Teach By Design
Apr 13, 2021

PBIS Practices Pave Your Path to Recovery

​Walk with us on a journey through the past year as we explore the four phases of crisis recovery and how PBIS practices supported us every step of the way.

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I found this meme as I scrolled through Twitter last week. Adam driver describing the four stages of watching kids put on their shoes all by themselves.

  1. The first stage is uncertain and full of questions. How is this going to go? How long will it take?
  2. In the second stage we offer suggestions. “Remember, the squirrel goes around the tree and through the hole.”
  3. By the third stage, suggestions turn into orders and then they undo the laces and start over. Stage three is never a proud moment.
  4. When we get to the fourth stage, we give in, pull up a seat on the sofa, and get sentimental watching their little fingers persist in unlocking the milestone.

Memes are one of my favorite parts of the internet. They’re so simple – often just one image with a sentence – and yet they speak directly to some collective experience and make us feel a little more seen in the world.

When something happens and life spins out of control, it helps just to know that you’re not alone, that the feeling you're feeling is not only shared by others, but expected and normal for the moment you’re in. That’s what The Center on PBIS’ Phases of Crisis Recovery[1] did for me.

Authors Steve Goodman, Jennifer Freeman, Brandi Simonsen, and Susan Barrett developed the phases of recovery through their work supporting schools through different crises like natural disasters and school shootings. The first iteration of their work came back in 2018 at the PBIS National Implementer’s Forum during a roundtable discussion.[2] Their purpose was clear: If we’re creating safe, predictable, supportive places where students will likely spend 12 years of their lives, schools should also play an integral role in helping our community recover after a significant event.

From that initial conference in 2018 came the more contemporary version published just this last February. No matter the crisis your school or community goes through, there are four stages we all experience on the road to recovery.

This last year is no different.

While it may have felt like one, long, never-ending period of time, this past year actually occurred in a series of phases.

  • Immediate Crisis Response
  • Initial Recovery
  • Intermediate Recovery
  • Enhanced Implementation

Each phase comes with a context, an emotion or two, and a focus for the actions we take. Whether you realized it or not, you likely experienced a year broken up like this, too. In fact, as you keep reading, you’ll probably be able to point to one of them right now and say “Hey look! It’s me!” Traveling from one phase to the next isn’t totally linear. You can jump back and forth between them as your context shifts…and let’s be real, there wasn’t anything more reliable about this year than it’s ability to shift when you least expected it.

A crisis doesn’t have to be global or last more than a year to be disruptive. Sometimes, a crisis affects your entire district; sometimes it impacts a single neighborhood. Some take a week to recover from; others take a month. The reality is, this pandemic will end and when it does eventually something else – big or small – will take its place. There’s nothing quite like a year-long global pandemic to make you feel more prepared to handle the next disruption. So let’s look back on the experience.

  • How did these four phases play out?
  • How did your PBIS implementation support you along the way?
  • What are the practices you’ll take with you from now on?  

Immediate Crisis Response: Get Organized and Share What You Know

Waiting Meme.png

Think back to where you were in March 2020 when the World Health Organization announced a global pandemic. Do you remember the day your school closed? Masks, social distancing, and learning pods, were not yet part of our active vocabulary. Instead we went home, closed the doors, and waited for more information on what to do next.

Only, no one knew what came next.


You were in the Immediate Crisis Response phase. According to the guide, at this phase “educators, students, and their families may be confused, anxious, or scared about the initial approach to educational programming following the crisis.”

When you’re in this phase, there are two actions to take: Ensure safety and communicate.

Making sure everyone is safe feels like a given, but it needs to be said. I would argue the second action – communicating with the people who need to hear from you – might be just as important. Accurate, consistent information is a great way to combat the uncertainty and anxiety of the moment. Get your team together. Identify who needs to hear from you and create a list. Think about what they need to know, when they need to know it, and how you’re going to tell them. Get your thoughts into a table and voila – you have yourself a communication plan. Update it often.

Who What Questions Do They Have?
How Will We Tell Them? When Will We tell Them?

​​​Come up with a consistent communication schedule, too. For example, if people know they’ll hear from you every Friday, they might be more inclined to hold onto their question and see if you answer it in that email. Communicating what you know, what you don’t know, and how you’re going to get answers is so useful at this point in your recovery.

PBIS Practices to Support the Immediate Crisis Response

  • Focus on immediate safety needs.
  • Get your School-Wide PBIS team together and restart your team meetings ASAP.
  • Decide on a communication plan and schedule.
  • Continue to collect questions to address in upcoming communications.

Initial Recovery: Start the Basics

When you get into the Initial Recovery Phase, some form of school is happening. There are safety protocols in place. The information you give out starts to shift focus. You move beyond making sure everyone is safe and accounted for and you start to focus on implementing the practices necessary to make the minimum happen. You may not have all the pieces in place, but you have enough information and resources to start.

During our Initial Recovery Phase, we set up our virtual meeting schedules. Our IT department worked with us to get us the technology we needed to do our jobs from home. My dining room table became my office around this time, too. It was also the point in the year when we got our first phone call from our daughter’s teacher to check in on how we were doing, and she sent home a behavioral matrix for Zoom school.

