Positive behaviour supports

This approach promotes positive social and communication skills, while reducing and preventing problem behaviours.


Key components related to positive behaviour supports in schools include:

  • focusing on building positive relationships
  • structuring learning environments to optimize student success
  • differentiating instruction to make learning engaging, meaningful and effective for all students
  • teaching social-emotional skills
  • setting clear behavioural expectations
  • positive reinforcement
  • fair and predictable consequences, including clear and helpful feedback
  • collecting and using data to make decisions and measure effectiveness
  • collaborative team planning and monitoring

Research over the past 15 years has shown that positive behaviour supports is effective in promoting positive behaviour in students and schools. Schools that implement a whole school approach also report increased time engaged in academic activities and improved academic performance.

A review of research by the National Association of School Psychologists on the effectiveness of positive behaviour supports showed that there was a 90% or more reduction in problem behaviour in over half of the studies. The problem behaviour stopped completely in over 26% of the studies.

Universal supports (Tier 1)

This approach begins with the school ensuring that universal supports (sometimes called primary prevention or Tier 1) are in place to enhance the social and academic success of all students. Typical universal supports are school-wide and focus on:

  • positive interactions with adults
  • clear expectations
  • social-emotional learning
  • differentiated instruction

Research shows that 80% to 85% of students demonstrate positive behaviour when universal supports are in place.

Targeted supports (Tier 2)

The school also develops targeted supports (sometimes called secondary prevention or Tier 2 interventions) for students who may have difficulty meeting basic behaviour expectations or are at-risk of developing serious behaviour issues in the future. Examples of these types of supports include:

  • social skills instruction and/or goal setting with a small group of students
  • peer support networks
  • mentoring

Targeted supports can be offered in small groups and for a finite period of time. The support strategy should look at the root causes of a students’ problem behaviour. Targeted supports need to be provided with universal strategies that are in place for all students.

Intensive and individualized supports (Tier 3)

Even with universal and targeted supports in place, there may still be a small group of students with behaviour difficulties that interfere with their learning and relationships. Many of these students have also experienced trauma and/or have medical conditions/disabilities or mental health concerns.

These students require intensive and individualized supports (sometimes referred to as tertiary prevention or Tier 3 interventions or supports), which may include an individual behaviour support plan. Students will likely require these supports for the long-term. When the right supports are provided consistently and over time, the frequency and intensity of problem behaviours can significantly decrease.

Foundational ideas

Positive behaviour supports has several foundational ideas:

  • Proactively changing the learning environment and how adults respond to behaviour can help students be more successful.
  • There is a reason behind most challenging behaviour, such as communication or meeting an unmet need, and it is helpful to identify and understand the root causes in order to provide the most appropriate supports.
  • All learners should be treated with compassion and respect regardless of their behaviour.
  • Positive responses to problem behaviour will be more effective than coercion and punishment.


The following fictional stories are examples of what positive behaviour supports might look like in practice.

At the universal level

An elementary school staff works with students and parents to create a vision of what they want their school to look, sound and feel like. With a vision of “safe and successful for all” in mind, they focus on:

  • developing a code of conduct that is clear and positive and encourages consistent expectations across environments
  • increasing teacher supervision in key areas during strategic times of the day
  • committing to teaching practices that are more engaging and supportive of all learners

They monitor their progress through beginning and end-of-year surveys, student feedback and tracking office discipline referrals.

At the targeted level

A middle school has a small, but significant number of students who are experiencing behavioral difficulties at lunch hour and are unable to follow the school-wide expectations.

School staff work with the group of students to identify supports that will make this less structured time more positive. Problem behaviour is significantly reduced by increasing supervision, using strategic seating assignments in the lunchroom and ensuring each student is with at least two supportive peers. The lunchroom monitor is also using a Check-in/Check-out strategy. The identified students also receive targeted instruction and guided practice in handling disagreements in agreeable ways and have a system for self-monitoring their own use of these new strategies.

At the individual level

A student in the first year of high school is experiencing extreme frustration in class and is beginning to lash out at students and staff, verbally and physically. A recently completed behavioural assessment shows that this behaviour is most likely to occur as a way to avoid certain academic tasks or when the student perceives (often inaccurately) that a peer is rejecting him.

Staff work with the student and his parents to create a positive behaviour support plan. They identify and document key understandings about his behaviour. They also develop strategies that staff and peers can use to support him, defuse situations and respond more positively to his need to be included and valued by peers.


Positive behaviour approach video and discussion guide