Building on Positive School Support with CPI

May 19, 2023
Female teacher showing a young student a tablet

Emilie O’Connor understands the importance of distinguishing between what we can and cannot control. As the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) coach and sole Certified Instructor for the Wauwatosa School District in Wisconsin, O’Connor has drawn on her prior experience as one of the district’s social workers to combine CPI methodology with the needs of each school to build positive relationships, increase behavioral and academic achievement, and decrease disciplinary issues overall.

Addressing School Needs with CPI Training

Educators face challenging behavior and potentially dangerous situations every day. While not every incident can be avoided, how we respond to aggressive, disruptive, or assaultive behavior, and how we deal with our own stress, anxieties, and emotions, greatly determines the safety of everyone involved, and profoundly impacts the relationships with those in our care. As taught in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, behaviors and crisis events do not occur in a vacuum (Rettmann, 2007).

Staff and educators in the Wauwatosa school district were looking to improve the following:

- A decrease in disciplinary issues throughout the schools
- An increase in academic achievements
- To create a positive school climate

To achieve these goals, the district selected Emilie O’Connor to be the CPI Certified Instructor and provide staff and educators with CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training.

CPI Training and PBIS Program for Student Success

PBIS is a strategy that paves the way for successful teaching. Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training is an approach to preventing and responding to the needs of children in that teaching and learning environment.

“It’s crucial,” O’Connor shared, “that people don’t view the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training as a separate system from PBIS. There are many Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® techniques that braid well with PBIS.”

Though a Certified Instructor’s primary role is to teach Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® content, Instructors whose organizations support the PBIS framework have found that by integrating Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training into PBIS strategies, positive change is more likely to occur.

Figure 1 shows several PBIS concepts that align with techniques in the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program. Recognizing this correlation as well as keeping methods consistent were powerful tools that aided both students and staff, reducing the risk of misunderstanding and confusion.


Figure 1: Excerpted from CPI’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® Training Program Alignment.

Instilling Verbal Intervention Strategies at Wauwatosa Schools

In every CPI training, O’Connor kept things hands-on, reviewing and revisiting techniques. She guided participants to talk about what worked and what hadn’t been working to help everyone hone their skills.

Teamwork was another integral part of the CPI training. In O’Connor’s case, it was essential that individual crisis response teams at each school worked together with teams across the district. That meant that everyone had to view training not as a single one-and-done event, but as a framework of care to embrace.

Another key element of CPI training was the focus on creating a common language to talk about strategies and approaches across the district. This helped reduce potential confusion and reinforced the idea that each part of the training was part of an evolving care framework.

O’Connor also recognized that what works at one school might not work at another, especially because of the rich diversity that the Wauwatosa school district enjoys.

A key method of reaffirming the tenets of PBIS and CPI training across cultures is to state rules in simple, positive terms. This creates a common ground for all students and staff, and the positive rules help guide students without using negative “don’t” phrases. Each of the 13 schools in the district posted their own rules relating to “Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe.”

Case Study: Wauwatosa School District
See how CPI training made a difference for staff and students throughout the Wauwatosa school district.

Supporting Student and Staff Success

Since integrating CPI training with PBIS, the Wauwatosa School District has experienced improvements to staff and student success.

  • Approximately 25% fewer office referrals at one high school
  • 2% decrease in students needing higher level supports in secondary school
  • 85-90% of students only needed Tier 1 support across all schools

O’Connor shared, “When you estimate that one office referral takes a minimum of 10 minutes of the teacher’s time, 15 minutes for the student, 20 for the administrator—and that’s not even counting the time lost for the rest of the class. You can see that this training helps you regain hundreds of hours to dedicate to your core mission. Teachers can focus on actual teaching again.”

The Wisconsin PBIS Network, a collaborative project funded by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has singled out four of the 13 Wauwatosa schools as “Schools of Distinction,” and two as “Schools of Merit,” for implementing CPI and PBIS.

Hallmarks include scores related to leadership and implementation. O’Connor is delighted that this focus has helped foster the commitment to implement PBIS and CPI across the entire system as well as position Wauwatosa as a role model for PBIS efforts. As of the end of the 2011–2012 school year, all 13 schools have staff trained in both the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program and the implementation of PBIS.

“People come up to me after going through training and say, ‘This is not what I expected, but totally what I needed. Why aren’t people giving this training every single year?’”

Originally published in 2012.

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