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Leading Edge Blog

How Do We Sustain Effective Practices in a Pandemic?

Guest Blog by: Dr. Kent McIntosh, Director of Educational and Community Supports, College of Education at the University of Oregon

Have you ever been really excited about a new, promising school initiative, only to see it disappear? If you have, you're not alone. The average school initiative has a low likelihood of sustaining past a couple of years at most. Unfortunately, even effective practices fall into this trap. Just because a practice improves student outcomes doesn't mean that it is more likely to be sustained. And that's not even considering the pandemic we are all currently facing.

The good news is that we now have research showing that we can sustain effective school practices, and that there are specific steps that school and district teams can take to increase sustainability. One example is school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). The PBIS framework has been implemented and sustained in over 25,000 schools across the country.

So what is it that makes the difference? Our research shows there are a few key steps that we can take to keep using good practices. The first approach is implementing as a team instead of individuals (McIntosh et al., 2018). Relying on a champion can help get practices started, but those practices are at greater risk when that champion moves on.

The second is regular use of data for decision-making (McIntosh et al., 2016). It's important not only to collect data (including both student outcomes and fidelity of implementation), but also to use it for decision making. Teachers need to know that the data they take the time to provide (e.g., office referrals, implementation surveys) is actively being used and shared back with them regularly (McIntosh et al., 2015).

Third, research shows that when we are more likely to sustain individual practices when we implement them within larger systems like PBIS (Good et al., 2011; Meng et al., 2016). So, what does that mean for us in the "new normal" of education? Although the location and our routines may vary, the same strategies still work – implementing as a team, using data for decision making, and relying on existing systems instead of implementing standalone programs. The classroom may look different this year, but the ways we help students feel safe and respected can still work!


Good, C., McIntosh, K., & Gietz, C. (2011). Integrating bullying prevention into School-wide Positive Behavior Support. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(1), 48-56.

McIntosh, K., Kim, J., Mercer, S. H., Strickland-Cohen, M. K., & Horner, R. H. (2015). Variables associated with enhanced sustainability of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 40, 184-191.

McIntosh, K., Mercer, S. H., Nese, R. N. T., Strickland-Cohen, M. K., & Hoselton, R. (2016). Predictors of sustained implementation of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 18, 209-218.

McIntosh, K., Mercer, S. H., Nese, R. N. T., Strickland-Cohen, M. K., Kittelman, A., Hoselton, R., & Horner, R. H. (2018). Factors predicting sustained implementation of a universal behavior support framework. Educational Researcher, 47, 307-316.

Meng, P., McIntosh, K., Claassen, J., & Hoselton, R. (2016). Does implementation of SWPBIS enhance sustainability of specific programs, such as Playworks? Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.