Saturday, October 18, 2014

8 Steps to Developing, Implementing, and Supporting a Student Behavior Plan

Lately there has been a lot of talk among my administration, faculty, and Counselor Colleagues about behavior groups, behavior monitoring, check in/check out, and online resources about behavior. Significant student behaviors appear to be on the rise and I read about the same things happening at schools around the country on the Elementary School Counselor Exchange. It seems some step by step instructions for School Counselors seeking to assist teachers and their socially and behaviorally challenged students would be appreciated.

My intern and School Counselor "mentee" tell me,  "We did NOT learn this in graduate school!" And neither did I.  I learned from old fashioned trial and error and many times it was not pretty!  While I do not claim to have all the answers, I do have some experience in this area and have been designing and implementing plans with my teachers for more than 10 years and I am happy to share what I have learned.  Are (my) behavior plans successful?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  So don't lead yourself, parent, teachers, and administrators into thinking this is the ultimate solution.  There no guarantees. Numerous human and environmental factors enter into the daily life of students, their families, and our schools, including consistency of teacher and/or parent, mental health of student and/or parent,  and undiagnosed academic issues just to name a few.  Plans that I thought would be successful were not and those for which I had the highest of hopes fell flat. If you, your staff, and families enter into this with a spirit of commitment and consistency there is a greater likelihood of success.  Sometimes the issue the child is experiencing is physiological, trauma based, or undetermined and the plan may do nothing more than collect data validating a need, in a quantifiable way,  which ensures your student receives the placement and services necessary  for their success.  I've had  teachers ask me what is this "little ol' piece paper" (behavior chart) going to do to help my student?  And I 'm glad they do because it gives me a chance to emphasize the following.

It is crucial to remember it is not the chart that makes the difference, it is what the chart represents.  It is our purposeful discussion about the student's needs and the planning for how all stakeholders are going to commit to support the student towards success.  It is the consistent implementation of behavioral goals by the teacher and the involvement of the student in taking ownership for their behavior and working towards specified goals.  That is what gives that "little ol' piece of paper" its power.

Please continue reading to learn about my 8 steps for developing, implementing, and supporting a student behavior plan. The whole process from scatterplot to implementation should take no more than 2-3 weeks.

Step #1 Scatterplot.
The scatterplot is the method for collecting baseline data to identify triggers, trends, problematic locations, people, times of day, or subject areas.  Data is gathered for a minimum of 1 week, however 2 weeks are recommended because sometimes, even a behaviorally challenged student can be having a bad (worse) week.  Check with your individual school or district as to whether parent permission is needed.  We do not  need it in our district because just as you would collect data on a student struggling with oral reading fluency or comprehension, you are simply collecting data on behavior. If a student is struggling enough that you are considering a behavior plan, the parents/guardians should already be aware of the issues and have met to talk about the problems.

To start,  share the sample scatterplot with the teacher and help him/her identify the most problematic behavior(s). It may be difficult to choose just one or two behaviors because there may be a variety of significant behaviors that are at issue, but it is not realistic to attack all of them at once.  It will be frustrating for the teacher and the student and ineffective as well.  I ask primary teachers, "What is the ONE behavior that would make the most significant impact in your classroom if it was reduced or eliminated?"  This is a tough question because everyone wants it all fixed now!  Empathize and redirect them to think about the one most significant behavior that disrupts and disturbs the learning of others or the safety of the classroom.  For intermediate grades, ask the teacher to identify the two most troubling/disruptive behaviors the student exhibits.

These are written at the top of the blank scatterplot in the negative; calling out, physically aggressive, incomplete work, whines, refuses to follow directions, whatever it may be.  The class schedule including transitions is filled in on the left side of the page.  Suggest the teacher make a copy before starting his/her data collection so they don't have to write it all out again for week 2.  Across the top of the chart you will see the date above each column.  The teacher will mark the occurrence of the behavior in the date column for each part of their daily schedule.  Some just color in a box to indicate the targeted behavior(s) occurred, others like to use tally marks to show the frequency of the occurrence.  Some teachers develop a code of  + and * to indicate which behavior was occurring if two behaviors are being monitored.  Other teachers have used 2 columns under the date, rather than one, to record each behavior in a separate column with tally marks.  Personally, I like the tally mark or "code" system because it gives more information.  Coloring in the square during "carpet time" for call outs doesn't tell anyone if it was once or 5 times.  There is no way of judging the severity of the student's infraction.  Share these ideas for recording behavior with the teacher, but let them decide how they want to record the data on the scatterplot.  They are the one that must do it throughout each day for the next 2 weeks, and as we all know if something is not comfortable for us, it probably won't get done.
Be supportive. Stop in after a day or 2 to see how the data collection is going and if the teacher has any questions. Periodically over the next 2 weeks, email or stop by to offer your continued support and encouragement.  This may be the first time they have ever done this!

