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Sep 12, 2023

Anatomy of a Framework Part 2: Teams

We continue our series exploring the PBIS framework and its features. Today, we're talking about your schoolwide team, who should be on it and which procedures will help you do your most effective work ever.

Welcome to part 2 of our deep dive into the PBIS framework and its 15 foundational features as defined in the Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI).

First, a quick review of what we've covered so far…

In part 1, we defined the three essential elements of the framework:

  • Systems: the policies, procedures, processes, and priorities to keep your efforts going over the long haul. 
  • Practices: the evidence-based, culturally-relevant things you DO WITH your students.
  • Data: the information to help you choose your next steps, evaluate how things have been going, and sound the alarm when something needs to change. 

You can think of these three elements as headers in an outline. The subheads underneath them are the 15 foundational features. Every school implementing PBIS starts out with the same outline. Another way to think about is like this: three concentric circles — labeled systems, data, and practices— with the word equity in the middle where the circles connect, and each of the 15 features spidering out from its associated element...like this:

Today we're taking a closer look at the first two foundational features of any PBIS implementation. They're systems-level features and they’re all about your schoolwide team, specifically who’s on it and how it operates. Before we get to those specifics, let's take a look at what the research says about school-level teams and team-based decision making.

Problem-solving teams make it possible to address and support an increasingly diverse student body, collaborate across the spectrum of specialists available within schools, and increase communication across a schoolwide community.1 Study after study demonstrates that teams are an effective practice in schools; what’s less clear is why. So much about what makes a team work relies on how it’s able to fit within a school’s organizational structure and culture. That finding was confirmed in a meta-analysis looking at multiple school-based teams across 14 studies.2 Researchers found team-based decision making is a solid practice AND none of the teams they looked at seemed to use consistent structures and practices.

  • Some had a formal decision-making process. Others didn’t.
  • Some had two members and others had 14.
  • Some documented a purpose. Others didn’t.

All this variability makes researching teams super challenging; it’s also what makes teams so great. The people and processes that work in one place may not work well in another, but somehow both are successful within their unique context.

What is a Schoolwide PBIS Team?

According to The Center on PBIS, within a PBIS framework your schoolwide team is responsible for working together to create the systems and practices related to the Tier 1 supports you provide. You use data to monitor and improve those systems and practices and the whole time you ensure every student has equitable access to those supports to reach their full potential. Centering equity in this work means “reimagining the system and its conditions so that all students, families, and communities can thrive — especially those who have not historically done so.”3

When it comes to the features of a schoolwide team required to implement PBIS successfully, the TFI tells us there are two things you can’t skip out on.

TFI Item 1.1 Team Composition

PBIS implementation isn’t a solo mission. It requires a team and to have a team, you’re going to need to invite some help. The TFI tells us who to include around your meeting table as well as the skills you'll need to do the work.

The Who

  • Tier 1 Systems Coordinator: Someone who understands the systems, practices, and data for schoolwide PBIS implementation.
  • Administrator: Someone in your school with the authority to allocate resources and support the decisions your team makes.
  • Liaisons: Team members representing the various groups within your schoolwide community – family members, students, teachers, and staff.4

The Skills

  • Applied Behavioral Expertise: Experience with the science behind behavior and behavior support so the action plans you create are based on evidence.
  • Coaching Expertise: Experience implementing PBIS to guide your team's work and decision-making process.
  • Data Analysis: Access to academic and behavior data and the ability to analyze and share the patterns they notice. (The SWIS Suite, anyone?)
  • Understanding of How Your School Works: Knowledge of the basic operations at your school – the resources available, the schedule, the specialists, the student and family groups, etc.

TFI Item 1.2 Team Operating Procedures

The second feature of your schoolwide team is how you conduct your meetings. These operating procedures establish the foundation for how you’ll do the work as a team. You’ll need:

  • An Agenda: The agenda format you use creates the predictable way your team will make its way through each meeting.
  • Minutes: These are the collective notes from your meeting outlining each decision, next steps, who is responsible for completing those steps, and by when.
  • Meeting Roles: Each member of your team needs to know expectations for their participation in the meeting. These expectations get wrapped up in a defined role. The roles in your team can include: a meeting facilitator, a notetaker, a data analyst, and general team members.
  • Current Action Plan: The work you do as a team is an on-going process. Your action plan documents where you are in the process and where you’re headed.

These two features — team membership and operating procedures — are your two must haves. Here is a list of 15 tips and tricks to help you organize your schoolwide team to be its most effective ever.

