Functional Behavior Assessment: The Plan for Positive Behavior


Sarah punched a student on the bus this morning. What’s the plan? Luke is disrupting the whole class. What’s the plan? Raul is refusing to take his algebra test. What’s the plan? As a special education teacher, it seemed every student on my caseload with behavioral concerns had a plan in place. Sometimes the plan was as simple as a phone call home. Sometimes the plan was more complex, involving a behavior contract and individualized support from a school psychologist.

Before I continue, let’s back up with a quick review from my previous blog post, “Functional Behavior Assessment: The Whys of Problem Behavior”.

  The IDEA Partnership defines a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) as: A comprehensive and individualized strategy to:

  • Identify the purpose or function of a student’s problem behavior(s).
  • Develop and implement a plan to modify variables that maintain the problem behavior.
  • Teach appropriate replacement behaviors using positive interventions.

In my previous post, I focused on the first bullet point by discussing how the purpose or function of problem behaviors generally falls into two overarching categories: 1. To get attention or a reaction, and 2. To avoid a task or escape a situation. Once we identify the function of one’s behavior, we are ready to effectively intervene with a plan and positive interventions, which is the focus of this post.

Develop and implement a plan to modify variables that maintain the problem behavior.

Hunger, inconsistent doses of ADHD medication, sleepless nights, and noise on the school bus are all examples of variables that maintain problem behaviors. Sometimes developing a plan to modify the variables can seem as straightforward as:

  • Providing breakfast at school
  • The school nurse administering ADHD medication
  • Communicating with parents about child’s sleepiness at school
  • A reserved seat near the front of the school bus

Oftentimes, however, implementing the plan involves attention to specific components to be successful. For example:

  • Who will monitor the implementation of the plan? And how often?
  • How will we know if the plan is effective?
  • Where and when will the plan take place?
  • What interventions will be used?

Teach appropriate replacement behaviors using positive interventions.

Sometimes students require a behavioral support plan above and beyond what is already provided in the school or classroom environments. The plan could include one or more positive interventions. Here are a few tried-and-true examples:

Check-in/check-out is an opportunity to make positive connections with students on a consistent basis.  This scheduled time is individualized for each student, and might consist of taking an “emotional temperature” using the 5-point scale, completing unfinished homework, eating breakfast, getting students’ materials organized, and/or practice calming strategies.

For example, I had a student with ADHD who often came to school in the morning disheveled from her morning rush at home who just needed a “landing pad” each morning to brush her hair, eat breakfast, and take a few deep breaths. At the end of the day, she needed accountability with filling her in planner and assistance with gathering her materials to complete her homework.

Check-in/check-out can be tailored to work for a range of student needs and situations. Learn more about check-in/check-out from PBIS World here.

Scheduled Individual or Group Time
Sometimes students need individual or small group support from staff members who are specifically trained on working with students with challenging behaviors such as: school psychologists, special education teachers, behavioral specialists, social workers, occupational therapists, and guidance counselors. Students might work on how their behaviors impact themselves and others using Social Behavior Mapping, practice calming strategies and mindfulness techniques, role play relevant social and behavior situations, read social stories, play games to learn and practice valuable social skills (taking turns, sportsmanship, etc.), and address any other behavioral issues students are facing in a safe, confidential setting.

As a special education teacher, I hosted a weekly informal “lunch bunch” in my classroom for students who struggled with maintaining friendships. Eating lunch together is an authentic social situation, but sometimes cafeterias are loud and overstimulating for students. Having lunch in a small, quiet setting enabled students to develop friendships easier than in a noisy cafeteria. Once social connections were established in the small group setting, it was natural for the friendships to thrive across school settings, including the cafeteria.

Scheduled Breaks
Scheduled breaks are another proactive method to manage behavior. A few years ago, I had a student come to my room to take a break after lunch every day for about 10 minutes. During his breaktime, I was working with a small reading group, so he would independently set a timer, read a book quietly by the window until the timer went off, then he would join the rest of his class in his classroom. Because recess and lunchtime in the cafeteria were very stimulating events for him, he needed some downtime after lunch to successfully get through the afternoon.

Breaks for other students might involve other calming and refocusing strategies such as: deep breathing, drawing, listening to music, squeezing a stress ball, slowly counting backwards, yoga, stretching, or taking a walk.

Behavior Charts and Contracts
Behavior charts and contracts can also help manage behaviors. Charts and contracts need to be tailored for each student based on their level of needs, motivation, and interests. Provided below are a few examples that can be adapted to meet individualized needs:

It is important to involve the student (and parents) with the development and implementation of the chart or contract. When my former student, Sam, struggled with completing his work, I created this homework chart with him and his mom. We worked together to set a goal each week with incentives. The goal was easily attainable at first so that Sam would “buy-in” to our plan and to keep him motivated. When he reached his goals, we gradually increased the expectations.

PBIS World provides more information on behavior charts and contracts here.

            Just like any other plans, behavior plans often warrant adjustments as the needs and circumstances of students change. As a popular motivational quote suggests, “If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal.”

Interested in learning more about developing and implementing plans for positive behavior? Please check out a few of our courses which highlight research-based strategies and interventions to effectively address and prevent problem-behaviors:

Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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