What behaviors will you focus on?

While we would love to wave a magic wand and instantly get rid of every single one of our student’s annoying behaviors that is, sadly, not how real life works. It takes time, consistency, and patience to modify behaviors. Even with those, you can’t modify every behavior at once. You have to triage. What are the behaviors that most impact that student at school? Once you have figured out what those behaviors are, you have to figure out what the kid SHOULD be doing instead. Behavior contracts are worded in the positive—what we want—not in the negative. Then, finally, you have to pre-teach and re-teach what behaviors you are looking for. So let’s get started!


Choose the behaviors to target

Sometimes this is super obvious. If a kid is punching other students in line, target safety. In fact, if the student has any unsafe behaviors (running out of the classroom, hitting/kicking, climbing things) target those first. If the unsafe behaviors are pretty rare, you can include one or two other behaviors on the contract as well.

For non-safety behaviors, think through what is most impacting the student’s success at school. Is it academic behaviors like not turning in homework or classwork? Is it social behaviors like insulting other kids or getting in their space? Is it disrespectful behaviors like swearing or arguing with teachers?

To figure out what behaviors to target, talk to people. When teachers are frustrated with a student they will complain. What behaviors do they complain the most about? What do other students tattle tale the most about? What does the student themselves say is their most challenging behavior?

Come up with a list and then pick two or three that seem the most important.


Figure out what it is you want the student to do

Now that you know what it is you DON’T want them to do, figure out what you DO want them to do. This is not scientific—use any wording that makes sense to you and the kid.

Here are some examples:

Negative Behavior                                        Positive Behavior

Hitting other students                                  Keep hands to self

Leaving the classroom                                  Stay with the group/ Be where you are supposed to be

Swearing                                                                Use respectful language

Staring at space in class                                Try your best in class

Not doing any work                                        Complete classwork

Not turning in homework                             Turn in homework

Late to everything                                            Be on time


Pre-teach, re-teach, and just plain teach

No one actually knows what safe hands, nice hands, or keep hands to self really means. Keep hands to self? Can I hug my friends? Touch my markers? It is up to you and the student to negotiate a definition.

Talk though what the expected behaviors are. Use examples. Be prepared to re-teach. They will forget what you meant and forget what they are supposed to do and just generally forget stuff. The biggest aha moment for me in teaching was when I realized that it really WAS my job to repeat myself. Kids are human and need to hear things—and learn things—more than one time.


Go back to  behavior contract resources

Go back a step to: Choose how often to check in

Go to the next step:  Find rewards that work