Behavioral expectations are such a critical component of your PBIS implementation. During this phase, it’s such a simple move to update those expectations for your new context and send them to everyone in your school. Recruit family members to add their input on the modified matrix. Ask them what they think about requiring cameras to be on during Zoom class. What would they offer as an alternative to that requirement? The initial recovery phase requires collaboration. Everyone needs to give each other a little grace, show empathy, and remember to ask for help from the people who care about your school and your students.

PBIS Practices to Support the Initial Recovery Phase

  • Focus on Tier 1 practices.
  • Update behavioral expectations to match your new context.
  • Modify classroom management strategies.
  • Recruit input from families and community members.

Intermediate Recovery – Provide More Support

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The defining features of the Intermediate Recovery Phase are subtly different than the previous one. The best way I can describe it is to have you close your eyes and remember what it was like in April or May of 2020. Now, jump ahead in time and compare that experience to what it was like when you returned to school in August or September. In both timeframes, school was in session. Safety protocols were well in hand. By the beginning of fall term, we had more experience navigating a new normal.

Your experience lets you support others more fully and in ways you couldn’t during the Initial Recovery Phase. This is the time to focus on firming up your school-wide systems and begin implementing Tier 2 and Tier 3 practices. These are the strategies that give students more practice with social skills, more interaction with adults, and more support based on the function of their behavior.

Now isn’t the time to try brand new practices, but it’s a great time to restart the ones you put on pause. You likely know which students would benefit from additional support and if you don’t, use your Tier 1 data to help you identify them.

For example, CICO is a great Tier 2 intervention to restart in this phase – it doesn’t take a lot of resources or time and can be adapted to work in a variety of contexts. Helpful modifications like recruiting family support, expanding incentives to include activities beyond school, and updating point cards to include home routines not only made CICO work in the moment, they also strengthened the connection between school and home.

PBIS Practices to Support the Intermediate Recovery Phase

  • Use Tier 1 data like office discipline referrals as a screening tool to identify students needing additional support.
  • Restart Tier 2 practices like CICO.
  • Restart Tier 3 practices like functional behavioral assessments to determine how to best support student needs.
This phase is the time when you let yourself consider what it would be like to abandon an old way of doing something and embrace the modifications you made during the crisis. When you look back over the things you did to make this year work, what was more successful than you thought it would be?

Enhanced Implementation – Reflect and Innovate

Michael Scott Reflection Meme.jpg

The last phase in the recovery is the Enhanced Implementation Phase. Things might not be back to what you would consider to be fully normal, but they’re close. Students are progressing in their academic and social development and receiving additional support when they need it. Everyone has come to terms with the crisis and they’re ready to make way for what the guide calls “a new beginning.”

While this phase happens toward the end of the crisis, it’s likely something you’ve been thinking about all along. The Enhanced Implementation Phase is the time when you look back at the changes you made to accommodate the crisis and you find out that some of them were pretty great. I asked our older daughter and her friend what they liked about this year compared to regular years. They liked:

  • Turning in their assignments through an app.
  • Typing their work instead of writing everything out by hand – apparently the Delete button on their keyboards was faster and more satisfying than an eraser.
  • Sharing their writing through Google Docs with their teacher.
  • Using less paper overall.

This phase is the time when you let yourself consider what it would be like to abandon an old way of doing something and embrace the modifications you made during the crisis. When you look back over the things you did to make this year work, what was more successful than you thought it would be? Are there things you prefer? Ask your students, staff, and families what they thought about the modifications you made.

Some practices to consider keeping as you move forward are the new ways you found to engage families in your PBIS implementation. Because so much of this year happened from home, including families and recruiting their help was essential in order to maintain some consistency. We saw schools add new family incentives to their CICO program. Schools offered guidance for what behavioral expectations look like at home. Teachers scheduled virtual office hours outside of class for students and families to check in. Districts reached out to everyone to be sure they had access to lunches, technology, and the resources they needed to feel supported and cared for during this strange time.

What did you do to engage with families this year? What is one practice you could carry forward from now on?

PBIS Practices to Support the Enhanced Implementation Phase

  • Review data collected throughout the crisis to determine which practices worked best. Data to consider in your review include office discipline referrals, survey data like the School Climate Survey or Tiered Fidelity Inventory.

When a crisis begins, it can seem as though you are wildly unprepared. It’s easy to think the chaotic time requires a brand-new solution when in fact the existing systems and practices you spent so many years putting in place can support you every step of the way. In the beginning, get your team together and start up those communications strategies you already had in place – newsletters, volunteer coordination, school- and district-wide phone calls. When the immediacy of the moment has passed, lean on your school-wide practices like defining behavioral expectations to create consistency. Once your core practices are in place, expand your effort to include your Tier 1 systems more broadly and start focusing in on your Tier 2 in 3 practices to support students in deeper ways. By the time the crisis has passed, you might just find that some of the modifications you made along the way actually improved your implementation.

1.  Goodman, S., Freeman, J., Simonsen, B., & Barrett, S. (February, 2021). Supporting PBIS Implementation Through Phases of Crisis Recovery. Eugene, OR: Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. www.pbis.org
2.  Byun, S., Freeman, J., Sugai, G. (March 2019). PBIS forum 18 practice brief: Preventing & responding to violent behavior in schools. Eugene, OR: OSEP TA Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. Retrieved from www.pbis.org.

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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.