Teachers are busy. Always. There’s more to do all the time and even when the work is done, there’s more you could do. Always.
In previous posts, I’ve explained the four functions of behavior and given some tips on how to identify the function. I’ve also discussed whole class management and some things you can do with all students to build a classroom community that’s healthy and functioning. No matter how great you are at classroom management, there will be times when you want to create individual behavior plans and when it’s necessary to the health of your classroom.
Individual behavior plans are a lot of work. I’ve used many in the past, and they work great! They have been my saving grace for multiple students, but they were not easy. When a student finally earned their way off of a behavior plan, I cannot tell you the elation I felt at having a student who was proud of the way they acted and didn’t need the constant reinforcement from me in the same way as on the plan. It honestly makes that work worth it. Still, it should a later step in the classroom management process because it requires so much work. Most students do not need daily behavior check ins, rubrics, points, etc.
If you can, I encourage you to wait on an individual behavior plan until you have tried to do the following:
- You’ve built enough of a relationship with the student that they are willing to check in with you. There are times when it’s taken me a couple of months to really break through with a student to build enough trust. They need to trust that I would follow through on my side of a behavior plan. A good behavior plan is going to have lots of teacher check ins. If they resist talking to you, this might get difficult. I had a student who honestly needed a behavior plan almost right away, but they were so resistant, I had to wait a long time to get there. Once I did, it was worth the wait.
- You’ve tried the 2×10 strategy. This is a simple strategy where you spend 2 minutes every day for 10 days in a row talking to a student who struggles. You just talk to them about anything they want to talk about for a couple minutes. If they aren’t responding and developing a conversation, just state something you notice about them. Let them know you’re paying attention.
- You’ve gotten to know their interests and likes. A reward will only work if it’s something the student truly wants. One student I had on a behavior plan loved his classroom job of taking out the recycling. If he didn’t meet his goal, he couldn’t do his job. I kid you not, this kid worked so hard so that he could take out the recycling. Get to know what they like and what they want to do. For another kid, it was air heads (the candy). Another kid loved chips – especially Doritos. I could have bought fancy fidgets for them or offered them to play games during lunch or given them extra computer time. Keep in mind that even if something sounds appealing to you, it might not be the best fit for them.
- You’ve given them some special responsibilities in class and/or a classroom job they like. I’ve seen so many kids turn their behavior around when I can posit it as a responsibility that I trust them to maintain as well as something that can be taken away if they can’t handle it.
- Have you made all the accommodations you can? Before you differentiate with a completely different behavior plan, have you looked at ways to loosen your standards? Can they move around more? Stand? Talk more? Have a break? Do a modified assignment? I once let a student swap out one of their independent or group stations in math to read. Did they miss out on some math? Sure, but it was an easy swap out for me. By letting them read for 15 minutes during one station (every other day for my schedule), they stopped reading during all of my whole group lessons, took notes, came to my small group lesson on time, stopped complaining about worksheets, and worked hard to finish their practice in the 15 minutes they did have independently for math. I think I got the better deal! If you’re worried about other students taking advantage of this, in my experience, it rarely happens. Most kids want to follow the routine of the classroom.
- You’ve tried the information, consequences, choice strategy that works well with rebels. If this student is just being defiant because they resist following the crowd, help them see their actions as choices. Offering limited choices (as long as you’re fine with either option) can solve many issues.
- You’ve had one on one conversations about their behavior and generally set some goals. This can actually be a great starting point for a behavior plan because you’ll be able to see what they respond to based off of verbal feedback from you and what they don’t. You’ll also be able to hear their perspective on the choices they make. If they dismiss certain behaviors and don’t seem to respond the way you think they “should,” it can be an opportunity to develop empathy with the student.
- You’ve attempted a moderate behavior intervention such as a checklist that supports the one area they might need help with. An individual behavior plan is likely going to encompass multiple aspects of behavior and support them throughout the whole day. If their problem is only unpacking, packing up, writing down assignments, switching classes, putting papers away, or something else that happens within a limited amount of time, then just focus on that one behavior. It’s possible that you don’t need to dive as deep. If you can target one area, then just focus on that one time of day or one task or one process. Here’s an example of a checklist for unpacking and packing up (picture on right; document linked).
- Proximity! Have you just tried being in their presence more? I’m sure this is an obvious recommendation, but the difference between knowing and intentionally following through is big. Be extra intentional about passing by their desk all the time. Lingering a moment while doing your own task can be helpful, too. I had one student who without fail would ask for help and get back on task every time I stood next to their desk. I didn’t even have to look at them; I would flip through a stack of papers or jot down on my clipboard or write on the whiteboard near them and they would reach out to me in less than a minute. This solved the problem of them being confused, getting lost, losing track of what they were supposed to be working on, getting distracted, etc.
- Lastly, you could try some moderate behavior plans for everyone in the class: Rewards for individual classroom jobs, a tracking of general noticings of good behavior, or whole class rewards. I would not necessarily implement those before individual behavior plans, but they might help, especially if you have multiple students who are on the edge of a behavior plan but maybe don’t need it.
In conclusion, individual behavior plans can be necessary and fantastic, but there are many other steps you can take before you get to that point with a student. These steps are easier to implement and may be just as effective, so start here. If you need more, check out this post on types of individual behavior plans.