How to Manage Virtual PBIS for Distance & Remote Learning


In the last few months Covid-19 has shifted all of our worlds. Our day-to-day activities have drastically changed along with how we engage with each other. This has directly impacted how students and families experience school. 

Students are not waking up to catch the school bus to their school buildings but instead many are having school in their homes. Homework and instruction have become a task for teachers and parents and I believe everyone is doing what they can to support learning through this change. 

This change happened quickly, and school staff have been making rapid decisions to adjust schooling for students. The good news is, many schools have been participating in some type of remote learning, online learning, e-learning, all code-names for distance education, to supplement instruction. Web apps and videos were being used as teaching resources even when distance was not a challenge. 

Teachers are delivering instruction with different e-learning tools and resources to understand what’s the best for their students. With support from school administration, we are seeing distance and remote learning become more innovative. Like any new practice, there are some challenges with access and resources, however the positive is that distance and e-learning offers some formal instruction for students during this time.

→ Manage your school culture programs via distance and remote learning, check out our PBIS Playbook and PBIS Behavior Tracking Template

Remote Learning + PBIS

The PBIS framework is used in schools and classrooms to improve social climate and emotional competence while impacting academic achievement and student behavior. This should continue in virtual learning spaces. Clear engagement expectations for learning are important in the virtual classroom. Minimizing distractions and encouraging positive interactions and good use of the tools will increase student learning. If these norms are consistent with traditional classroom behavior it will make the adjustment easier. Setting up these norms will require some reinforcement.

Below are some tips to help you manage PBIS in our digital spaces.

Be flexible

Setting up the classroom schedule will require some flexibility. Offer time during the virtual classroom for students to socialize with each other. Students are missing their friends and classmates and seeing them via a screen may spark some excitement. If you spend time during the beginning of the class having students share good news, ideas, or exchange greetings, they can release some of their energy. Leverage some previous class icebreakers and activities to engage students at the start of the class. 

Set Expectations

PBIS encourages consistently establishing expectations in the traditional classroom and this is equally as important in the digital environment. Encourage students to use some of the virtual features to manage their actions like the chat feature, raising hand feature, turning on video and using the mute button as necessary. Not only should you set expectations for students to use these, but also give clear instructions on how they are to be used. Plan to share digital platform instructions and expectations so families can support and reiterate the virtual classroom norms with students. 

The Center on PBIS provides an example of a behavior matrix that clearly explains student expectations for the virtual classroom.

Track Behaviors

Teachers can continue to use their tools to track student behaviors. Students can earn points for completing work on a digital platform, for engaging with their peers and for positive behavior during instruction. If trackers were used in the traditional classroom, think about how they can be adjusted to represent the behaviors evident in the virtual learning classroom.

Incentives and Rewards

In the virtual classroom, students still deserve praise and incentives. Teachers should use verbal affirmations and fun emojis to praise students for practicing their norms and engaging with the content. Use physical boards that are visible to students to see you mark their good behavior with tally marks or stickers. Incentives can also be whole-group reward events like hosting a snack with the class or show and tell during class time.

Connect with other Teachers

PBIS works great for teacher teams and ultimately schoolwide staff. Teachers are not in classrooms next door to each other and will have to find time to meet in a virtual environment to share their best practices and challenges related to PBIS implementation. During this time, share ideas about how to improve student learning and be creative together. You are not alone in this and the development of supportive teacher communities helps with reinforcing the school norms in a digital setting. As teachers begin to expand their use of PBIS, encourage one another to focus on the positive outcomes from their students. Take notes on what works and use that data to inform future classroom norms. 

Maintaining your PBIS initiative may seem difficult but it can, and must, be done. Implementing consistent structures and norms alongside incentives and rewards will encourage positive outcomes. Additionally it provides a sense of normalcy for students as they adjust to this new classroom learning. PBIS makes this transition easier and provides some structure for students and families. This will help with having more productive virtual classrooms in hopes of seeing an increase in academic achievement.