disabilities indicates that in many cases, the behavioural transgressions focused upon by professionals in classrooms as evidence of within-child deficits was actually a by-product of poorly met educational needs (Cumming and Dickson 2013; Squires 2012; Cooper 2008). Without tackling factors which underpin observed behaviour by students, the manage-and-discipline model is often used by default in educational practice and despite the message from research that ‘policies and strategies aimed at controlling student behaviour are likely to be misdirected’ (Sullivan et al., 2014).

My addendum to this is that “misdirected” far too often means, targeted toward students with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, sensory impairments (e.g., blind and/or deaf), or toward minorities. The U.S. Department of Education has expressed a similar opinion regarding this shortcoming in the U.S. school system and proposed an explicit fix (link). Similarly, restraint and seclusion data from the Government Accountability Office bear this out–missing data from large school districts nothwithstanding (link, link)

The solution Armstrong poses is in line with research in developmental psychology since the 1960s. His assumption that behavior emerges from/results from patterns of interactions with the environment and people in it. This is essentially a précis of Bandera’s social model of cognitive development. As stated by Armstrong, “Professionals cannot therefore abstract their role and their relationships with students out of this reciprocal, interaction: behaviour only happens in the context of relationships.” In other words, as teachers, we cannot minimize or overlook our role in student behavior. We contribute, even if we do not think we do.

One thing I have found to be helpful is to remember that kids fundamentally want to be good. They want to behave and have people like them. Unless it is a self-contained classroom focusing on autistic students or students with behavioral/mental health concerns, there will be at most one behaviorally challenging student in any classroom. Even in my first classroom that was designed for autistic students with co-occurring mental health conditions, there were only two students that required my particular attention to assisting them in managing their behavior in the classroom.

When we realize that the vast majority of our students have the drive to behave optimally, we can take a step back and intervene with that student while trusting the other students will be able to manage their own behavior with only a minimum of supports we should have made readily available. We often feel we have to control 20-30 students when in reality, we only need to worry about 1-2. This is where the MTSS model is informative in providing a framework for approaching classroom behavior.

Unfortunately, I often see the MTSS system and RtI within PBiS used as a rubric to collect the data needed to remove or exclude students from the classroom, rather than as intended–a framework to keep >95% of students in class and engaged. When I say this I am explicitly referring to teachers that ask me, “I need the interventions I have to do so you can qualify this kid for special education and I can get them out of my classroom”. This approach runs counter to the spirit of MTSS and RtI, which is to determine if the student would benefit from a Tier 2 or Tier 3 level of academic and/or behavioral intervention in their general education classroom and thus not require special education services.


We all make the same joke about how we already know how important it is to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. Yet they insist on telling us every single time we get on an airplane. Do you know why? It is because most of us, particularly those who go into teaching, will reflexively try to help others and forget to take care of ourselves at all. And even more to the point, we neglect self-care until it becomes an emergency–and then we do not know how.

We bring the weight of our student’s lives home with us. We absorb their traumas to weigh down our shoulders in an attempt to ease their suffering or stress. We fuss and fret over students’ home lives and other things over which we have no control. And we do this for 20-30 students every single day. In taking care of them we forget to exercise. We forget to eat well. We forget to engage in our hobbies. We forget to relax. We work through illness. It is just what we do. It is who we are.

But it doesn’t have to be.

An overlooked aspect of being a great teacher and handling a tough classroom is self-care. Amazing and inspirational teachers take care of themselves. They show up and leave on a predictable schedule. They have some modicum of a work-life balance.

There are very real implications for taking care of ourselves for our students (emphasis mine):

 The psychological welfare of teachers is likely to significantly benefit from this initiative if it includes a reduction in administrative practices associated with school accountability, school competition and testing regimes (Armstrong 2017). Research strudies predict that reduction in work-based stress for teachers, and its adverse psychological outcomes for individual professionals is likely to have tangible positive consequences for their capacity to respond to behaviours by students.

Research over the last 20 years examining the debilitating phenomena of burn-out, an enervating state of emotional exhaustion, has suggested that teachers are severely affected as an occupational group (Aloe, Amo, and Shanahan 2014). An important and methodologically robust, recent study by Oberle and Schonert-Reichl (2016) highlights the phenomena of a ‘burnout cascade’: a destructive, self-sustaining, cycle which leads to a deteriorating behavioural climate in the classroom and which, in turn, further exacerbates the emotional exhaustion of the teacher. Oberle and Schonert-Reichl (2016) convincingly outline this adverse process:

as teachers feel overworked while lacking support and resources, they increasingly experience occupational stress and tend to use fewer responsive and more reactive and punitive classroom management strategies. This leads to deterioration in classroom climate in which the emotional needs of students are not met. As a result, students exhibit increased trouble-some behaviors which ultimately leads to increases in stress for students and teachers, steadily contributing to teacher burnout and a negative classroom environment. (31)

It is worthy of note that the ‘manage and discipline’ model fits well with the ‘use of fewer responsive and more reactive and punitive classroom management strategies described by Oberle and Schonert-Reichl (2016). This observation further suggests that workplace stress and poor psychological coping by emotionally exhausted teachers could be the driving force behind the dogged use of the manage and discipline model in many schools.

