Behavior Plan Isn’t Working? 5 Reasons Why 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Let's make tweaks and get things working.

Individual behavior plans for students can be perfectly designed but easily fail. When you dig in to see why a behavior plan is not working, I will bet one of these five reasons is responsible.

1: Missing Data

You are basing your decisions on what you feel is happening versus what you know is happening. You need to be collecting data before you intervene, when you intervene, and after you intervene.

Depending on the situation, it may be best to complete a functional behavior assessment. I know, shudder. It's more straightforward than it seems. The big takeaway is to collect data that tells you where a student is starting, what the behavior looks like, and what reasonable goals might be. It can be done through observations, interviews, and record reviews. 

Once you have a behavior plan based on data, you need to collect data as you go too. Spend some time determining how to make this simple.

  • Create paper plans you can write the date on and save to record later.
  • Record the data in the home-school log and photocopy it at the end of the week.
  • Make an Excel sheet that looks like your plan for quick data entry.
  • Have the student record their data at the end of the day.
  • Make collecting data in class simple by putting hair ties on one wrist. Move it to the other wrist when the behavior occurs. 

When did you learn how to write a behavior plan? Was it during your first year in your job? I must have missed the class in grad school where we

How to Develop a Behavior Plan

2: Won't Versus Can't

Sometimes, a behavior plan isn't working because all the reinforcement in the world won't teach them the skill they are missing. It'd be like someone telling me they will give me a new iPad if I do 40 pull-ups. It's not going to happen. I don't have that skill yet. 

Try out a Can't Do/Won't Do Assessment. These assessments help you determine if a student can't do something or they won't do something. The Autism Helper has a great explanation here.

You give a student the task you want them to perform with a strong reinforcer for producing. If they do it, you have a production issue, and a behavior plan is a promising intervention candidate. If they can't, you are likely looking at an skill issue, and instruction is your primary path forward.

Behavior plans are for helping students produce a skill, not learn one.

3: Crummy Rewards

Sometimes, a behavior plan isn't working because the student dislikes what you offer. Your prizes stink. Someone had to say it.

Figure out what the student likes and will be motivated using a Force Choice Reinforcement Menu. These surveys force students to pick between two possible rewards. Each reward is from one of five categories. For example, does the student prefer a tangible reward or peer approval? Through a series of questions, students are forced to choose which they like the best.

Behavior Plan Reward Survey

Use a forced choice reward survey to find out what will motivate the student.

We also have to consider giving them that reward at the correct rate. Kindergarteners can't wait a week to earn a prize. A day might be too long. When students start a plan, err on the side of often. If the student succeeds and buys in, you can delay rewards longer.

I'm practical, though; you can't stop circle time to give Jimmy a prize for raising his hand. As long as there is recognition and the student knows the reward is coming within a reasonable time frame, they can wait. With a visual plan that reinforces students, I have found students can wait the day. Use things like IOU slips and simple, quick verbal reinforcement throughout the day.

i owe you slips for behavior plans

4: Give Them a Say

Make sure you talk to the student about their plan. It's incredible how often we forget to ask students, especially younger ones, what they think.

Talk with them about what they want to work on or improve, what they think their teacher wants to improve, what their parents want to improve, what they want to earn, and what they want their plan to look like. I like to do a lesson on SMART Goals and guide them toward the target of their behavior plan.

A student excited about the plan, the rewards, and the possible progress is a good partner in change. 


A lot of time and effort goes into behavior plans, but we often need to pay more attention to student input and involvement. When we personalize behavior plans, we make

Personalize Behavior Plans for Student Buy-In

5: You Are Doing It All

It isn't your behavior plan; this is your student's behavior plan. As soon as possible, shift responsibility to the student. They should check with you to see if they earned their token. They should be reminding you to fill out their home-school log. Not the other way around.

For the first two weeks, do most of the heavy lifting, and then begin to put the student in charge. You can sign off on their recording to keep everyone honest, but there is no reason the student can't be the one adding their tokens and evaluating their performance.

Helpful Behavior Resources

Individual Behavior Charts and Plans

This resource helps you create a data-based plan that comprehensively focuses on improving student need through instruction, incentives, and whole-class modifications. It includes guides, different behavior plan types, reward surveys, data collection forms, and more.

Functional Behavior Assessment Forms Bundle

The Behavior Evaluation Bundle is a comprehensive set of behavior documents for special education evaluations and functional behavior assessments (FBA). This resource helps you collect all the data necessary to develop effective behavior intervention plans for K-8. It includes interviews, data collection forms, skill checklists, and referral forms.

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ABOUT LAURA
I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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  1. Thank you for such informative help. May I continuously receive article and strategies to be used for behavioural intervention…

    Thanks a lot and more power!

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