Welcome to the Curriculum & Leadership Journal website.
To receive our fortnightly Email Alert,
please click on the blue menu item below.
Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
Follow us on twitter

Positive behaviour for learning: investigating the transfer of a United States system into the NSW Department of Education and Training Western Sydney Region schools

Mary Mooney
Brenda Dobia
Katrina Barker
et al.

Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) is a school-wide behaviour initiative currently in use at a number of western Sydney schools. It employs a whole school systems approach to address problem behaviour and reduce its effects on student outcomes and on the school community as a whole. PBL encourages positive behaviour from students, which has been shown to improve their self-concept and motivation to learn. PBL is an initiative of Western Sydney Region under the leadership of Lindsay Wasson, the Regional Director of the New South Wales Department of Education and Training’s Western Sydney Region (WSR).

The use of PBL has recently been evaluated through a collaborative study involving the WSR and researchers from the University of Western Sydney (UWS).

The PBL system

The PBL process commenced at selected schools in 2005 and has been progressively introduced to other interested schools in a process that is set to continue. While take-up is voluntary, more than half the schools in the region have offered expressions of interest in the program.

PBL has been adapted from the Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program developed in the USA. The Regional Director of WSR and the Regional Leadership Team, though impressed by the PBIS model, recognised that its focus on behaviour support needed to include overt emphasis on learning in order to appeal to WSR schools.

This regard for learning builds on the NSW Department of Education’s Quality Teaching framework (2003). Deriving from work in Queensland on theorising productive pedagogies, the framework is concerned with pedagogy that improves students’ outcomes. The Quality Teaching framework also sets out to build teachers’ own professional reflection on pedagogy and has come to inform many aspects of classroom practice and student support that relate to student behaviour and engagement.

PBL operates as a systemic umbrella for a broad range of programs in schools, including values education, anti-bullying, learning support teams, and Priority Schools and Priority Action Schools programs. The elements of this model can be applied across all years of schooling, K–12, and all curriculum areas.

The process employs coaches that provide a localised connection between the schools and the Region. Ninety-seven school-based and region-based coaches have volunteered across WSR since 2005. The coaches have helped participant schools transfer learning experiences in training sessions into practice in the schools. Coaching is essential in the PBL process to increase transfer of learning in the areas of needs assessment, evaluation, systems development and action planning.

The WSR’s approach to PBL has been acknowledged by other regions in New South Wales and at the State level. WSR staff members have been involved in assisting other regions to plan sustainable implementation of the initiative, and discussions are under way regarding the prospect of establishing a State-wide leadership team to support implementation in other regions.

Evaluation of PBL

The use of PBL has recently been evaluated through a collaborative study involving the WSR and researchers from the School of Education and the Centre for Educational Research at UWS, led by Associate Head of the school, Dr Mary Mooney. The WSR was represented in the research team by three staff and members of the Regional PBL Leadership Team.

The study involved a mix of survey and fieldwork methods to examine the project’s context, implementation and outcomes to date. The views of school staff, students and parents at 31 schools were obtained from both PBL schools and a control group of schools. A total of 2,723 students took part in the survey, from years 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. Some PBL schools had been implementing PBL for 18 months; others began PBL 6– 9 months prior to the study, while a further group consisted of recent volunteers. An important component of the research data was obtained through the School-wide Evaluation Tool (SET), an annual assessment that evaluates improvements in whole school systems of support to prevent problem behaviour.

More detailed case studies were undertaken at three schools, two of which had been implementing the program for 18 months, the third for less than one year. Data was collected through focus group discussions, individual interviews with students, their parents and teachers, and coaches. The researchers interviewed the Regional PBL Leadership Team as well as examining artefacts such as regional documents and conference presentations.

The researchers tracked what happened within schools when teams discussed and implemented the PBL process and how they adapted it for local circumstances. They explored how schools made adjustments and allowances, if any, for students of different cultural backgrounds. They also investigated how the notion of ‘shared responsibility’ between schools and communities was enacted and the role that students and families had in developing school behaviour priorities and practices.


Findings from the evaluation were grouped according to the four major research questions of the investigation.

How have schools implemented PBL? Which processes have schools found effective for their different contexts?

The schools participating in PBL were found to share several characteristics in the way they implemented the program. Firstly, they all applied the process in an internally consistent manner, achieved in part through use of common terminology and signage. Developing such consistency is explicitly addressed in PBL training. Secondly, the schools all included local examples in the training. Participating schools fed their experiences back to the Regional PBL Leadership Team which then documented these examples for inclusion in other schools’ training programs. Thirdly, coaches at all schools have helped participants apply PBL training in practice.

Differences in the implementation processes across the schools were found in the level of involvement of students in decision making, the degree of clustering between primary and high schools, and the level of staff ownership of the PBL process.

What effects are evident from students’ behaviour, motivation, self-concept and learning?

During the period 2005–2007 long suspensions rates decreased by 26 per cent in the high schools with the most extended experience of implementing PBL. In contrast, an increase in long suspension rates of 34 per cent had occurred in non-PBL high schools over this period. However, PBL had no obvious impact on student suspensions in primary schools, where there have been increases in short and long suspension rates in both PBL and non-PBL schools.

Attendance records did not seem to be sensitive enough to provide a strong test of PBL effects on student behaviour within the sample of schools participating in the research. Better student behaviour measures would enable more direct and specific assessment of changes in student behaviour following PBL implementation.

While schools’ levels of compliance with PBL implementation were high, there were only modest indications of effects on learning as demonstrated through improvements in motivation and academic self-concept. As PBL implementation moves into the next phase where classroom practices are a focus, further opportunities for assessing the effects of PBL on student learning should be followed up. 

