Foundations for Implementation

Culturally-Responsive PBIS

“PBIS is not fully implemented until it is culturally responsive.”

Leverson, M., Smith, K., McIntosh, K., Rose, J., & Pinkelman, S. (November 2016)

Culturally Responsive PBIS systems (CR-PBIS) are uniquely designed to fit the cultural backgrounds of the individuals they serve. This sometimes requires educators to change the way they think about, support, and address student behavior.


CR-PBIS systems are characterized by:

three school boys

Student-centered focus

“Culturally responsive practices utilize the cultural knowledge, life experiences, and learning styles of culturally and linguistically diverse students to make learning more relevant and effective for them” (Banks & Obiakor, 2015). A student’s unique cultural and learning experiences are used as the starting point for establishing expected behaviors and learning goals, not an afterthought.

hispanic school girl with muscular arms drawn on blackboard

Strengths-based perspective

Culturally responsive schools validate and affirm all student and family cultures, and focus on the strengths of each individual. Practices that frame students’ cultures in a negative light are avoided, and school personnel work to provide opportunities where culturally-based behaviors and language may be used and respected.

group of people at table working together

Authentic and meaningful collaboration

Culture is flexible and dynamic, and changes across settings, context, and time. Culturally responsive schools take steps to engage stakeholders from marginalized groups, ensuring that school practices and policies reflect ideas from all stakeholders, not just standing committee members or school and district personnel.

diverse group with hands together

Integration of staff, student, family, and community perspectives

Culturally responsive PBIS (CR-PBIS) systems are much more than an occasional expression of appreciation for diversity. Disciplinary procedures, behavioral lesson plans and reward systems will reflect students’ and families’ perspectives, and evidence of students’ cultures will be readily observed in hallways, classrooms and textbooks.

Girl with glasses thinking

Self-reflection as a regular part of professional practice

Culturally responsive practices require educators to learn more about their students’ backgrounds and engage in self-reflection to uncover personal biases that impact their understanding of others’ behavior. All behavior serves a function, and it is the responsibility of school staff to understand the ways in which “different” behaviors serve their students and families.

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Key Practices of Culturally Responsive PBIS

The PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide: Resources for Trainers and Coaches highlights key practices across five domains:

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culturally responsive pbs
  • Team composition
  • Faculty involvement
  • Student/family/community involvement
  • Professional development that supports educators to learn about their own identities and biases
  • Team operating procedures
  • Discipline policies
  • Classroom procedures
  • Feedback and acknowledgement
  • Behavioral expectations
  • Teaching expectations
  • Problem behavior definitions
  • Feedback and acknowledgement
  • Data-based decision making
  • Discipline data
  • Fidelity data
  • Annual evaluation


  • Leverson, M., Smith, K., McIntosh, K., Rose, J., & Pinkelman, S. (in press). PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide: Resources for Trainers and Coaches. OSEP TA Center on PBIS.
  • Banks, T. & Obiakor, F.E. (2015). Culturally Responsive Positive Behavior Supports: Considerations for Practice. Journal of Education and Training Studies, (3), 2, pp. 83-90.
  • Andreal Davis, Michelle Belnavis, Kent Smith (n.d.). Beginning to Examine Universal Practice through a Culturally Responsive Practices Lens. (search = “equity”)