Step #2  Student Observation.  
You've heard the stories, you've read the anecdotal records, but it is essential that you and/or another person observe the student in a variety of settings, and times of day. Not lengthy observations just 10-15 minute snapshots of difficult places or times.  You want to get a first hand look at student/peer interactions and the student's response to teacher correction, redirection, and the handling of the disruptive behavior.  During your observation you may take anecdotal notes, use a rating scale, or maybe your district has its own observation form.

After the observation debrief with the teacher. Maybe you saw the child under control and  being successful, discuss with the teacher why that was happening. This is good information for building future successes.  Maybe the child was being disruptive. Try to get an understanding of what happened prior. Talk about triggers.  Many teachers have tried and true procedures which have worked successfully for them with a majority of children.  However, those procedures used with a behaviorally challenged student could be part of the problem and the teacher not even realize it.  Sharing ideas and tactics for working with behaviorally challenged students, can be tricky but is important for both teacher and student success.  Many teachers may feel you are judging them or they are not doing a good job.  Remind them of the other "x number" of students in their class who are successful and that sometimes they might need ideas for working with students who don't respond as the others do.  And, if you are worried about offending a colleague, use your kindest voice and counseling skills to remind them this is not about the grown-ups, it is about helping a struggling student find success.

Step #3  Complete a reinforcer survey and create rewards menu. There are a number of reinforcer surveys you can do with students.  I have provided links to 2 I use regularly.  I like the ZZ reinforcer survey developed by a lady in my county a number of years ago and I also found this behavior reinforcer survey on line I like.   Sometimes, depending on the age of the student, I will use more than one survey to determine desirable rewards. This information will be used later to create the rewards menu.  It is interesting that many times what we think will be rewarding to a student is not. Recently I did a survey with a child whose teacher thought he would love being the classroom helper, yet his survey had zero responses for privileges.  He was all about the tangibles and edibles.

I like to create a menu students can select from for the day and for my older students for the week and sometimes for a month. This of course is entirely up to you and what the student wants to earn as a reward. I am not doing Subway lunch once a week, but would consider it for once a month. These things of course must be agreeable to the teacher and any other adult on campus who may be part of the reward menu.  Check out Teachers Pay Teachers and my Pinterest board for Behavior, for other student reward ideas.

I also design my menu based on the reinforcement needs of the student.  For example, some kids may need to be rewarded at 50% or 60% initially.  Be careful not to set the goal for earning a reward so high that a student can never reach it.  They must taste success on some level in order to have a desire to work for it.  Of course we want more than 50% success on a behavior plan, but isn't that an improvement from 20% or 30%?  Refer to your scatterplot data to determine your student's baseline goal.  Can they achieve more than 50 or 60%?  Then go for 75%.  I have a student who finds 75% is sometimes a struggle, but that is a good goal for him and offering a reward at 50% or 60% would be like saying to this kid, it's okay to give us less than what we know you are capable of doing.  Every child is different, so refer to the data when making decisions about where to set goals for your student.  And remember, goals can and should be updated as a student achieves some behavioral stability at the initial goal level.

Step #4  Meet with teacher for data review and chart/contract design.
Now you have lots of data, the scatterplots, observations, and reinforcer surveys.  Meet with the teacher to discuss all the data and determine the best type of chart for monitoring this student.  There are numerous styles and types of charts and lots of great sites for creating them.  Check out Intervention Central, Chart Jungle, PBIS World, Behavior Doctor and Behavior Advisor.  I have created my own primary chart and intermediate chart for work completion and one for behavior in Word and found that works for me.  The common factors with behavior charts whether they are for calling out, incomplete work, or physical aggression, are they are used daily, have behaviors written in the positive, are quantifiable, and meet the needs of the child.  I have one style I like for primary and one for intermediate that I use regularly. However, depending on the needs of the child, the chart may have the day divided into 15 minute segments, by subject area, daily class schedule, morning and afternoon or whatever. Each segment can be rated by a point system of 2, 1, or 0.  For primary grades, smiley, straight, and frowny faces can also be rated 2,1,0. The usage of points allows you to quantify  and graph the data no matter what style chart you choose to use.  Bring samples of different types of charts and see what will be the best for this teacher and student. Remember, if the teacher is not comfortable with the chart, it is probably not going to get done.

Once the chart design is worked out we talk about goals. For my more severe kids, I like to start with goals at a minimum of 50% with menu options at 60% and 75%.  With my less severe students I like to start at a minimum goal of 75% with menu options at 90% and 100%.  Review your data and decide, what is this student capable of achieving? After setting the goals, create a behavior contract that will involve the student, teacher, parent, and you. Sometimes I include the administration in the contract, especially if a number of discipline referrals have been involved and they are part of the reward menu. The contract should clearly state the student's positive behavioral goals and the percentages for earning rewards whether daily, weekly, monthly or a combination of these. The contract should also include a place for all stakeholders to sign.

A rewards menu is designed, based on reinforcer survey data, for achieving various percentage points. I like 75%, 90%, and 100% for most of my students.  However you may need one that is 50%, 60%, and 75%.  I like to give my students the option also of when at a higher menu level they are able to choose from lower level rewards if they desire.  The chart, contract, and menu are placed in a 3-prong folder.  I three hole punch the behavior charts for fastening in and staple the contract and menu inside the folder.