A further consequence of this insight is that improvement in occupational conditions experienced by teachers in schools could be a significant route to tackle the wicked problem of behaviour. This possibility is actually supported by findings from research presented by Oberle and Schonert-Reichl (2016) who highlight evidence to support stress-contagion theory in their pioneering small-to-medium-scale (n = 406) study based in Vancouver, Canada. In their study the students of teachers who scored highly on a standard measure of psychological burn-out had elevated levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. In summary Oberle and Schonert-Reichl (2016) comment ‘after adjusting for differences in cortisol levels due to age, gender, and time of awaking, higher morning cortisol levels in students could be significantly predicted from higher burnout levels in classroom teachers’ (35).

In other words, the students respond to the teacher as they are getting burned out as the year goes on. And, unfortunately, this often results in a behavioral spiral that goes out of control. The students show a physiological stress response that correlates with the teacher’s emotional state. In my opinion, this is why increasingly exasperated search terms lead teachers to my blog as the school year progresses.  

The solution to this problem is to take care of ourselves! We need to conserve every bit of our energy and optimism we can muster to build and maintain positive relationships with students, so there are not classwide behavioral collapses as the year winds down.


However, we will be stuck in a professional rut so long as state and federal policy decisions favor compliance and discipline over socioemotional growth and preservation of mental health.  Policy dictates where research funds and other expenditures will be spent: either on the development and expansion of manage-and-discipline models or else on developing methods that are more developmentally appropriate for all students and can better accommodate students in special education. Unfortunately, our present system does not bear funding of research into both models. Similarly, a focus on manage-and-discipline methods means that funds will not be available to assist teachers in maintaining and building their mental and psychological health as they progress in their careers.

As Armstrong stated (emphasis mine):

Contrary to negative, politically-motivated appraisals about behaviour in schools (DFE 2010), inclusive and effective practices are wholly complementary. For instance, reframing schools as safe, productive and inclusive communities is a foundation for more effective, research-informed practice. It is precisely because they apply the manage and discipline model that many settings fail to address the behavioural and intellectual needs of students who deviate from behavioural norms, typically those affected by disability or MH difficulties (Cooper 2008). Taking inspiration from Fennell (1999) and from Rogers (1951) this process of re-framing can be aided by an emphasis at a whole-school on developing positive, collective ‘rules for living’ shared by everybody in the school community. Armstrong et al. (2016) explain this proposal in further detail and suggest a set of principles to guide professional practice which intend to be humane and effective in responding to negative behaviours by children and young people (141). Nash, Schlösser, and Scarr (2016) support this view arguing that ‘a compassionate and collaborative response, rather than a punitive and disciplinarian reaction, is most likely to support the individuals concerned’ (170). In common with this article, Nash, Schlösser, and Scarr (2016) highlight the value in adopting a psychological perspective which provides the teacher with ‘the opportunity for reflection and understanding of the pupil’s behaviour, rather than quick solutions. With increased understanding, intervention plans can be proposed that are individual to the child, reflecting their needs in a school context’ (170).

. . .

The wider policy environment also has to be acknowledged as a pervasive tapestry which in practice, encourages or disincentives particular responses by schools and by teachers to the wicked problem of behaviour (Armstrong 2014). In many cases educational policy has, unfortunately, encouraged use of the manage and discipline model, with particularly adverse effects on children and young people who have a disability or MH difficulty. Emphasis on league-tables, school ranking and other performance-based systems, policymakers in Australia, England, and the US have over the last 20 years created a policy environment which, arguably, encourages schools to exclude students who are perceived as a threat to school performance in a competitive, results-led, exam-based, environment (Rizvi and Lingard 2010; Jull 2008). Key messages in policy about teacher performance and school competition have, arguably, validated punitive and counter-productive responses to students with a disability or MH difficulty and whose behaviour is deemed by teachers as a potential threat to the academic attainment of the whole class (Flynn et al. 2016; Graham, Penny, and Naomi Sweller 2015; Slee 2013). The consequences of these policy initiatives are often unjust for those students targeted and also foster ineffective and exclusionary classroom practices premised upon the manage and discipline model of behaviour (Slee 2013).

