You’ve tried all your tricks. You’re fed up with the behavior of a student. You need help.
You need an individualized behavior plan.
What is an individual behavior plan?
Individual behavior plans are just that – individual. They are tailored to the needs of the student. They allow you to provide explicit, targeted feedback on behavior and provide reinforcement that meets the student’s needs. This is important in response to all four functions of behavior, but with attention, behavior plans can be a way to build in a tight structure for lots of teacher-student interaction.
Why might you want to create an individual behavior plan?
You would want to create an individual plan if you felt like nothing else was working. If you’ve tried strategies that worked with other students and it’s not resulting in the progress you’d expect, it’s time to tailor your approach. Severe behaviors also warrant a behavior plan – violent outbursts, refusal to do work, lack of evidence of any work completion, disruptive behaviors that affect the entire climate of a classroom community, etc. If you’ve tried at least a couple of these 10 things and things only seem to be worse, it’s time to move forward with a plan.
What if they have an IEP and the SPED teacher should do it?
For the students I’m describing below, most of them had IEPs and therefore had a SPED case manager. The thing was that they spent most of the day with me, so I was the one who had to deal with it. Their case manager (who I love) did have a rewards system that was more mild and just for everyone. While that’s enough for some kids, it was not enough in these cases. I was looking for something far more rigorous to make the change. While I could have delegated this to the case manager, it was more effective when I did it. Also, one of my all time favorite classroom management responses is:
“You can either complain that you shouldn’t have to teach them how to behave or you can teach them how to behave.”
What do I need to know before creating a plan?
First, you’ll want to make a few decisions.
- What will be the reinforcer that drives the behavior? What incentive will be motivating? Ask the student! Is it candy? Chips? A fidget? A toy? Lunch in the classroom? Computer time for 10 minutes? (Keep in mind behavior plans are intended to be limited not indefinite and the period between reinforcers should grow over time)
- How often will they earn the reinforcer? Is this something they can earn every day? Every class period? Every other day? Every week? (It’s better to start more often then fade out).
- Is this solely incentive based or also punitive? In other words, if they don’t meet the goal, is there a negative consequence? Can someone earn and lose points or tokens? Do you need two separate systems? One punitive and one incentive based?
Next, you’ll want to gather a little data. You can brain dump the following, record your classroom or use a tally sheet or something similar to get quantitative data.
- What specific behaviors do you notice?
- What emotions seem to be shown by the student?
- Are there any patterns that have developed?
- How often does the behavior occur? Is this tied to patterns?
- What is the function of the behavior? I find these behavior plans work best for attention seeking behaviors.
So what might this student who needs a behavior plan look like?
Here are a few scenarios that would warrant a plan:
Student A: They call out in class consistently. They push others in the classroom. Other students avoid them. They use baby talk and act childish. They act as if they don’t know their own body space or their own strength, and it’s hard to tell if they really don’t know or if they are hurting others on purpose. They exhibit a disruptive behavior about every 10 minutes.
Student B: They avoid work and often sit in class without completing anything. They avoid teacher assistance and reject support. They often do not interact with others and instead withdraw. Sometimes, they will participate, but they dislike praise that others can hear. They rarely speak in the whole class but will sometimes speak to peers. They walk away from teachers and show disrespect. It has been difficult to track their behavior because they’ve had good days that have shown promise but then it’s back to square one.
Student C: They do not follow routines and procedures. They are tardy. They get up when it is not appropriate. They walk over to other desks and purposefully destroy student property. They use technology inappropriately. They are silent and sullen, then dramatic and overbearing. They emotionally attach to some students and teachers, while they reject others. They destroy classroom property when upset or frustrated. Their behavior is inconsistent and unpredictable.
Student D: They are diagnosed with ADHD and have significant trouble focusing on tasks at hand. They often call out and are disruptive. They struggle to complete tasks. They get frustrated with peers when they can’t work well with others and have difficulty solving conflicts. They require mediation from the teacher in order to initiate tasks, to persist through tasks, and have a growth mindset about mistakes and struggles. They need check-ins or changes in tasks every 15 minutes.
In each of these scenarios, there are multiple needs. That’s why an individual behavior plan is needed. This is something that’s happening throughout the course of a day, across multiple content areas, and/or exhibiting itself in multiple contexts and showing up in a variety of behaviors. Some sort of tracking of the behaviors will help you develop a plan since you want to consider what negative actions are occurring and which behaviors you want to see occur in the future. A tally sheet can be beneficial for analyzing the behaviors that are occurring. While it requires planning and time set aside to analyze, recording the classroom can be a very valuable resource before jumping into a plan.
What might an individual behavior plan look like?
There are many structures that would work for an individual behavior plan.
