Why Behavior Contracts?
Behavior contracts that describe appropriate replacement behavior consequences and rewards can really help students succeed, eliminate problem behavior and build a positive relationship with the students' teachers. Contracts can eliminate the never ending battle of wits that begins when a student engages the teacher and the teacher gets hooked. Contracts can focus the student and teacher on the good behavior rather than on the problems.
A behavior contract can be a positive intervention to avoid the need to write a Behavior Intervention Plan. If a child's behavior merits a check in the Special Considerations section of the IEP, federal law requires that you conduct a Functional Behavioral Analysis and write a Behavior Intervention Plan. If another intervention can prevent behavior from getting out of control, you can avoid a lot of work as well as possibly needing to call an additional IEP team meeting.
What Is a Behavior Contract?
A behavior contract is an agreement between a student, their parent and the teacher. It spells out the expected behavior, the unacceptable behavior, the benefits (or rewards) for improving behavior and the consequence for failing to improve behavior. This contract should be worked out with the parent and the child and is most effective if the parent reinforces the appropriate behavior, rather than the teacher. Accountability is an important part of the success of a behavior contract. The components:
- Participants: Parent, Teacher and Student. If both parents participate in the conference, more power to them! It is clearly an indication that they will support your effort. If you are in a middle school and other teachers besides the special educator will be enforcing the plan, they all need to sign off on the contract. Finally, the student should be consulted, especially about the rewards. What is a fitting reward for proving that they can improve their school behavior?
- The Behavior: Describing the behavior negatively (stop hitting, stop speaking out of turn, stop swearing) will focus on the behavior that you want to extinguish. You need to be sure that you are describing the replacement behavior, the behavior you want to see in it's place. You want to be rewarding the student for the behavior that you want to see, rather than punishing the behavior you do not want to see. Research has proven conclusively that punishment doesn't work: it makes a behavior disappear temporarily, but the minute the punisher leaves, the behavior will reappear. It is important that the replacement behavior serves the same function as the behavior you with to eliminate. Raising your hand doesn't replace calling out if the function of calling out is to get attention from peers. You need to find a behavior that will also provide appropriate attention.
- Data collection: How will you record when wanted or unwanted behavior has occurred? You may have a student self monitoring protocol, or even a teacher checklist or teacher record sheet. Often it can be as simple as a three by five inch note card taped to the desk, where the teacher can place a star or a check for appropriate behavior.
- The Reward: You need to be sure that you establish both the reward and the threshold for getting the reward. How many inappropriate behaviors are allowed and yet the student can still earn the reward? How long does the student need to exhibit the behavior before the student earns the reward? What if the student backslides? Does he or she still get to keep credit for the success that preceded it?
- Consequences: If the behavior you are targeting is problematic and can potentially inhibit the success not only of the student in question, but for the whole class, it needs to have consequences. The consequences also need to kick in when a certain threshold is met. In most cases, the success of exhibiting the replacement behavior, along with the praise and positive emphasis that should accompany the success, it shouldn't need to be instituted. Still, if a behavior disrupts the classroom and puts other children at risk, the consequence needs to be one that returns peace to the classroom and makes the other children safe. It may be to remove the child from the room, or move the child to "the quiet corner."
- Signatures: Get everyone's signature. Make a big deal about it, and be sure that you keep a copy of the contract handy, so you can refer to it when you want to either motivate or redirect the student.
Instituting Your Contract
Be sure that everything is in place before you begin the contract. How will the parents be informed and how often? Daily? Weekly? How will parents be informed of a bad day? How will you know for sure that the report has been seen? What is the consequence if the reporting form is not returned? A call to Mom?
Celebrate Success! Be sure to let the student know when you are pleased when they are having success with their contract. I find that often the first few days are very successful, and it usually takes a few days before the there is any "back sliding." Success feeds success. So be sure to let your student how happy you are when they do succeed.