Step #5  Hold a Parent/Teacher conference 
This should under no circumstances be the first time a parent is hearing about student difficulties and the development of a behavior plan.  A school involved with good communication has already made the parent aware of the behavioral challenges being experienced by their child.  This parent conference is to share the data collected and to introduce the behavior plan, contract, and rewards. It should show the support of the school for the parent and for the success of their child.

Arrange a conference where no one is rushed and you and the teacher have time to review the data that has been collected, and discuss the steps you are planning to help their child.  This is important for getting parent buy-in especially if  the parents are going to be reinforcing behavioral expectations at home, initialing the behavior folder, or participating in creating a reward menu beyond the school day. For example one of my students goes to our after school program.  His mom made earning outside play time at after-care a reward for earning 75% on his behavior chart each day.  Another made video game time a reward for reaching the daily behavior goal.  Whatever buy-in you can get, take it!  If appropriate, add it to the behavior contract and have parents and other stakeholders sign.

Some parents, of course, will not be supportive and expect the school to do it all. These parents may lack the skills to assist at home or have emotional or life issues that prevent them from being supportive.  That's okay, continue to advocate for the child and communicate with the parent while you are helping the student make a positive behavioral change.  Don't let parent  inability, apathy or disinterest in participating in a behavior plan discourage you from providing what the student needs. Do it anyway, it's what's best for the child!

Step #6   Meet with student.
This meeting is to introduce the student to their behavior chart and how it works. Discuss in detail what the behavioral expectations are, what they mean, and what they look like.  Be sure your student has a clear understanding of how and when points or smiley faces or checks or pluses or stars or whatever are awarded.  Do the same thing for rewards, discuss if they are earned twice daily, daily, weekly, or even monthly. Tell the student the time of day they will get their reward so you create consistency. I have seen students get upset and lose points toward their daily behavior goal because they either bugged their teacher about "When is my reward?" or they thought they were not getting their reward because the time of day for receiving the reward was inconsistent.  These things should be decided ahead of time with the teacher so they can be clearly communicated with the student.  After explaining behavioral expectations, the daily function of the chart, and the reward menu, make modifications if needed and have the student sign the contract.

Step #7  Teacher implementation.
And now the daily implementation of the chart begins. The teachers should review with the student throughout the day the progress they are making towards earning their points for a particular time period.  Let's say it's center time.  At the start of centers, the teacher may want to remind the student privately, "Remember by keeping your hands and feet to yourself during center time you can earn your points (star, sticker, or whatever).   "Let's see how well you can do."  And then throughout centers,  "Great job, I see you are making good choices."  Remind teachers to stay positive, never saying things like,  "If you don't keep your hands and feet to yourself you'll get zero points/get a frowny face."

At the end of the time period, the teacher should call the student over and ask, "How do you think you did keeping your hands and feet to yourself?" Be specific when asking, not just how do you think you did. If things were not good, share specifically why the goal was not meant and points/smiley face were not earned. Ask the student what they can do during the next time period to  improve and earn points.

Teachers who remind, consult, and reflect with the student throughout the day will see the greatest change in student behavior. This is because they are constantly reminding the student of the behavioral expectations, encouraging them to make specific changes, and helping them to plan for the future. I know many teachers will be resistant because this takes time, and it does take more time in the beginning.  But I always ask this, "Would you rather be encouraging positive behavior or correcting negative behavior?"   Because you and I both know if you don't help them make good choices, you will be correcting their bad choices.  I saw on the PBIS website years ago this quote, and I am paraphrasing here but the truth is evident.  If children can't swim, we teach them to swim.  If children can't read, we teach them to read. If children can't behave, we punish them.  Sad, but true.

Step #8 Student check in with the School Counselor.
In years where I have had 3 or less students on behavior plans I checked in with them daily. I would stop by their classroom, see how their day had gone and even provide a daily reward.  If I was not going to be on campus, I had someone else with whom the the student could check-in. This school year is quite different.  It is very challenging for me as I have 12 students on behavior plans and I am probably going to be adding 2 more. This is about right, I would think, when you consider the 2-3 % (of nearly 600 students) who may need interventions at Tier 3. 

Our campus is spread out and my schedule and this year's numbers do not allow me to do a daily check-in.  Instead, I see the students weekly in small groups of 3-5 to review their progress for the week and teach strategies for improving behaviors. I am attempting to use ISN (interactive student notebooks) for my groups and will be excited to see the impact those can make outside the academic setting and in the group counseling setting. I have the teachers do a pre/post test of student social skills prior to starting the group to help with the collection of perception data.  For now, these groups are ongoing, but when they are concluded I will  have teachers complete the same survey again to judge the progress of the students.

Well, there you have it.  My eight steps for developing, implementing and supporting a behavior plan.  These have worked well for me. I hope if you have never attempted a behavior plan this will give you the encouragement you need to attempt them with your students.  

Have you developed behavior plans before? What method(s) do you use to collect data and work with students with behavioral challenges?

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