How to Develop a Behavior Plan - Social Emotional Workshop
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How to Develop a Behavior Plan

By Laura Driscoll | Behavior

Aug 02

When did you learn to 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 went from all the theory behind challenging behaviors and actually learned to intervene. You missed that one too? 

What I did learn quickly was that the first part of developing a behavior intervention plan is getting a full understanding of the behavior and what may be causing or supporting it.

Move Beyond the Sticker Chart

Stickers charts are easy. I get it. You got a pack in the dollar spot at Target. The thing is behavior is often far more complicated than a student just needing some recognition of positive behaviors.

You have to dig in a bit and understand what skills the student may be lacking. Do they not know how to resolve conflicts with peers? So instead they wind up calling someone names and kicking them. Do they have difficulty with expressive language and shut down when they can't communicate how they want.

You want to look outside of the student and consider the environment the behavior is happening in. Is lining up busy and a little chaotic? So the student pushes the classmate in front of them when they are too close. Does the classroom have lots of visual stimuli or does the flow of traffic cause disruptions? 

Last, you want to look at the student as a person with needs and wants. Do they have a personal connection to adults and peers? Are they feeling competent as a student? Do they need some breaks to help them stay focused? Are they coming to school tired or hungry?

behavior plan development checklist

Understand the Behavior

You are going to have to collect some data. Is it a pain? Of course, but I don't know anyway that you can create a good behavior plan without it. Data collection can be simple and quick. You can always adjust a plan if the initial data collection didn't give you the full picture.

1. Define the Behavior

Objectively describe the behavior the student is showing so that anyone would be able to tell what you are talking about. 

  • Not good: Student shows oppositional behavior.
  • Okay: Student refuses to follow directions.
  • Better: When whole group directions are given, student is unresponsive.
  • Best: When a multi-step whole group direction is given, the student is unresponsive.

When you are defining the behavior, focus on what you can measure. If you can see it and describe it clearly, you are off to a good start.

Behavior plan worksheet - section on defining the problem behavior

Antecedents & Consequences

What's happening immediately before and after the behavior? The student's behavior does not exist in a vacuum, so it is important that we put it into context. What is going on before the behavior occurs that might be triggering it? What is going on after that might be reinforcing the behavior?

Don't get too stuck here tracking tons of Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence data. Just spend time noticing some of the events that might be contributing to the challenging behavior.

Setting and Notable Events

Think about what might be happening outside of the student. What is the setting like? What adults is the student interacting with? Is it noisy, over-stimulating? What subject does the behavior happen during? What's the time of day? Are there notable events that occurred earlier in the day that might impact the student’s behavior or tolerance? Maybe the student didn't get a lot of sleep or eat breakfast. Maybe they got into a fight on the bus.

Just like with immediate antecedents and consequences, you want to consider what is happening in the environment that might be supporting the challenging behavior.

note antecedents and consquences when developing a behavior plan

Possible Function

Let's play scientist and take a guess at what we think the purpose of the behavior is. We are looking to see what the student gets out of the behavior. There are 4 classic functions you may have heard mentioned before.

  • Escape/Avoidance - Do they get out of a non-preferred task?
  • Attention - Do they get attention for the behavior?
  • Access - Do they get access to something?
  • Sensory - Do they get or avoid sensory stimulation?

Now, these four functions are not the be all and end all. There is a lot that goes into a student's behavior that I'll get into. You also want to consider a students social, emotional, and behavior skills, their developmental level, language skills, needs/wants, and trauma history.

Most importantly, do not think about these four functions through a lens of manipulation. I don't know your student, but I know it's far more complicated than a student who wants to get out of math or wants attention from peers.

Functional Behavior Statement

Write a statement that summarizes the problem behavior, potential function, setting events, antecedents, and consequences serving to maintain the behavior. You want to package everything up so someone can read that statement and get a good picture of what's going. 

Setting Events > Antecedent > Challenging Behavior > Maintaining Consequences

behavior plan development worksheet - section functional behavior statement

For example: When in Math with Ms. Trundle and given a multi-step direction, Frank refuses to follow the directions which maybe maintained by avoiding the math tasks.

Also considering adding an additional sentence about why Frank is avoiding the math tasks, such as difficulty understanding multi-step directions or math tasks that are too challenging or doesn't want to work with a partner.

Skills & Strategies

Often when people create behavior plans, they stop after they determine the function. I know the student is avoiding math activities, so I am going to try to reinforce completing math activities. But most of the time, students are lacking some of the necessary skills to make the target behavior the simple choice. 

So let's consider what skills the student needs to develop and what strategies may be helpful to use.

Skill Instruction

Consider what skills the student may be missing that are contributing to the challenging behavior. Think not only of the target behavior, but also of the intermediate skills the student needs to learn to get to that target behavior.

Example: Frank struggles with multi-step directions, advocating for himself, and persisting with challenging tasks. He is also having difficulty with adding and subtracting fractions. 