Let’s go back to Student A. After recording this student, the outbursts can be analyzed to be about every 10 minutes. Prior to recording, this felt like it was constantly happening. 6 times in an hour class is often, so that’s why it felt like it was happening all the time. Now that that information is at hand, I need to pick a number that is more frequent than the outbursts so that I’m providing reinforcement more often than the behavior was taking place. This is necessary for the prevention of the behavior. I chose 8 minutes in this instance. The school day was broken up into segments of 8 minutes which means that each class period had 5-7 opportunities for checking in. The whole school day had a certain number as well (35ish). This calculation can be a starting point for deciding what will be the number that is needed to “pass” for the day. With this student, I started with 3-4 per class period which meant only 15 total. That means that 15 of those 35 check ins needed to be moments when I saw that the student was on task, doing what they were supposed to be doing. That’s a low goal. It is not the end goal. The end goal is more like 30, but that’s not going to happen right away.
In order for this student to know what behaviors I was looking for, I had to be descriptive in showing exactly what I wanted to see. I included the reversal (positive) statements of behaviors I saw as lacking as well as behaviors that were already being exhibited that I wanted to maintain. The behaviors I wanted to see from this student included:
- Appropriate response to praise (thank you or silence)
- Raising hand to share out whole class
- Focused on their work
- Staying in one spot during work time
- Hands to self
The student was given a copy of their list which was their behavior plan. It could be placed on their desk as a reminder or it could be something they just keep separate and out of sight of others. In this particular case, I used beads on a pipe cleaner to keep track of the points. Remember, they were only aiming for 15 at first, so they just needed 15 beads. Once they earned that for a few days, then I could level them up to 18 then 20 then 22. This is flexible, so it might need to go back down to 18 if they only got 14 one day, then up again to 22 once they mastered 20 again. Make sure that their goal is just within their reach. I knew with this student that I eventually wanted them to make it up to 30. When they had 5 consecutive days of meeting 30, I took them off the plan.
What if they get worse?
They will. I’m not kidding. When you’re implementing a behavior plan, there is likely going to be an “extinction burst”. In the world of behavior, this means that there is an increase in the undesired behavior prior to the stopping (extinction) of that bad behavior. Do not give up. This could last a week or so, but if you are vigilant, it will die off. They are testing your resolve and the plan. This is not actually as mean spirited as you might think. Often, these students have had many, many adults give up on them or prove themselves unreliable. They need to know their limits.
What if they never come off the plan?
You might be thinking that students don’t want to come off of the plan. I mean, if they’re getting a piece of candy every day for their good behavior, why would they want to? You might be surprised. I have had the most difficult students push themselves to increase the number they needed the next day. I offered 21 beads for instance and the student would tell me, “No, I can do 22.” Awesome! They are setting their own goals! I find that when students get to this stage of setting their own goals for their behavior, they’re pretty much ready to be off. They’ve seen the benefits in the classroom environment. Their peers like working with them, they have experienced more academic success, interactions with teachers are more fun and more enjoyable, and they now have a positive association to their behavior. If a student has a bad day after the behavior plan, I will tell them if they have another bad day that week, they’ll need to go back on it. I have never had to put a student back on a behavior plan once they met a high goal for 5 or 10 days (whatever I decided was needed). I have had to change behavior plans – taking them off of one and shifting them to a less intense version – but I’ve never had to go all the way back. They want to be independent. They want to succeed. Have these students had bad days post behavior plan? Yes. But they haven’t had bad weeks. And if you’ve experienced bad weeks upon weeks with students (which you probably have if you’re reading this), then you know how much of a relief it would be to not have to have that again.
Why am I only giving rewards? Shouldn’t they be punished?
I’ll go back to Student A for a moment. I also had a separate punitive plan set in place. Since the physical violence was still problematic (whatever the cause or reasoning), there had to be a system set in place since it required disciplinary action by the office. I had this set up as a green, yellow, red system. Green was no warnings. Yellow was 1 warning. Red meant going to the office. So, essentially, 2 strikes and you’re out. This involved a phone call home. Since this often occurred at recess or in the cafeteria, that often meant sitting out at recess or eating alone for lunch. If this happened in the classroom only, the separation by going to the office was enough. Also, I have used 3 strikes for students that exhibited some disrespect. If Student B said one of 5 or so phrases that I deemed disrespectful (“Go away”; “I hate you”; “I’m stupid/he’s stupid/she’s stupid”; “No” – to doing an assignment”) then they got a strike. Similar to 1, 2, 3 Magic, at 3, they took a break in another classroom. This particular student took a long time to develop a relationship with me, and if you thought those statements sounded harsh, those were nice compared to how they felt about basically any other teacher, so they really didn’t want to take a break in another room. I usually only had to say 1, and they stopped right away. They did want to be in the classroom with me and their class.
A punitive system for me needs to be separate from the incentive system. I tried giving and taking beads, points, counters, etc., and it usually didn’t even out the way I wanted it to. In the case of Student A: if red occurred one day, they could not earn their incentive. It never occurred to me that they could have earned their beads by the end of the day and still have gotten a red card, but it did happen once in a similar structure with another student. In that case, I had to still give them the reward. You might be thinking, “Hell, no, you didn’t. They broke the rules.” It’s important to keep in mind that this behavior contract is instilling trust in the student in you. Many of these kids have had many unreliable adult relationships or trauma. Student C, for instance, felt abandoned by her mother when she had to live with other family and had an extremely tense relationship at home. Their trust was broken; she did not trust me for the longest time. It is helpful to determine whether or not they could still earn a reward on a day they receive a consequence ahead of time or else the student will think it is unfair and will back away from the plan immediately. As soon as a student deems a plan unfair, you will have to essentially start over building that trust.
