Behavior Modification FAQ

Common Behavior Modification
Questions Answered:

Effective behavior modification in the classroom begins with training teachers in best practices. Authentic practice of positively stating and explicitly teaching desired behaviors, calmly and consistently consequencing students using strong voice, and creating student behavior plans or contracts, provides teachers with the foundational knowledge crucial to their execution of behavior modification.

After initial trainings, one of the most effective ways to help teachers with behavior modification in the classroom is the use of Real Time Coaching. Since behavior modification relies on immediate and effective response to both positive and negative behaviors, coaching at the point of instruction increases teachers’ awareness of behaviors exhibited in the classroom and improves their practice in responding to behavior. Real Time Coaching can be done as simply as holding up colored index cards or paper in the back of the room to signal a teacher or involve more advanced methods like speaking to the teacher through wireless earpieces.

It is also important to provide teachers with the necessary tools to reinforce desired behaviors and redirect or consequence misbehaviors. These tools can range from a budget for tangible incentives or tokens of recognition to behavior tracking and consequence systems, like Kickboard. Resources that both track data and act as a consequence system are vital to behavior modification as they help address both student behavior and assist teachers in analyzing trends and making adjustments based on those trends. 

While target behaviors and goals should vary from student to student, behavior plan templates can remain consistent, making teachers more likely to implement them with fidelity. Every individualized behavior plan should feature the following sections that can be modified for each student:

  • Statement of student’s strengths.
  • Target behavior to be improved.
  • Replacement behavior.
  • Strategies to reinforce replacement behavior and redirect negative behaviors.
  • Method for tracking student’s behavior data.

To further support the writing of behavior plans, create a bank of target and replacement behaviors as well as behavior modification strategies that can be used across the school, particularly for students receiving more generalized Tier 2 PBIS supports.

Behavior modification techniques in early grades have a strong focus on preventative measures, such as explicitly teaching and modeling expectations, and positive reinforcement of desired behaviors. These techniques can include anything from positive narration, praise/recognition, and tangible rewards to creating and implementing a schoolwide character development curriculum.

Choosing developmentally appropriate consequences while still teaching the desired behavior is crucial to students’ behavior development. When misbehavior occurs, effective responses are immediate and make the connection between the behavior and the consequence clear to the student so that s/he knows how to adjust in order to grow.

When setting behavior goals that are incentivized, consider a student’s age and ability to stay motivated long term before setting the goals’ time frame. For student in kindergarten and 1st grade, daily or sometimes half-day goals may be most appropriate, whereas older students could work toward weekly or bi-weekly goals. 

Primary grade teachers often focus on explicit teaching and modeling of desired behaviors and then reinforce them through frequent praise and tangible incentives. In middle schools, however, research has shown that reacting to negative behaviors is prioritized and a balanced ratio of positive to negative reinforcement can be lost.

While practices and strategies like target behaviors, goal time frames, length and severity of consequences, and preferred reinforcers may change with a student’s age, the need for purposeful character development that teaches the what, why, and how of expectations and sets students up for success remains a crucial component of effective behavior modification. 

Just like their peers, students in special education respond positively when expectations are made clear and desired behaviors are reinforced. While some expectations may need to be modified for students with disabilities, with the proper supports, like structured breaks, individualized schedules, and differentiated work, they can meet and often exceed the same expectations as their classmates.

For a student with more severe behavior and mental health needs, a functional behavior assessment and accompanying behavior intervention plan should be created by a trained staff member, like a social worker, and executed by all adults who interact with the student throughout the day.  These plans detail which behaviors should be targeted and the strategies most effective in getting the student to exhibit those behaviors. When implemented with fidelity, these plans can be very successful in improving student behavior and making the classroom safer for all.

Other strategies that produce positive results for students with disabilities include:

  • Nonverbal cues that minimize embarrassment in front of peers.
  • Cool down areas within the classroom.
  • Therapeutic tools, like kinesthetic sand and stress balls.
  • Journaling.
  • Peer or teacher mentors.

To increase parent engagement in behavior intervention plans, involve them from the outset of the process. Interview parents about their students’ behavior at home, what they do to consequence behavior, and what preferred rewards the student receives at home.  Ask for feedback from the student and parent about their experience in the classroom. It demonstrates that their perspective is welcomed and valued and provides an opportunity for a more effective behavior plan.

As the plan is executed, maintain frequent, clear, and honest communication between school and home to update parents about a student’s progress and alert them to any adjustments being made to the plan. It is as important to call home for positive behaviors as negative behaviors, signaling investment in students’ success and growth rather than simply focusing on punishing them for misbehavior.


First Name is required.
Last Name is required.
A valid Email address is required.
State is required.