Behavior management is probably the hardest thing for teachers to learn and it is rarely taught in pre-service programs. Or, even if it is taught, it usually does not prepare you for each future child’s individual behavior. I have a blog post all on behavior management as a way to prevent misbehaviors, and another post highlighting the importance of teacher language. But what if all your tricks are just not working for one or two students? Well, you might want to consider a behavior plan.
Why behavior plans?
Behavior plans are meant to be with 1 to 3 students at most in a general education setting. They should be with students who consistently struggle with misbehaviors and your normal strategies are not working. Of course, a behavior plan is not the best strategy for all children and not all behaviors. You need to research the behavior and really understand the needs of the child before you create a chart.
Understanding the cause of behavior
You should keep track of how often the behaviors are occurring and see if there are any patterns in what triggers the behavior (antecedent), what the behavior is and when it happens (behavior) and what the reaction is (consequence) (ABC). In doing this research, you really want to narrow down the list of behaviors, which can sometimes seem endless, to a few of the neediest behaviors. For example, which behaviors occur the most and/or which are the most dangerous and/or disruptive. Then, when you start to understand the causes of behavior and the child more, you can decide what kind of behavior plan would best fit the needs of that child.
What should all behavior plans have?
Rewarding the good behavior
Behavior plans should be rewarding the good behavior – the behavior you expect to see. Behavior plans should only focus on 1-3 behaviors and they should be written in the positive form of what the child SHOULD be doing. Behavior plans should have rewards that are meaningful for the child. You should talk with the child to come up with rewards that they would like, but you should have some ideas brainstormed already in case they need support. These rewards should also be flexible – if something is more rewarding in the future, then you should change the rewards! There should be a few reward choices available, because often children who show many misbehaviors struggle with wanting more control, and so giving them choices whenever possible is a great strategy.
Trading-in with the Behavior Plan
All plans should have a system of trading in for the rewards. This system will vary, but what shouldn’t change is that when you are first starting out the plan, you want the child to have a high success rate. Then, as they get more successful and buy in to the plan (and are motivated by the plan) then you change the criteria to make it a little more challenging to earn the rewards. There should never be an all or nothing mentality. For example, we should not expect students to get 100% every day, because then one small mistake can escalate the child, who might be thinking, “I’ve already messed up and am not getting my reward, so what’s the point?”
Consistency is Key
All plans must be implemented consistently. If you can’t reward children every time you said you would, or consistently acknowledge their good behavior when they show it, then the plan will not be effective. If you can’t do it effectively on your own, then ask your school for help. They may or may not be able to help you, but they should understand that you are in charge of a classroom with many children who all need you. For example, I had a student that needed constant reinforcements and praising with tokens, and I was the only adult doing that. It was difficult, but manageable, to be giving out the tokens to the child. But, I couldn’t take the child to earn their reward trade-in’s (they loved playing basketball or going for walks or having extra recess), so we had a plan of staff who would be available to take the child on their trade-in’s consistently.
Additionally, behavior plans are a form of intervention. And, in order for them to really be effective, you need to try them for at least 6 weeks. You really shouldn’t give up or change them before trying them consistently for that amount of time, otherwise you won’t know if they are working or not. They take time for the children to buy in and to see change, so be patient!
Communicating the Behavior Plan with Families
Finally, all plans should have been communicated to parents before communicated to the child. You need parents on board with the plan and you do not want them to be confused and concerned when their child comes home talking about the special plan they are using. So, if those are all things that all plans should have, how do the plans differ?
Things to consider
How often do you trade in?
Most plans differ in how often children are trading in. You will get to know your students well to figure out how often they can wait before trading in for a reward. When in doubt, however, give more trade-in’s at the start and then take them away as the child becomes more and more successful.
I’ve had students who can trade in once at the end of the day, some that need two trade in’s, because they needed a fresh start after lunch. I’ve had students who needed a tangible goal, not just a time of day. So, for example, they would earn 5 tokens and then get to trade that in for a reward. Finally, I’ve had students who needed immediate rewards, so they would use something like an “If, then” where “if” they did one assignment or worked for a certain number of minutes, “then” they get to do a reward activity.
Format of the behavior plan – paper or tangible?
With most of my students that are on behavior plans, I use paper to track how they do over the course of the day. I fill in with stars or smiley faces when they are showing the goal behaviors. Then there is a certain number of stars or smiley faces they have to earn in order to trade-in. I like the paper plans because I can either keep it as data or send it home to the parents to keep them informed on the progress. Plus, as the only teacher of many students, it is easy to be consistent with.
However, some students need more tangible rewards. Some need physical tokens, or they need laminated pictures of their favorite movie character or car in order to be motivated by the plan. With these kinds of plans, students have a goal number of tokens they have to meet. Then, depending on the child, you can have students trade-in as soon as they make that make tokens, or you have them trade-in at certain times. If you have them trade-in at certain times, you want to give students several choices for rewards depending on how many tokens they have. This way, they are motivated to keep earning tokens, as opposed to just saying, “well I’ve already earned my 5 tokens so I don’t need to behave anymore!”
Guiding children’s behavior can be really hard, especially when one or two children’s behaviors are so explosive, dangerous, or disruptive to the class. Behavior plans can be a really effective tool when used correctly. Behavior plans must be created for the individual child, depending on their needs, motivators, and causes of behaviors.
I am more than happy to help brainstorm behavior plans with you. I do recommend you first try my Behavior Plan product on Teachers Pay Teachers, but then always feel free to send me an email or a DM on Instagram!