Over the last few years I have been very busy working with teachers to create individualized behavior plans for several different elementary school students. There have been amazingly successful plans where some of the most significant behavior problems in the school have turned it around. Children who made daily trips to the office are only there now to receive praise from the administration. Teachers previously brought to tears from the behaviors have stopped me in the hall to say “Oh my goodness, he’s like a different kid!” Students who were close to being sent to a day placement school are now succeeding in a regular classroom. It’s very encouraging if I focus on those students. However, there have also been some plans that have been revised and revised and revised and the student is still struggling and the teacher is still severely frustrated. I have been reflecting on why some behavior plans work and others don’t. Of course one of the biggest factors is the student. All students are different and the motivation for the misbehavior or lacking skill is different in each student. While this is important to consider, this particular article does not focus on this. I’m going to focus today on the teacher’s role in making the behavior plan successful.
- Focus on the Positive!!! The behavior plans that have had the most dramatic success are plans that allow the teacher to focus on the positive. Classroom consequences are still in place, but are not connected to the plan. Here is an example: Johnny’s teachers will offer positive reinforcement frequently in the classroom by giving Johnny a “warm fuzzy” pom pom when he is caught engaging in a desired behavior. Johnny will chose the bag to keep the “warm fuzzies” in and carry the bag with him to every class. Once the bag is full, he receives an immediate reward. There is no limit to how many “warm fuzzies” he can earn in a day. He does not loose “warm fuzzies” that he has already earned. All teachers and staff who work with Johnny can give him “warm fuzzies” for his bag. This plan works because Johnny who was used to receiving a lot of negative feedback, is now getting positive attention frequently throughout the day. He receives something tangible (the warm fuzzy) that he can put into his bag. This begins to change his perception of himself, which changes his behavior, which changes his teacher’s perception of him, which can potentially change his future. Plans that offer positive rewards completely separate from the classroom consequences seem to have the most significant effects.
- Be Consistent. Teachers who are able to be consistent and are able to follow through every time have the most success with the plan. Oppositional children are excellent at pushing limits to see how far they can push. Consistent teachers have more success because they don’t offer the wiggle room.
- Be Flexible. This is not the opposite of being consistent. This is having flexibility in your expectations and stating them upfront. If the student was able to behave like everyone else in the class she would be. She may need some flexibility in some areas. For example you may need to have area for her to work in the classroom for times she needs to cool down and get away from a stimulus. The teacher may need to allow her extra time to finish projects if it is the transition that sets her off. Being flexible and willing to make acceptable changes for the student sets everyone up for success.
- Remember that all students are different. The behaviors may be exactly the same as a student you had two years ago. However, that doesn’t mean that the motivation for the behavior or the lacking skills are the same. What works for one student may not work for the next. That is the reason for the individualized plan. I strongly recommend doing a formal Functional Behavioral Assessment and a Behavior Intervention Plan.
Teachers have a HUGE part in making the Behavior Plan sucessful. It is the teacher who has to follow through and implement it consistently every day. It is the teacher who has to push forward even when it appears it isn’t working at first. It is the teacher who has a tremendous positive impact on the student when the behavior starts turning around. It is the teacher who does the work to change lives!