1. Consider Options for Family and Student Representation

Getting family and student voices as regular parts of your schoolwide team efforts is critical. It’s also impossible for one family member and one student to represent every student and family in your school. Having a family member and a student serve as standing members of your team is one way to ensure these voices are included in your decisions. There are others. Might we suggest regular focus groups, or conducting a School Climate Survey or a Feedback and Input Survey.

2. State Your Purpose

Your purpose defines why you do the work you do. Why are you sitting around the meeting table? Why do we look at data each time? The answers to these questions help define your purpose; they compel, motivate, and unify your team to complete the goals you set out to achieve. If you’re looking for a place to start defining your why, the Great Lakes Equity Center offers the charge to make educational equity your ultimate purpose. They define this to be:

“When educational policies, practices, interactions, and resources are representative of, constructed by, and responsive to all people such that each individual has access to, can meaningfully participate, and make progress in high-quality learning experiences that empowers them toward self-determination and reduces disparities in outcomes regardless of individual characteristics and cultural identities.”5

3. Co-create Your Norms

It’s possible when your team comes together, you immediately have a comfortable way of communicating with each other. However, it’s more likely, especially on teams with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and lived experiences, that you’ll need to establish some norms. Norms to establish might include:

  • How will you handle differences of opinion?
  • How will you bring up new issues or questions?
  • What process will you use to make decisions?
  • What are our processes and expectations for before, during, and after meetings?

4. Even the Playing Field

When you look around the table, you’ll see everyone in your schoolwide community represented. That means your administrator might sit next to a student; a librarian sits next to a 10th grade history teacher. It’s important to recognize not everyone seated around the table has the same authority within your school’s organizational structure, but everyone shares the same responsibility and commitment within the team. If you’re someone who comes to the table with more power in your school context, look for more opportunities to listen and uplift the voices around you.

5. Include All Voices, Especially the Contrary Ones

Making decisions with people who share perspectives similar to your own is easy, but hardly anything revolutionary ever happened easily. When you add the voices of those impacted by your decisions, particularly those who have been negatively impacted by existing systems, the solutions you implement are more vibrant, considered, and complete. These dynamic conversations build on schoolwide strengths and create a school culture that’s more inclusive and representative of everyone inside it.

To do all of this, might we also recommend you…

6. Invest in Outside Help to Facilitate Conversations

We love coaches. They make all the difference between implementing PBIS versus sustaining it over the long haul. A critical aspect of your team’s objective is to achieve equitable outcomes for all students. That work must start by uncovering why the systems are inequitable in the first place and changing any deeply held beliefs and assumptions you might have.6 That work is personal, emotional, and complex. We’d recommend investing in an experienced coach who can help your team create the safe space necessary to navigate those conversations.

7. Save the Date and Time…

Once you know who will be on your team, the next tricky step is coming up with a dedicated, regular date and time for your meeting. Everyone on your team has their own schedule and set of logistics. Finding a common time where everyone can attend at least 80% of the meetings is challenging, but not impossible. Get that recurring meeting on everyone’s calendar and by the third meeting everyone should be around. Save that date and time now…

8. …And Make Sure Your Administrator Can Be There

The administrator’s role on teams is the role most frequently cited in research impacting a team’s performance.7 As you make decisions and look to implement changes to the way your school operates, you need to have someone on your team with the authority to approve those ideas. If your team meets at a time your administrator regularly cannot attend, or your meeting isn’t at the top of their priority list, you will have gone through your entire decision-making process only to find yourself at a dead end when there isn’t someone there to clearing a path to implement it.

9. Gauge the Interest Level

The TFI tells us who needs to be on your team and the knowledge you need represented. What it doesn’t tell you is: Sometimes a person can check all the boxes, but they just don’t want to be part of the group. That’s ok, as long as you know that up front. Some questions to ask potential team members are:

  • Do you have time in your schedule to participate?
  • How many other teams or committees are you already on? How would this team fit in with that work?
  • Have you made team-based decisions before and are you interested in that type of collaboration?

You want team members who bring diversity of thought and experience, who work well as collaborative teammates, and who really want to be there.

10. Make It Interdisciplinary

The decisions you make as a schoolwide team will affect your schoolwide community. Because of that, you want the team you assemble to represent your school. Combinations of general education and special education teachers, administrators, specialists, support staff, and others are all great examples of people to consider as part of your schoolwide team.

