Behavior Plans Not Working? 5 Mistakes to Avoid 

By: Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min

The majority of questions I get from teachers, counselors, and psychologists is about individual behavior plans that aren't working. When we dig in to see why a plan isn't working, one of these five mistakes is sticking out like a sore thumb. Now, I'm not referencing the classroom color charts that all students are on (which I secretly loathe), but the behavior plan developed for an individual student struggling with their behavior.

1: Missing Data

You are basing your decisions on what you feel like 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, I would recommend completing a functional behavior assessment. I know, shudder. It isn't as complicated as it seems. The big takeaway is to collect data that tells you where a student is starting, what the behavior actually looks like, and what reasonable goals might be. This can be done through observations, interviews, record reviews. That all depends on what the behavior is.

Once you have a behavior plan actually based on data, you also need to collect data as you go. I'm relentless, I know. 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. There is your frequency data.

2: Won't Versus Can't

Sometimes the reason a student isn't succeeding with a behavior plan is that 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 just 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.

Basically, 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 good intervention candidate. If they can't, then you are likely looking at an attainment issue, and skill instruction is going to be a necessary component.

Behavior plans are for helping students produce a skill. Behavior plans are not for helping students attain a skill.

3: Crummy Rewards

Sometimes behavior plans don't work because the student doesn't like what you are offering. Your prizes stink. Someone had to say it.

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

We also have to consider giving them that reward at the right rate. Often people give them too often or not often enough. Kindergarteners can't wait a week to earn a reward. Heck, a day might be too long. When students start a plan, err on the side of often. As the student has success and buys in, you can delay rewards longer as they will be able to tolerate it.

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 will be able to wait. With a visual plan that reinforces students, I have found students are able to wait the day. Use things like IOU slips and simple, quick verbal reinforcement throughout the day.

4: Give Them a Say

Make sure you talk to the student about their plan. It's amazing 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, what they want their plan to look like. I like to do a lesson on SMART Goals and guide it towards the target of their behavior plan.

A student who is excited about the plan, the rewards, and the possible progress is a good partner in change. A student who feels like someone is making them do something is not a good partner.

5: You Are Doing It All

This isn't your behavior plan, this is your student's behavior plan. As soon as possible, shift responsibility to the student. They should be checking in 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, I do most of the heavy lifting, then I begin to put the student in charge. I always have to sign off on their reporting to keep everyone honest, but there is no reason the student can't be the one adding their tokens and evaluating their performance.


More Posts to Help with Behavior Plans

Why Won't Teachers Implement My Behavior Plans?

Use Reinforcement Surveys to Improve Behavior Plans

How to Develop a Behavior Plan

Classroom Strategies for Defiant Behavior

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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.
  • 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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