This past month has been a March Madness of IEPs at my school. We all try to hold IEP meetings during this month to review student progress and make schedule arrangements for next year. I found myself called to LEA several IEP meetings with students of various disabilities that were having or have had a history of behavior problems. Being the EBD teacher and Positive Behavior Support Coordinator, I have been given the role of behavior specialist. As I sat in on meetings I noticed a common theme; many teachers struggle with behaviors that appear complicated, but have a fairly simple resolution.
Many teachers expressed that students with ADHD are often off task, roaming the room, talking to others, or talking out of turn during discussion. They also noted that many students with a learning disability engaged in negative behaviors during their most challenging academic times or when given independent work.
I found myself asking the same basic questions any teacher with students with struggling behavior should ask. Why are they misbehaving? Is it to escape an assignment, to get attention, or some other reason? When do they do it and who is around them when they engage in the behavior? Is it an ongoing problem, or something that has recently happened so it seems to be a large issue now? Many teachers became vague when answering this question, which simply calls for data collection.
I wanted to share some best practices that I have used with my students and others that I am coaching with their behaviors. The most important thing is data, data, and more data. Luckily this doesn’t involve significant time or testing to collect. I start each student out with an emotional survey, which allows them to describe their emotions on their terms and in specific circumstances. If you visit the CEC website, they offer FREE inventories and resources for this, such as the “Exploring Emotions” lesson plan or “How Would I Feel?” worksheet.
To track behaviors, I use a daily behavior checklist that has no more than 6 target behaviors. The behaviors are created by the team, including the student, and are essentially the most important behaviors for success for that child. Often it includes things, such as “brings materials to class” or “responds to redirection appropriately.”
A new trend in the behavior world is to use a check-in/checkout program with students, with and without a disability. With this, students are paired with a staff member they like (one of my student’s “coach” is a server in the cafeteria he calls his aunt) and they create a rewards system and check-in schedule. The students sees their coaches in the morning to make sure they are ready for the day and to get a morning pep talk, then they go back in the afternoon to review their behavior for the day. The coach celebrates the success and helps the student troubleshoot negative behaviors for the next day.
I have found that this works wonders for students. It gives them a greater sense of self-responsibility for their actions, they are held accountable to someone they admire, and feel support throughout the day. I even make it a point to check in on my students that are not in my class throughout the week at random times, just so they know I am there for them.
Behaviors are a challenge for many students and teachers, however, most can be overcome with increased student support and low-tech interventions. A simply high five at the end of the day, a “you can do it” in the morning, and a smile when they have made a mistake can do more for a child than we can ever know.
I challenge you as you write your IEPs and accommodate spring fever with your students to try some of these techniques and to always remember, a student acts out for a reason, they are doing the best they can, and it is our task to help them help themselves.