Keep it simple… it's a psychological contract, not a legal one
If a classroom discipline issue continues for more than a month, a formal behavior plan (sometimes called a student behavior intervention plan or behavior contract) may be called for. It is certainly called for if you are still dealing with unacceptable issues after two months.
A behavior plan is a way to ensure that all key players (teacher, administration, parents) are following a consistent, mutually reinforcing discipline plan and it includes expectations and consequences for specific behaviors. It also signals to the parents and the student that you are taking the issue very seriously, if they have any lingering doubts in that regard.
The plan goes into the student's file so that everyone will know what was tried in the past if further steps must be taken, or if issues requiring classroom interventions occur again in following years.
Usually everyone with a role to play, including the student, signs the behavior plan to acknowledge that they understand it. Plans are very individual in content, but the format is usually established by your school district.
Be sure to ask your counselor for an approved form before you go searching for “behavior plans” or “behavior contracts” on Google! You'll find plenty of examples, but you must beware of complexity, which is the biggest mistake made with these documents.
Teachers and principals have a tendency to make behavior plans wordy and confusing. If you end up with something that looks as confusing as an insurance policy and includes lots of technical terms, no one will ever read it again, no matter how much work you put into it.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The plan should be written in child-friendly language so that the student can understand exactly what is expected. This is not a legal contract of some sort so it does not have to sound legalistic or be wordy to get the point across.
- The plan should not be overly long. Focus on the critical behaviors that need to get under control in one page.
- On the other hand, the plan should be specific so that the student can understand the connection between actions and consequences.
For example, here are some typical behavior contract headings with example text:
- Ronald is being disrespectful to the lunchroom staff and other children with loud outbursts and throwing food.
- Ronald will receive one warning from the lunchroom aides that his behavior is not appropriate. If the behavior continues, the office will be informed and Ronald will miss his lunch recess. His food will be provided. Ms. Sanders (his teacher) will provide math for him to work on if needed.
Our next meeting
- We will meet in one month on (date) to discuss how Ronald's behavior is meeting expectations and decided on the next steps.
Pretty simple, isn't it? Don't get fancy; just write what needs to be written in simple terms, sign and date… then follow through!
Video tips: involving parents in behavior plans
Behavior plans for younger students
Signed behavior intervention plans are really for third graders and above. As pointed out already, they should be written in “kid-friendly” language since the student will be signing it.
And below 3rd grade, there just aren't sufficient reading or comprehension skills to understand the significance of a written discipline document – and they may not even be able to print their own name!
For kids in grades K-3, there should still be a discussion with all parties (principal, parents, etc.), there should still be agreement with the parents and student on the plan, and there should be notes taken on what the adults agreed to… but having the child sign the document is an unnecessary step.
The adults, on the other hand, can certainly sign the document. In particular, having the parents sign to reinforce their role is often very desirable.
The plan must be enforceable
Where many behavior plans fall short is in the consequences. The person writing up the contract puts down what sound like effective consequences, but because the reality of school operations is not considered, the plan is essentially unenforceable.
To be effective, you have to consider the logistics of applying consequences.
- Where does the behavior occur?
- Who will be responsible in that location for applying consequences?
- Are they part of the plan?
- Do they understand their role?
Let's examine these points more closely since they are so important and are often done incorrectly.
Gaining agreement from key players
Sticking with our lunchroom theme, here is a statement that seems fine on the surface, but is not well-considered:
If LaShonda is rude to the lunchroom staff or servers, she will stand on the wall during recess.
This statement raises these questions:
- Who is monitoring LaShonda in the lunchroom?
- Is that person part of this behavior intervention plan process?
- Who is making sure LaShonda sits against the wall during recess? The recess aides?
- Are the recess aides part of this process so that they understand their roles?
- Are they capable of consistently carrying out this consequence?
It is not the mere existence of a classroom discipline or behavior plan that will change LaShonda's conduct (that's the “gosh I hope this works method”); it is the consistently carried out details of the plan that will create the impact on the behavior. So make the details doable, like this:
If the lunchroom staff reports to the office that LaShonda is being rude, the principal will arrange for her to miss lunch recess.
See the difference with the statement at the beginning of this section? Responsible parties have been named so there are no questions about who will make things happen.
The people who are already monitoring and interacting with LaShonda are identified as being the key decision makers. We know that they are already prepared to fulfill this role since they have been doing it in the past.
And instead of relying on the recess aides to add this duty to everything else they are monitoring, LaShonda won't even get to leave the building – which adds a bit more “teeth” to the consequence as well.
Also, the office has some flexibility about how they carry out the consequence – they may keep her in the office or they may send her to a classroom to be monitored. This flexibility is important in a busy office at a busy time of day.
You make plans work
Don't just file the plan and hope for the best. Use the tool as intended in order to impact classroom discipline.
Pull it out at parent conferences, bring it to child study team meetings, go over it with the student and ask how she thinks she is doing with her classroom behavior management.
And don't be surprised if the parties who signed the plan – including your building administrators and staff – have to be constantly reminded of their agreement.