School-wide improvement in behaviour management processes was found in schools at all phases of implementation of PBL, with the greatest improvement noted in primary schools and in schools that had been implementing PBL for a longer period of time.

How does the implementation of PBL impact on the attitudes of school staff, students and parents to learning and behaviour?

Overall, PBL has impacted positively on attitudes of the school community towards behaviour and learning. Some teachers have moved from an individual view of behavioural management towards a systemic, school-wide approach. School staff and some parents have adopted a more positive view of strategies used to promote desirable behaviour among students. To a certain extent, there were also perceptions that students’ attitudes towards academic work had also improved.

What changes are made to the PBIS model at a school and regional level as part of implementing PBL? For what reasons and to what effect?

The renaming of PBIS as PBL and its attendant emphasis on students’ academic learning were found to be important for success. Some schools were integrating the learning characteristics of the NSW Quality Teaching Framework with the behaviour characteristics of PBIS. This was important for coherence with existing initiatives and for maintaining a student-centred focus. Quality Teaching and PBL appear to work together well to achieve both positive behaviour and academic outcomes.


It is clear from the study that the introduction of PBL has made significant positive changes to the capacity of DET schools in WSR to respond effectively to students’ behaviour. It has provided a systemic framework that has enabled schools to track their management of student behaviour and has enabled schools to develop coherent whole school practices that enhance teaching practices and support positive behaviour. UWS plans to partner DET in conducting further research into the effectiveness of PBL across a wider cross-section of schools in order to further explore its effects on attitudes and the impact on quality of learning for students in primary, secondary and special schools.

This article consists of edited extracts from the report Positive Behaviour for Learning: Investigating the transfer of a United States system into the New South Wales Department of Education and Training Western Sydney Region schools, March 2008, written by Mary Mooney, Brenda Dobia, Katrina Barker, Anne Power and Kevin Watson of the School of Education, UWS, and by Alexander S Yeung, Centre for Educational Research, UWS. Also contributing to the report were the following officers of the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Western Sydney Region: Jill Schofield (PBL Coordinator), Anne Denham (PBL Officer), Gerry McCloughan (School Development Officer).

The web address for the full Report is http://arrow.uws.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/uws:132. It can also be accessed by title from the UWS Research Repository at http://arrow.uws.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Index.


Carr, EG, Dunlap, G, Horner, RH, Koegel, RL, Turnbull, AP, Sailor, W, Anderson, JL, Albin, RW, Koegel LK & Fox, L 2002, 'Positive behaviour support: evolution of an applied science', Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4 (1), 4–16, 20.

Fields, BA 2004, 'Productive pedagogies and discipline: the challenge of aligning teaching and behaviour management', Proceedings of Australian Association for Research in Education conference. Retrieved on 1 April, 2008, from www.aare.edu.au/04pap/fie04560.pdf.

Horner, RH, Todd, AW, Lewis-Palmer, T, Irvin, LK, Sugai, G & Boland, JB 2004, 'The school-wide evaluation tool (SET): a research instrument for assessing school-wide positive behaviour support', Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6 (1), 3–12. 

Hoy, WK & Woolfolk, AE 1993, 'Teachers’ sense of efficacy and the organizational health of schools', Elementary School Journal, 93, 355–372.

Lassen, SR, Steele, MM & Sailor, W 2006, 'The relationship of school-wide positive behaviour support to academic achievement in an urban middle school', Psychology in the Schools, 43 (6), 701–712.

Lewis, R 1997, The Discipline Dilemma, 2nd edn, The Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne.

–– 1999, 'Teachers coping with the stress of classroom discipline', Social Psychology of Education, 3, 1–17.

–– 2001, 'Classroom discipline and student responsibility: the students' view', Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 307–319.

Lewis, T & Sugai, G 1999, 'Effective behaviour support: a systems approach to proactive schoolwide management', Focus on Exceptional Children, 31(6), 1–24.

Lewis, T, Powers, LJ, Kelk, MJ & Newcomer, LL 2002, Reducing problem behaviours on the playground: an investigation of the application of schoolwide positive behaviour supports, Psychology in the Schools, 39(2), 181–190.

Lewis-Palmer, T, Sugai, G & Larson, S 1999, 'Using data to guide decisions about program implementation and effectiveness', Effective School Practices, 17 (4), 47–53.

Marsh, HW 1993, 'Academic self-concept. Theory measurement and research' in J Suls (Ed), Psychological Perspectives on the Self, vol 4, pp 59–98), Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

McInerney, DM 2003, 'Motivational goals, self-concept and sense of self: What predicts academic achievement? Similarities and differences between Aboriginal and Anglo Australians in high school settings' in HW Marsh, RG Craven, & D McInerney (Eds), International advances in self research (vol 1, pp 315–346), Information Age Press, Greenwich, CT.

McInerney, DM, Marsh, HW & Yeung, AS 2003, 'Toward a hierarchical model of school motivation', Journal of Applied Measurement, 4, 335.

OSEP Center on PBIS 2004, School-wide Positive Behaviour Support Implementers’ Blueprint and Self-assessment, University of Oregon, Eugene OR.  Retrieved on 28 January 2008 from http://www.pbis.org/tools.htm.

Shean, MB, Pike, LT & Murphy, PT 2005, 'The acquisition of social competence: An examination of factors influencing children’s level of social competence', The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 22, 2, 29–46.

Yeung, AS & McInerney, DM 2005, 'Students’ school motivation and aspiration over high school years', Educational Psychology, 25 (5), 537–554.


Subject Headings

New South Wales (NSW)
Educational planning
Teaching and learning
Behaviour management
Classroom management