It is not okay to change a behavior plan without warning to the student.
For instance, it would be unfair for me to decide that just because the student is doing well, I’m going to bump up needing 15 to needing 18. Even if I confidently believe they can meet the 18, this is going to affect the trust in the plan. I have tried this halfway through a day, and it backfired. The student completely rebelled and bombed the rest of the day on purpose. It is far better for them to realize that they got 18 on their own and went above their goal and then decide that they can aim for 18 tomorrow than for you to pre-emptively choose the next goal.
What does a plan look like?
As I said, behavior plans can look like a lot of things. These are just the ones I have tried that have proven successful for me and my students. Feel free to make a copy of the google docs linked for 1 and 2 and edit them however you need. Even if it ends up not working for you, testing out someone else’s can be a great starting point. I am consistently going through iterations – I included a few in the document for you to see the variations I came up with. I’m going to start with the heavier, more intense plans and move to the less intense ones.
- Counters/Beads/other: (picture above) This is a system where you give students some sort of physical object that they can count that shows what they have earned and it can be added up throughout the day. This could even be tallies on a post-it note. I happen to like using pony beads on a pipe cleaner because the pipe cleaner keeps them from getting lost and the beads are easy to track but not expensive if some get lost. It also takes up a very small amount of space (can fit in a pencil pouch) and therefore it can be taken to different classes. I have given other teachers who see the student their own set of beads on a pipe cleaner so that they can give the student the beads they earned at the end of their class. With this system, I find the frequent check-ins to be the magic bullet. As I explained before, when I have recorded, I often found that students did interject about every 10 minutes. I found 8-10 minutes on a timer to be great. I set a timer for each of those pre-determined times on my phone and just walk by that student’s desk or look at them. If they were on task, quiet, doing what needed to be done, etc. I give them a bead and specifically state what I notice. For example, I might say, “I notice you’re doing exactly what you should be doing. I noticed you taking notes during our lesson. I saw that you got started right away. I noticed you’re keeping your hands to yourself. I see that you’re already halfway through the page. I noticed you’re working nicely next to your friend and staying on task.” If not, I redirect their behavior. I can often also just place the bead down on their desk without a comment (say, if I’m in the middle of a lesson) and it provides silent reinforcement. Are the alarms annoying? Kind of. Do they work? YES! I will take the annoyance.
- Behavior Checklist: This outlines the details of what a student needs to do throughout the day. It gives very specific tasks that need to be completed and behaviors that should be exhibited. This could be analyzed at the end of each class period (particularly if the student moves around to different teachers) or at the end of each day. When I did this, I did it at the end of each day. Students had to meet their goal every day at first and received a reward each day. Then, they moved onto 2 days in a row before a reward. Then, 3 days in a row before a reward. When they had all 5 in a row, they earned off their behavior plan. This requires some specific knowledge of what you’re noticing throughout the day but it can be helpful if students honestly don’t seem to know what the problem is. I found this offered a lot of clarity. It also provided excellent documentation of what occurred throughout the day. If you were trying to get an IEP related to behavior for a student, I would go this route.
- Sticker Chart or Pieces towards a whole: This could be done in a variety of ways. Students could be trying to get a certain number of check marks or smiley faces for each class period. This is different from the counting of beads or tokens because for each period, it’s either they earned it or not. Then, there could be a consequence if they don’t meet it and a reward if they do. My assistant principal shared a genius idea with staff where you take a picture, cut it up into funky pieces, then give the student one piece at a time throughout the day. The picture is of the reward they earned, and each piece adds to completing the puzzle. When they complete the puzzle, they get the reward. The immediacy of this and the simplicity of this is awesome. Some other more basic checklists could also do this.
- Behavior Scale or Rubric: If you changed the checklist to a generic rubric and gave them a score for each class period or each day, then you could easily rate their behavior to give them feedback. This is a pretty mild behavior plan but could help provide feedback, especially if you have parental support.
- Behavior Flow Chart: This is fairly basic but it lays out for the student what their personal rewards and consequences are. On a sheet of paper, you can list what would happen after the first warning, the second, the third. When would they write an apology letter? When would you call home? This is similar to a behavior contract you have with the whole class but might be stricter and/or more clearly laid out visually. This could also be used in conjunction with one of the above.
Ready to make your own?
Analyze the behavior of the student. Take data using a tally sheet or just brain dumping what you have noticed.
Decide on the type and frequency of the incentive. Get information from the student on what they’ll work towards.
Decide on the type of plan.
Decide what it will take to earn an incentive (remember to have low goals at first then increase them). Decide what will result in a consequence.
Use one of the templates provided (just click on any of the hyperlinks through this post) and edit to meet your needs.
Test it out! You can always change things.
Email me. Seriously, I am happy to help you come up with a plan. I know what it’s like to be frustrated with behaviors in the classroom, but you can do this.