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Data-based decision making
Mar 12, 2024

Anatomy of a Framework Part 7: Fidelity Data & Decision Making

Implementing PBIS means committing to the long-game, but when you do it with fidelity, you'll see results.

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We just got home from this year’s Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS) conference. If you’ve never been, the APBS conference is an incredible space highlighting the latest science, practices, and innovation in the field of behavior support. I learn something new every time I go. This year was no different.

Things kicked off with an incredible keynote presentation by Drs. Ashley Greenwald from the University of Nevada, Reno, and Shiralee Poed from the University of Queensland.1 The two of them walked us through the stages of implementation and how the schools/facilities they support navigated challenges along the way. They showcased PBIS as a framework flexible enough to fit in any context. We heard from a juvenile corrections facility implementing Check-in Check-out with great success, a psychiatric facility using PBIS as a way to introduce students to the systems they’ll find when they transition back to school, and a faith-based school embedding their core values and teachings throughout their PBIS implementation.

These organizations and so many of you, have found ways to take the three essential elements of PBIS with its 15 foundational features and make it work to support students across your unique settings. Even with all that variability and flexibility, science tells us we all follow the same four stages of implementation.

According to the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) there are four stages of implementation:

  • Exploration: In the beginning, there was exploration. We’re gathering information about what the framework is and what it will take to implement. Drs. Greenwald and Poed call this “the dating phase”.
  • Installation (sometimes known as the Preparation Stage): We’re thinking about what implementation will look like for us. We anticipate some of the challenges and identify ways to prevent them. We assemble our team, allocate resources, and create a plan. We’re preparing for the journey ahead.
  • Initial Implementation: We start doing the things we planned to do. We collect the data to monitor our progress and get coaching to improve our systems and practices. The framework begins to feel less like a diagram and more like us.
  • Full Implementation (sometimes known as the Innovation Stage): Our implementation is fully supported by leadership and our larger schoolwide community. We see the positive student outcomes we setout to achieve from the start. We look to our partners to connect our implementation to our larger community.

It’s easy to think of these stages as stairsteps — one following the other until you reach the top. The truth is: Implementation doesn’t end; it’s on-going.

At the APBS conference, during a presentation by Drs. Erin Chaparro, Kevin Filter, and Angus Kittelman, there was a moment I found myself saying, “Wait a second…”2 As they described the implementation patterns in rural schools, I noticed they described “initial implementers” as schools implementing PBIS for five or fewer years, and “full implementers” as those implementing PBIS for six or more years. I raised my hand and asked them, “Does that mean it could take six years before a school finds itself in that full implementation stage?” to which Dr. Chaparro said, “Good question. Yes.”

Think about that...

For any PBIS implementation to move into full implementation/innovation, it has to persist through teacher turnover, leadership changes, district initiative changes, budget fluctuations, and so much more. Implementing PBIS means you commit to the long-game, and when you do it with fidelity, you’ll see results.

The good news is:

  1. All this implementation science is baked right into the PBIS framework — you don’t need to worry if PBIS is an evidence-based practice…because it is.3
  2. Measuring fidelity is baked into PBIS, too.

The Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) has been our guiding light throughout this year-long exploration of the PBIS framework. It’s the one survey you take to measure your implementation fidelity across all three tiers of support. Taking the TFI every year gives you a way to monitor your progress over time and watch as your initial implementation sustains through to full, innovation status.

Collecting data about your implementation fidelity can be a simple as taking the TFI and looking at the reports...or, you could make a plan to use it as a tool to build momentum and keep your implementation going beyond that five-year mark. Here are some steps we recommend to get you started on your journey toward fidelity.

Start with a Schedule

For some schools, PBIS implementation is a districtwide thing. There’s a plan for implementing PBIS everywhere and it’s someone’s responsibility on the district leadership team to check in on progress throughout the year. The year kicks off with a team training event where your school gets a schedule with some important dates…including when to take the TFI, when to send School Climate Surveys out schoolwide, and how often your coach will review data with your team.

If this plan doesn’t come from the district, that’s ok, too. Your school can create a plan for the year with this same information. When you know the dates for these actionable items, get them in a shared calendar and add them to your team meeting agendas in advance so you don’t forget to do them when the day comes.

Review the Data

Fidelity data is a data-level feature of PBIS. The TFI one way to collect those data and see whether you’re doing the things you said you’d do. When it comes to analyzing and sharing out data patterns, we think it’s helpful to have a template to keep your analysis organized.

In PBIS Assessment, start by generating the TFI Scale and Subscale reports. What do you notice?

  • Did you take the TFI more than once this year? What differences do you see?
  • Have you improved in a specific tier?
  • Which subscales look well-established?
  • Which subscales could improve?

Take what you know about your school and dive a little further into those subscales. Generate the TFI Items report and choose 3-5 you want to shout out as accomplishments. Then, take the time in your meeting to really celebrate them! Don’t gloss over those items. They matter.

  • If your strategies worked, why did they work?
  • Can you replicate them in another area needing improvement?
  • Is there a way to build momentum in other areas based on these successes?

Then, for the items to improve, select a few for the team to consider adding to an action plan. If you select more than three items to discuss from your survey results, make sure you only add 2-3 to the action plan. More than three items to improve is overwhelming. Start small. Remember, PBIS implementation is a commitment to the long-game.

Create an Action Plan

The TFI comes with a template for creating an action plan…it’s at the end of the manual right before the appendices. Once your team knows its priorities for improvement, it’s time to make that action official. Add the action items along with who’s going to do what, by when, to the action plan. Revisit that plan throughout the year as you make your way through the work. At this point in the year, items on your plan will help you prepare for the upcoming school year.

It's likely the TFI isn’t the only thing driving your year-long action plan. Consider creating a larger action plan to bring together all the work you do across initiatives in one single document. Our friends over at Missouri Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support give us yet another great template to guide you through creating your comprehensive plan. This example walks you through Tier 2, but swap out the Tier 2 components for your Tier 1 TFI scales and you’re off to the races!

Conferences like APBS remind me just how expansive this framework can be. It’s important to hear experiences from people just starting out to colleagues who have sustained their efforts for nearly a decade. No matter where you are in your PBIS journey, know that implementation isn’t a straight line. We go back and forth between implementation stages all the time —exploring new ideas, preparing a way for new strategies, implementing those strategies, and sustaining that implementation for the long-term. If we are to do any of it, we’re going to need to track our progress. The TFI is one way to monitor your PBIS implementation fidelity. Start with a schedule. Take the TFI and review the data with your team. Then create an action plan to keep your progress moving forward. Three simple steps and you’re on your way…

1. Greenwald, A., Poed, S. (2024, March 6-8). Expanding the Landscape: Navigating a World of Possibilities Within Positive Behavior Support. [Conference keynote presentation]. APBS Conference, Chicago, IL, United States.
2. Chaparro, E., Filter, K., Kittelman, A. (2024, March 6-8). An Implementation Science Lens on PBIS: Recent Applications Across Tiers and Implementers. [Conference presentation]. APBS Conference, Chicago, IL, United States.
3. Sugai,G., & Horner, R. H. (2020). Sustaining and Scaling Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports: Implementation Drivers, Outcomes, and Considerations. Exceptional Children86(2),120-136. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402919855331

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Megan Cave


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.

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