Tips For Teachers

| June 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Khalil Osiris

My journey to establishing the first Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS) AFRICA School in South Africa began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the US.

There, I was director of an education consulting company called Circle of Courage Mentoring Programme (COCMP). The COCMP curriculum provided school districts with evidence-based interventions for learners (and their parents/guardians) engaging in at-risk and high-risk behaviours. The courage to use COCMP ‘At-risk’ learners were defined as those performing below the 25% margin on district assessments and common grade level assessments. ‘High-risk’ learners were defined as those performing below the 10% margin on the same assessments. The COCMP curriculum was designed to help learners overcome behavioural challenges through small-group and one-on-one mentoring. Application of this curriculum provided schools with an effective way to implement PBIS, which is the only approach to addressing youth misbehaviour that is specifically mentioned in US law. PBIS in America is the law.1 It is a research-based framework and/or strategy, not a curriculum or programme. While school districts are required to comply with PBIS legislation, many districts struggle to do so. The COCMP curriculum helped schools document their journeys effectively.

A meeting of minds

While visiting South Africa in 2011, I talked to numerous teachers and principals, and discovered a need for PBIS here. In 2012, I was introduced to Melanie Sharland, managing director of Vuleka SSB High School, at a talk I gave for educators. Founded 25 years ago with 59 children and four classes, Vuleka is a highly regarded independent school that provides excellent, holistic and affordable education for children from pre-primary to matric. Sharland and her teaching team decided to test the COCMP programme at Vuleka during the last term of 2012. We used the COCMP curriculum to introduce school staff to the core ideas and practices of a new model called PBIS AFRICA. As a result of the positive impact the programme had on teachers, learners and parents, in 2013, Vuleka became the first school in South Africa to implement what is now known as PBIS AFRICA.

Sharland’s visionary leadership provided me with an opportunity to work with her staff to establish Vuleka as a National Demonstration School Site (NDSS) for PBIS AFRICA. Researchers from America have expressed great interest in learning from Vuleka by exploring ways to train teachers to deal effectively with behavioural issues, the primary focus of PBIS AFRICA.

Research has shown that teachers’ actions in their classrooms are significantly more impactful on learner achievement than school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality and community involvement.2 Numerous studies have also confirmed that teachers who have high-quality relationships with their learners have fewer discipline problems and rule violations than those who do not have high-quality relationships.3 PBIS AFRICA does not leave teacher-learner relationships to chance. In addition, at Vuleka, family involvement has played an important role in the successful implementation of PBIS AFRICA.

We found that our efforts to develop meaningful opportunities for parents/guardians to get involved in school activities resulted in their children doing better academically. And by strengthening home-school partnerships, we not only provided additional academic support for learners, we also created important community and cultural connections for Vuleka’s school staff.

A closer look

The following is a list of the key features that have been implemented successfully at Vuleka: A common vision/values, purpose and approach to discipline throughout the school:
• Establishing a school-wide discipline policy that staff and parents support.
• Training staff to use consistent methods of teaching the behavioural expectations and responding to misbehaviour.

A small number of positively stated behavioural expectations for all learners:
• Teaching three to five positively stated school-wide behavioural expectations, which are discussed and reinforced every day in each classroom and throughout the school.

Procedures for teaching behavioural expectations:
• Using positive teacher language, intentional relationship-building and collaborative problem-solving to teach learners what school-wide behavioural expectations look and sound like.
• Engaging learners in structured social skills development, including practice of expected behaviours and direct feedback.

A continuum of procedures for encouraging expected behaviour:
• Using practices such as Morning Check-in, an example of expectation creation with learners.
• Teaching, modelling, practising and reinforcing/roleplaying with the whole class.
• Using further teaching, modelling, practising and reinforcing/role-playing and individual written agreements with teachers and learners who need more intensive support.
• Doing group reflection activities, such as talking circles and musical/theatrical presentations.

A continuum of procedures for discouraging inappropriate behaviour:
• Responding to misbehaviour with positive redirecting teacher language and corrective consequences.
• Using collaborative problem-solving strategies, such as class meetings with the whole class or small groups and problem-solving conferences with individuals.

Ongoing evaluation of effectiveness:
• Observing learners, reflecting on the success of practices, and adjusting the programme implementation process accordingly.
• Using the PBIS AFRICA’s school-wide and classroom assessments to collect data on the use of specific strategies.

A whole-school strategy for the whole country

Vuleka School is committed to implementing high-quality, scientifically validated instructional practices based on learner needs, monitoring learner progress and adjusting instruction based on learner response. If you would like to turn your concerns about education in South Africa into positive actions, join the PBIS AFRICA movement. We believe it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

1. See, for example: Randy Sprick’s Safe & Civil Schools (n.d.) “PBIS – what you need to know.” Available at:
2. See, for example: Marzano, R.J. and Marzano, J.S. (2003) “The key to classroom management.” Available at: sept03/vol61/num01/The-Key-to-Classroom- Management.aspx.
3. See, for example: UNESCO Bangkok (2006) “Positive discipline in the inclusive, learning-friendly classroom. Embracing diversity: toolkit for creating inclusive, learning-friendly environments: specialized booklet 1: a guide for teachers and teacher educators.” Available at:

Additional sources:
1. circle_of_courage_program.
2. 2013-dragged-1.jpg.
3. of-crime-that-leads-to-prison-72106392.html.

Category: Winter 2014

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