Mrs. Smith has a student that has started displaying behaviors that disrupt the classroom. She has tried a myriad of different strategies and nothing seems to help! Sound familiar? I think we’ve all been there before. I get contacted fairly regularly on my Instagram account by teachers just like this. Unfortunately, I can’t give specific suggestions or strategies to try because I’m not a provider for their student and I don’t have data to guide decision making. It’s often hard for me to help in these situations even though I want to so badly! I always attempt to share guidance on what they can do to create an effective plan for their students. A blog post that any teacher struggling with behavior can reference back to seemed a great way to help share this information. So where do we start when creating an effective behavior support plan?
Rule Out Medical or Sociological
If your student has never engaged in these behaviors before it’s important to rule out medical problems or sociological changes. Talking with parents and making sure you have a strong relationship will often reveal this information without ever having to ask. It’s important to tread carefully when asking about any sociological changes.
A student that is nonverbal could be communicating they don’t feel good or are in pain. Are the student’s parents separating or is there another change within the household. Sometimes our students act out when they are struggling with changes like these. If you find this to be true, contacting school counselors and other people within the district is likely a better first step.
If you can rule out these then the next step is Assessment.
Functional Behavior Assessment
Before we ever start trying to choose strategies to put in place we absolutely need to know the function of the students behavior. This is the why. Why is the student engaging in these behaviors? Is it to escape a task they find to be difficult or do they need more attention from staff than they are getting? There are typically 4 functions that most behavior can be categorized into. These are: escape/avoidance, attention, access to tangible, automatic (internal reinforcers). Knowing the why, or the function, enables us to choose strategies that will address this function.
Find out the process in your school district for requesting an FBA. It’s usually done through an IEP meeting in my experience as part of a re-evaluation or initial evaluation. I’ve been in districts where the behavior specialist/BCBA is responsible and others where it is the LSSP.
One thing you can do to help the person conducting the assessment is to begin collecting ABC data. This means Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. Basically, you need to write down the things that happened before, the behavior displayed, and the thing thats happened after the behavior. I have a quick checklist data sheet I created as part of my Behavior data forms product on tpt. Click here to view. This will allow the person doing the assessment to analyze and look for patterns in the behavior sequence.
Creating the Individualized Behavior Intervention Plan
Once you know the function of the behavior, you can identify specific strategies and skills to utilize and teach. Here are some key parts of an effective and comprehensive plan.
These are interventions we can put in place prior to the behavior ever occurring. For example, if we know a student has difficulty navigating transitions and terminating an activity, we can use timers and visual schedules to help them prepare for each transition.
Replacement behaviors are what we want the student to do instead of the target behavior. It should serve them in the same way as the target behavior. An example is requesting a break to get out of work instead of throwing a tantrum.
One of the most important parts in my opinion and something so frequently left out is the teaching strategies. We can’t expect a student to just request that break once we tell them they can. We need to have a plan on how we’re going to do that. The teaching strategies section will outline exactly what needs to happen to make sure that the students are gaining the skills needed.
These are the interventions we’ve chosen for after a behavior occurs. This isn’t just how we want to respond to a child after engaging in the target behavior. It also includes how we respond when they engage in expected behaviors or replacement behaviors. The consequences section is where you plan for reinforcement as well. This is another reason the function is so important. So often people want students removed from an environment or sent home and if the student is seeking escape from school, it is likely a reinforcing piece of a plan instead of the intention which was to punish the student.
I do plan to continue to write posts on the different pieces you need to include when creating an effective behavior support plan. I also want to share strategies that can be used. As I do this, please remember that not every strategy is right for a student and to use your professional judgement when choosing strategies to use. When in doubt, always consult with your district behavior specialist or BCBA.