Tuesday, March 24, 2020

By Elianna Novitch

Through systematic change, schools across the country are working to create an environment focused on the well-being and success of their students using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

PBIS is an evidence-based, three-tiered framework that aims to help improve students’ social and academic outcomes, reduce the use of punitive discipline practices, and make school a welcoming place for all faculty, staff, and students. The three tiers of PBIS include universal prevention, targeted intervention, and individualized intervention.

Allison Bruhn, associate professor in Special Education and expert in multitiered systems of support like PBIS, is working with Iowa City and Cedar Rapids schools to develop PBIS programs that will improve outcomes for all children.

Bruhn’s work has been especially impactful at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa, where she assisted in developing their school-wide PBIS plan and core expectations of Belonging, Ownership, Leadership, Teamwork, and Safety (BOLTS). With Bruhn’s guidance, Liberty High School developed lesson plans, videos, and student recognition programs to introduce and implement the PBIS framework in their school.

“PBIS creates a safe environment for kids to learn,” Bruhn says. “We know that kids learn better when they feel safe and secure and have consistent expectations in the school.”

Daniel Lekin, an English Language Learner teacher at Liberty High School, says Bruhn’s work transformed the school and dramatically improved the quality of working and learning. Liberty High School opened in 2017 and Lekin says the school struggled with building a positive culture and climate conducive to academic and social excellence.

“When Allison came to us with PBIS expertise in 2018 after having gone through numerous trials and tribulation, we were able to make an arguable, quick turn-around that benefited not only the students, but also our teachers, administration, and staff,” Lekin says.

Bruhn says that Liberty High School saw significant decreases in the number of students who were suspended, who received negative office discipline referrals, and in students who were failing courses.

“The key to successful kids, at least in schools, is having teachers and administrators who understand the importance of social skills, teaching and acknowledging positive behaviors, and creating safe and consistent environments so that kids can learn,” Bruhn says. “And so, when the adults in the building understand and model that, then the kids can succeed.”

Bruhn’s mentoring in Liberty’s PBIS plan has helped make them the strong public school they strive for and work hard to be, Lekin says.

“Allison has revitalized our building by bringing positive interventions and supports training and tools that helped our school live up to its potential and set the stage for future success,” Lekin says.

Read more from our 2019-2020 alumni magazine