3 Steps to Define and Improve Behavior

Nov 12 1PM
3 Steps to Define and Improve Behavior

A first grade student, Emily, throws a tantrum in the classroom.

  • Teacher #1 locates Emily’s daily record in her school’s behavior management system and makes a note: “Emily is out of control.”
  • Teacher #2 sees the same behavior and writes: “When Emily gets frustrated, she throws her book to the floor, kicks her feet, and cries.”

Which description is clearer? Which would be easier for another teacher or the school principal or Emily’s parent to understand?

One of the first steps to successfully managing student behavior — in the classroom or anywhere at school — is to define it. Schools, districts and states have been doing this for years in academics. Academic standards define the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn in each subject area and grade level. This allows teachers to objectively measure and report on each student’s progress, and provide appropriate interventions or enrichment as needed.

Similarly, to set clear expectations for behavior, schools must define those too. Here are 3 steps for implementing clear behavioral expectations, for every student and every classroom.

Step 1. Create an “operational definition” for each behavior.

An operational definition of a behavior is:

  • Observable
  • Measurable
  • Objective
  • Specific

To create an operational definition for a behavior, it is often helpful to describe what the behavior looks like.

  • What do you see or hear when the behavior is occurring?
  • What physical movements are involved? What action verbs would you use to describe the student’s actions?
  • What is length or duration of the behavior?
  • What is frequency of the behavior?
  • What is the intensity level of the behavior?

As illustrated by the questions above, there should be nothing subjective in the definition of a behavior. With an operationally defined behavior, anyone should be able to walk into any classroom and observe these things, without knowing anything about the child.

For example: 

Behavior: Student wanders around the classroom.
Operational definition of this behavior: Student leaves his/her assigned seat, without permission, for five or more seconds during classroom instruction.

Behavior: Talking out.
Operational definition: Any verbalizations that are not initiated by the teacher, are out of turn, and/or are unrelated to the teacher’s instruction.

Why is it beneficial to operationally define a behavior?

  • It allows any observer to read the definition and determine whether or not the behavior is occurring. This eliminates ambiguity.
  • It creates consistency across every classroom in a school, and across every school in a district.
  • By keeping the focus on the student’s actions within their environment, it prevents observers from making the assumption that innate issues are to blame. This eliminates subjectivity.
  • It promotes clear communication within the school, across schools, and between the school and home.
  • It allows school staff to intervene more quickly and to provide appropriate support or interventions. It also helps teachers better assist each other, so classrooms and hallways no longer feel like islands.

Step 2. Focus on the positive.

In addition to describing the behavior to be changed (a.k.a. the target behavior or problem behavior), it’s also essential to identify what you want the student to do (a.k.a. the desired behavior or replacement behavior) and to create an operational definition for this behavior too.

For example:

Target/problem behavior: The student is not paying attention in class.
Operational definition: The student is looking around the room, talking with other students, staring out the window, playing with items, and/or resting his/her head on the desk.

Desired/replacement behavior: The student will pay attention in class.
Operational definition: The student will sit quietly in his/her assigned seat, make eye contact with the teacher, and verbally respond to questions when asked by the teacher.

Stating behaviors in a positive way — and focusing on these desired behaviors — helps students act positively, which sets the tone for a more positive school culture.

Step 3. Collect, analyze and act on behavioral data in real-time.

With Kickboard, you can easily collect, access, analyze, share and act on behavioral data in real-time — for both problem behaviors and desired behaviors. Further, with multi-tiered supports, behavioral interventions and early warning indicators, you can better support students by keeping small problems small.

With behavior management tools such as one-click behavior tracking, you can easily track and reinforce the positive behaviors that make up your ideal school culture. In addition, you can motivate those desired behaviors with goal-based incentives or rewards — e.g. behavior points, scholar dollars, student paychecks, or school store rewards — which are automatically tracked in Kickboard.

For example, at Billingsville Elementary in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., teachers use Kickboard to track daily student performance on Billingsville’s “Family Expectations.” These include behavioral expectations for the classroom, hallway, playground, cafeteria, restroom and bus. Now, with the click of a button, teachers can recognize students for doing the right thing and award Kickboard dollars to them. Each week, students are given a paycheck they can use to shop in the school store. After only 10 months with Kickboard, Billingsville Elementary reduced the number of discipline referrals, improved teacher collaboration, increased parent involvement, and improved the school culture.

By clearly defining behaviors and then tracking that data in real-time, you can stay one step ahead of behavioral issues while intervening at the right place and right time to get students back on track. Further, by recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors, you can help students stay more engaged and act more positively. The result? A more positive school culture, and safe, happy schools where students and staff can thrive.

Discussion

Guides and Webinars

Free Resources

Download guides, playbooks, case studies, and other great resources to help you transform school culture.

Learn More