What’s your plan for skill instruction to help the student develop the necessary skills? Frank might benefit from some brief lessons on asking for help as well as a review of adding and subtracting fractions. 

missing skills section of a behavior plan development worksheet

Accommodations

What adjustments need to be made? Can you adjust the classroom, the student’s schedule, the curriculum? Consider tools you can provide the student with, such as a break area or visual schedules. Lots of students struggle with tasks that require extensive planning or self-regulation. Consider the individual student needs and what they might respond to.

Example: Frank would benefit from directions being written on the board or even learning some mnemonics to remember multi-step directions. You could also consider giving directions one at a time to the whole class. He may need to be given fewer problems at a time and have check-ins to help with persistence. 

Person to Person Strategies

Another part of behavior plans that is often left out is the strategies we will use when we interact with students. A strong connection with a challenging student can often be an incredible intervention on its own.

Connection & Communication 

What are key ways to interact with the student to prevent problem behaviors, improve their rate of success, and develop a relationship that will promote positive choices? What consistent phrases can staff use to prompt the student?

Example: Frank struggles with Ms. Trundle more than other staff members. That's okay, it happens. Frank may benefit from Ms. Trundle making some personal connections at the beginning of class or having him in the first small math group. 

Frank does respond well to individual prompts. Ms. Trundle may consider giving the whole group directions and then quietly putting a post it on Frank's desk with the directions written out.

She could also consider reminding the whole class how to ask for help if they are struggling with the independent work.

Reaction Strategies

How should we respond to the problem behavior? What reactions does the student respond well to? Will this depend on how escalated the student is?

It is helpful to think through how to respond to challenging behaviors ahead of time. Our reactions should be purposeful when dealing with challenging behaviors. The more we can eliminate possible reinforcers, the better.

Example: We know that Frank is reinforced by missing the math activities. If Frank refuses to comply with directions, instead of engaging in a power struggle, his teacher can have him come over to her table to start the activity. You can also have the math activities be completed during another time. Just not during recess. 😉 

The Plan

Behavior plans can be simple sticker charts, check sheets, daily schedules, point systems, check-in/check-out and more. Create a behavior plan that uses student interests, like tokens that are their favorite cartoon character. Think about what is manageable throughout the day. Don’t create check-ins every 15 minutes. 

So we know what the behavior looks like, what's maintaining it, what skills are missing, and what strategies or accommodations will help.

This part is much easier when we understand all of that. 

  • What does the behavior plan look like?
  • What are the goals? What's the success criteria?
  • Who will use it?
  • How will it be implemented in the classroom? 

Example: The behavior plan is a simple half sheet with Frank's goals for math class listed and a rating scale (e.g., Not Great, Okay, Great). Frank's three goals are following directions, and work completion with a bonus section focused on Frank asking for help when needed. It will be used by his classroom teacher, Ms. Trundle. She will use it every day and it will be on Frank's desk. 

You want to consider what a reasonable starting goal is. Frank starts aiming to get a rating of Okay or Great for both goals and eventually moves to Great for both.

Rewards & Consequences

What is the student working towards? How often will it be given? When you start a plan, it's important that the rewards are reinforcing to the student. It is also important that rewards are given quickly. Over time, you can switch to rewards that are more intrinsic and given less frequently. 

What consequences will be used if the student shows the problem behavior or extreme behaviors? Consequences should always be logical and not reinforce the challenging behavior. I can never understand why suspension is used with students who are reinforced by escaping class.

For Frank, we may want to consider when he will complete math assignments he refuses once we ensure he is capable of completing them. Often when a student has a behavior plan, not receiving the reward because they didn't meet their goal is enough of a consequence. 

Just remember, students are rarely going to change a consistently challenging behavior because of a consequence. 

forced choice reward survey

All the Rest

There are a couple other details that are essential for individual behavior plans.

Data Collection

What data will be collected? By who? How often? Make it simple and if possible put the student in charge of it. Maybe they have to mark off their goals at the end of each day.

Parent Communication

How will parents be told about student progress? Parent understanding and support can be invaluable. Make sure parents know that it is not their responsibility to give an "extra consequence". Sometimes well-meaning parents can throw off a whole behavior plan with extra rewards and consequences.

Implementation

It is important to iron out who will do what. Who will collect and compile data as needed? Who will give the student their reward? Who will revise the plan?

Create an implementation list based on this information. When well-designed plans aren’t successful, it usually has to do with inconsistent implementation.

Tips

Behavior plans are living documents that will need to be tweaked. This is why it's especially important not to spend weeks developing one. Get the essential information and then create a plan that is simple and meets a student where they are at.

Check out the following posts to help you as you get started:

Personalize Behavior Plans for Student Buy-In

Behavior Plans Not Working? 5 Mistakes to Avoid

Getting Teachers to Implement Your Amazing Behavior Plan

Classroom Strategies for Defiant Behavior

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behavior plan development worksheet

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About the Author

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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