A behavior contract is a contract between a teacher and a problem student that requires the student to behave a certain way in class in order to avoid agreed-upon consequences or earn agreed-upon rewards. They’re great for a teacher who is at her wit’s end with an unruly child. And parents support the move to use behavior contracts in the classroom, since they tend to notice an improvement in the behavior of their children both at home and at school. If you’ve got a student you can’t get to cooperate in your classroom, consider signing a behavior contract with him. Here’s how to do create a behavior contract:
Arrange a meeting. Every behavior contract should relate to the specific behavior you wish to see (or avoid) in a child. Discuss appropriate classroom behavior with the child, his parents and any other professionals working directly with the child. Often, teachers will set up a meeting with everyone involved to hash out this information. Determine what type of behavior can realistically be expected from the child. (Remember that each child has his own personality, preferences and unique way of being, so take everything into account when setting standards for his behavior.)
Determine one or two behaviors to focus on. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a child’s behavior can’t be magically improved overnight. It’s just too much to ask of any child, let alone a problem student. When you create a behavior contract, try to focus in on one or two behaviors you really want to see the child exhibit. Don’t just say ‘act appropriately’! Instead, be specific by listing a few ways that the child can specifically meet your expectations. For example, write goals of ‘start to work independently within 2 minutes of the lesson’s end’ and ‘keep his hands to himself’. Those are specific, attainable goals that a child can work toward in a behavior contract.
Decide on the reward or consequences. Behavior contracts are written using the methods of positive reinforcement. If the child behaves according to his contract, he’s rewarded. If he misbehaves, he faces negative consequences. And all of the elements will be previously discussed and understood by everyone, including the student.
For instance, his behavior contract could state that if he doesn’t keep his hands to himself, then he will not be allowed to sit in a group with his friends, for example. On the other hand, if he is able to meet the behavior expectations laid out in his behavior contract, he will know that he has earned himself the position of ‘line leader’ for the whole next day or some other reward he desperately yearns for. Children enjoy having something to work toward, so deal with a difficult student by including specific rewards or punishments in his behavior contract that will really motivate the child to behave properly.
Be consistent. As a teacher, you need to hold up your end of the bargain. If the child has signed and agreed to a behavior plan, then it’s your job to see that he sticks to it. Continually reinforce your expectations of the child, reminding him of his contract with you whenever necessary. If the child sees any weakness in his behavior contract or your execution of it as his teacher, he’ll find the loophole and the behavior contract won’t be successful.
Follow-up with another meeting. After you’ve given the plan time to work and you’ve witnessed how the behavior changed (or didn’t), schedule a follow-up meeting with all those involved in the initial meeting. Give the behavior contract at least a month before you meet again. Discuss any adjustments that need to be made to the behavior contract, and state how you’d like to proceed from that point. Always involve the child in every stage of planning, writing and re-writing his behavior contract so that he feels important and understood. If he knows that you’re continually raising your expectations of him, he’ll likely make an effort to improve his behavior in your classroom. And that’s the joy of creating a great behavior contract.