You completed a lengthy and thorough Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and you made a behavior plan with perfect reinforcers. The student is even excited about the plan. Yes! Initial buy-in! You convince parents that this will help their child, not make them look different. You meet with the teacher and go over how to implement the behavior plan. Everything looks good.
Day 3 and the teacher forgot to complete the plan during the day and tells you it is too much work.
Most of those times, I wanted to scream and tell the teacher, “Well it was a lot of work to get this all set up, but I didn’t just give up!” Then I remember I am good at empathizing and problem-solving. I understand how challenging 20+ students in a classroom can get. Remembering to give a token or sticker does not hit the top of the list. It took excessive trial and error-filled with frustrated children and teachers, but I developed an approach that has been successful for me more often than not.
The first week, I come by daily, sometimes multiple times per day for a couple minutes. I also make sure that I have classroom support scheduled (usually 30 minutes, two to three times per week) for when the student is most likely to struggle. A little extra help to get that token can go a long way with keeping a teacher and student motivated.
By the second and third week, I keep my scheduled classroom support time, and pop-in a couple times. I leave one day when I don’t come by. That day, I go by after school and see how the teacher felt the day went.
When I go in for classroom support, I will prompt the student to ask the teacher if they earned their token. I work on getting this exchange to fall on the student. The teacher isn’t burdened with remembering. The student takes responsibility for their behavior plan. Teachers are often encouraged when they see how much the student is motivated by the plan.
The end of the day is hectic in classrooms. Some more than others. This can also be a really challenging time for our more behaviorally intense kiddos. Often at the beginning of behavior plans, I will take the student to my office to give out the prize if they met their goal. Eventually, I will move a prize box to the classroom and this process goes smoothly with the student checking in with the teacher at a set time at the end of the day. In some classrooms, there is a prize box president. This is another student who has the job of checking goal sheets and letting students pick a prize.
Consider when and how reinforcers will be given in your written plan. A teacher implementing a behavior plan consistently all day or week, but scheduling the reinforcer to be given at the end of the day or week, can lead to inconsistent delivery at the beginning.
I take total ownership of tracking the data for the first two weeks. I either go in at the end of the day and record their tokens or I create paper-based plans that I can collect. If they are coming to my office for a prize, this is simple to do while they are looking through the prize box for the 90th time.
I plot the data, create visuals, and give the teacher a summary of the student performance each week. Teachers love seeing the data. It also helps us talk about discrepancies in the data, or days when the student earned the reinforcer, but their behavior really wasn’t the best.
Eventually, I hand this responsibility over to the teacher. What they take on really depends on how comfortable they are with data, excel, or graphs. I show them some quick shortcuts and tricks and give them an excel template to input data. It lets them look like a rockstar in meetings with the administration when they show up with their data for their much-improved student.
It is really helpful to create a home-school log. I complete this the first week or two. It gets the parents hooked, and then the teacher is responsible for completing it. I make it extremely simple. Sometimes it is just a blown-up version of the plan that can be filled in or a small box for a short narrative. I also leave room for the parent to comment and let us know how home went: did the child sleep okay, eat breakfast, or go to a family party.
Your behavior plan might be beautiful. It may be thoughtful. In theory, it perfectly incentivizes a student to perform the target behaviors. If it requires the teacher to give a reinforcer every 10 minutes, begin to prepare for disappointment.
When you design a plan, consider the unique skills of the teacher and the classroom environment the same way you considered the unique traits of the student.
What can the teacher realistically do? When is it feasible to give a reward? Recently, I started making individual plans look like the classroom plan. If the teacher has a superhero theme, then I make a superhero chart. Usually, the plans give reinforcers more often or for different things, but it keeps the student connected to the class system. Other times, I make the tokens the student receives something they particularly love, like Star Wars.
Involve the teacher in initial planning, if possible. Definitely, involve them in revisions. Revisions is a key point for the behavior plan to become the teacher’s plan and less of your plan. They will be more invested.
If you can’t manage the check-in schedule that I talked about, or the data summary, or the plan revisions, don’t say you will. There is no quicker way to make a teacher less invested in a plan then if the person who designed it doesn’t follow through with it.
The plan is great. The teacher buys in. The student’s behavior is improving. That’s not the point though, is it? The point is getting the student to not need the behavior plan. Consider at the beginning how the plan is going to be weaned off. Keep the teacher involved in this discussion. Set benchmarks together. Celebrate as the student’s behavior improves and they graduate from the plan.
Being responsible for the well-being and education of twenty plus children all day is among the most selfless work I can imagine. Anyone in that situation has fantasies of his or her classroom without the most difficult student. Totally allowed. I remind them that another student would gladly fill the shoes. When you get a teacher to buy-in and implement a behavior plan, give them kudos, lots of kudos. I showcase them in my newsletter, I brag to my principal, I tell other teachers, I make them an example in my professional development sessions, I tell the student’s parents. They deserve the praise. Don’t be shy.
Laura is a former school psychologist passionately trying to bring social-emotional learning to every student at every tier. Click here for hands-on resources for the classroom and counseling.
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