If there is the desire to reduce exclusions, lower suspension rates and improve teacher professional practice, then countering these unintended, adverse result of marketisation should be a priority for policymakers and educational policy in Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand and the US. New high-profile, well-resourced national policy initiatives could be used to offset this systemic disadvantage for students affected by disability and to encourage schools to reduce the use of exclusion or suspension, favouring research-based strategies that are preventative and also responsive to student need (Nash, Schlösser, and Scarr 2016; Cooper and Jacobs 2011).

There is a clear financial, ethical, legal and educational case for urgent reform in how well teachers are prepared, pre-service and supported in-service to meet the behavioural needs of students with disabilities or MH difficulties. National in-service programmes to enhance teacher resilience in response to challenging behaviour by students with disabilities or MH difficulties could be constructed and call on sound, evidence-based models such as cognitive–behavioural therapy [CBT] (See Armstrong et al. 2016; Banks, Squires, and Anhalt 2014). An occupational perspective by itself, without making reference to the welfare of students with a disability, presents a compelling case for reforms intended to address the wicked problems of behaviour in schools.

Recent announcement in England, on ‘comprehensive reform’ of school-based systems intended to support students affected by poor MH, indicate acknowledgement by policy-makers that schools are typically a hostile environment for this vulnerable population (UK Gov. 2016). Attitudinal change by policymakers is a vital step for action to redress the systemic disadvantages facing this population.

On a final note, there is a growing chorus of international criticism by reputed educational researchers of what is described here as the manage and discipline model (Skiba and Losen 2016; Johnson and Sullivan 2016; Graham, Penny, and Naomi Sweller 2015; Slee 2013). Robust research highlights the continued need for evidence-based practice which supports students’ social behaviour in classrooms as well as practice which relates to academic study (Clunies-Ross, Little, and Kienhuis 2008, 706). Given the slow failure of initiatives like PBS and SWPBS, these vocal criticisms could herald a timely opportunity for sustainable initiatives, such as those outlined in this article, designed to improve the behavioural climate in every school.


It is for these reasons I have been relatively vocal about the need in the U.S. for systems such as the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model from Ross Greene (link) to be used in place of PBiS or the Discipline without Stresss model from  Marvin Marshall (link).

The benefit of the CPS model is that it has been clinically validated as effective for use with children with mental health involvement by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (link). The CPS model has also been researched clinically and shown effective for adolescent and adults with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (link). Both of these programs are nonprofit and are relatively inexpensive to receive training in and implement at a district or state level. The CPS model has already begun to be implemented in the state of Maine as well as in schools throughout Ontario, Canada. The resources and handouts sections of Dr. Greene’s nonprofit have example IEP and 504 plans that can be implemented today.


2 thoughts on “The Problems with the Manage-and-Discipline Approach to PBiS

  1. My son has a level one autism/formally asperbergers syndrome. And The PBIs system stork Lee has historically has punished him for choices they thought he was making that he couldn’t help or understand. Now that he has his diagnosis is correct we will be adjusting his IEP and hopefully th The PBI ass since Tim has his stork Lee punished him for choices they thought he was making that he couldn’t help or understand. Now that he has his diagnosis correct we will be adjusting his IEP. Also, I have historically been unimpressed by the special education program support and they frequently dropped the ball and what they say they’re going to do. I f also, I have historically been unimpressed by the special education program support and they frequently drop the ball in what they say they’re going to do. Also Glasses in elementary school are too big for one teacher to attempt to implement tracking of sel classes in elementary school are too big for one teacher to attempt to implement tracking of certain behaviors and successfully intervene.


  2. I’m responding to two or your opinions stated in this blog post:

    1) “As we have seen in the United States, policy regarding behavioral management techniques is almost always reactive to moral or public panic regarding something presented in the media–these reactive policies practically always result in schools targeting, excluding, and prosecuting minorities that were not involved in the original crime in any way (example here).”

    2) “One very unpleasant truth regarding the motivation of the behavioral management policy underlying PBiS in the U.S. education system is the fact that…Behavior management programs are now designed to maximize educational and academic outcomes (i.e., maximize uninterrupted teaching and learning time in the classroom that leads to improved standardized test scores).”

    First of all, after reading your post, I was left confused as to which group of students you are referring to as “minorities.” Are you referring to particular ethnic groups, special education students, or the disproportionate number of ethnic groups represented in special education?

    Secondly, if policy is a reaction to crime, and we know that crime can be correlated to an individual’s educational background, isn’t the “unpleasant truth” found in the fact that disrupted learning puts the public at risk? Then we can get into the discussion about whether or not the local polities have the right to protect themselves from that risk.

    Lastly, let’s be intellectually honest when it comes to the issues discussed in your post. There is a disproportionate number of boys diagnosed with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders in America. There is a disproportionate number of men in American prisons. This has little to do with our public school teachers’ ability or inability to implement behavioral management techniques and much to do with misplaced cogency in dealing with societal ills.


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