11. Use a Table

No, not a literal table in the room…although make sure you have one of those. We’re talking about your agenda. We've learned that formatting your minutes in a table makes it easy to see who is responsible to do what and by when. We use an agenda format based on the Team Initiated Problem Solving model with the agenda at the top and the minutes written up in a table underneath.8 The table's headers are:

  • Agenda Item
  • Discussion Points
  • Decisions
  • Who (will do what)
  • When (they’ll do it)

The table helps us organize the thoughts clearly so all we have to do is scan the list for our names to remember what we agreed to do before the next meeting.

12. Add a Virtual Option

Times are different now. Meetings happen in person and virtually. If your team has decided to meet in-person, it’s a good idea to add a Zoom link to that calendar invite, or a Teams link, or a smoke signal…just in case.

13. Set and Send the Agenda in Advance

Don’t let the agenda be a surprise. Send it around before your meeting. In our office, we do a call for new agenda items a few days in advance and then send around the agenda for the meeting at least the day before we meet. Getting these things early helps everyone show up to the meeting fully prepared.

14. Save Your Minutes in a Shared Space

It’s a good practice to save your minutes in a place where anyone on your team can access them. Google Docs. OneDrive. Sharepoint. In your school, I’m sure you know exactly where your minutes can go. The shared folder ensures you can remind yourself what you agreed to do in the meeting once you leave the room. It also helps the back-up notetaker access the minutes from the previous meeting if your regular notetaker is absent.

Speaking of backups…

15. Back Each Other Up

If you only have one data analyst on your team, what happens when that person is out for a meeting or two? Do you just not look at data until they get back?

No!

The answer to the problem is to cross-train your team members. Make sure every role on your team has a person who can fill in. Even the administrator! See if you can get another person with the authority to approve decisions to attend your meeting if you know the administrator on your team isn’t going to be able to make it.

Out of the 15 foundational features of PBIS, two relate to your schoolwide team: Team Composition and Team Operating Procedures. Team composition is about who is on your team. Make sure your administrator and your schoolwide systems coordinator are committed members. From there, build your team to represent your larger schoolwide community. You’ll need someone to analyze your data, someone who understands the basics of how behavior works, someone who knows the way your school operates, and someone who can coach you through your implementation. Your team operating procedures define how your team works together. Decide how you’ll conduct your meetings, where you’ll save your agenda, minutes, and action plan. Assign your team members roles and responsibilities for before, during, and after your meetings. From there, it’s up to you to tailor your team to fit within your school’s culture and overall organization.

1. Rosenfield, S., Newell, M., Zwolski Jr, S., & Benishek, L. E. (2018). Evaluating problem-solving teams in K–12 schools: Do they work?. American Psychologist, 73(4), 407.
2. Wesley A. Sims, Kathleen R. King, June L. Preast, Matthew K. Burns & Sarah Panameño (2023): Are School-Based Problem-Solving Teams Effective? A Meta-Analysis of Student- and Systems-Level Effects, Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, DOI: 10.1080/10474412.2023.2232785.
3. Romer, N., Hollins-Sims, N., Owens-West, R., Perales, K., Walrond, N., Payno-Simmons, R., & McIntosh, K. (2023). Centering equity in data-based decision-making: Considerations and recommendations for leadership teams. Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd and the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
4. CalTAC PBIS, MTSS Implementation Workbook: F. Step 1 Teams.
5. Anderson, A., Macey, E., Hart-Tervalon, D., Skelton, Sm. M., & King Thorius, K. (2019). Equity Dispatch: Classic Edition – Educational Equity. Great Lakes Equity Center. https://greatlakesequity.org/resource/equity-dispatch-classic-edition-educational-equity (Original work published 2012)
6. Romer, N., Hollins-Sims, N., Owens-West, R., Perales, K., Walrond, N., Payno-Simmons, R., & McIntosh, K. (2023). Centerin gequity in data-based decision-making: Considerations and recommendations for leadership teams. Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd and the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
7. Rosenfield, S., Newell, M., Zwolski Jr, S., & Benishek, L. E. (2018). Evaluating problem-solving teams in K–12 schools: Do they work?. American Psychologist, 73(4), 407.
8. Todd, A. W., Newton, J. S., Horner, R., Algozzine, B., Algozzine, K. M. (2015) TIPS 2 Meeting Minutes Form. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, Educational and Community Supports.
Megan Cave

About

Megan Cave

Megan Cave is a member of the PBISApps Marketing and Communication team. She is the writer behind the user manuals, scripted video tutorials, and news articles for PBISApps. She also writes a monthly article for Teach by Design and contributes to its accompanying Expert Instruction podcast episode. Megan has completed four half marathons – three of which happened unintentionally – and in all likelihood, will run another in the future.