Gathering the data, creating the behavior plan, and updating the IEP are only the beginning of this process. The team should be meeting regularly, communicating successful interventions, asking the student for feedback, adjusting goals and iterating any other parts of the behavior plan based on the data. There is no perfect, set in stone behavior plan. Even in a best case scenario, where the student is wildly successful with a plan, the child will inevitably evolve, and the plan will need to evolve to maintain efficacy.
IDEA 2004 mandates that positive behavior interventions should be considered during the IEP process. This is supported by research from the Tennessee Behavior Supports Project at Vanderbilt University (2016), which reported that students benefit from positive behavioral supports such as choice, access to items, or praise to address problem behaviors. The Vanderbilt study concluded that students are more motivated by receiving rewards than avoiding consequences, and specified students should ideally receive at least four praises to every criticism and six praises every 15 minutes (Tennessee Behavior Supports Project, 2016).
Research dictates that positive behavior interventions not only work well for students but for adults. An article by the Harvard Business Review covered a study that found five to six compliments to every one piece of negative feedback was the ideal ratio for team improvement (Folkman & Zenger, 2013). Interestingly enough, in another study, this approximate ratio can be indicator for whether couples stay married or not (Folkman & Zenger, 2013).
Of course, we will not always be able to track our praises to criticisms while managing a busy classroom. I included these statistics to underscore the universal effectiveness of positive and frequent feedback!
A trick to providing a higher ratio of high-quality praise to re-direction is finding opportunities for behavioral momentum for students. Asking the student to complete simpler tasks with higher rates of compliance will create a positive behavioral upswing. After the student has been praised or received another form of reinforcement, he or she is more likely to engage in a more difficult task that has a lower rate of compliance. Rewarding the student for the smaller victories will hopefully create inertia for the student to tackle larger demands. An example of this would be providing positive praise during the morning routine. The teacher or paraprofessional could praise the student for putting his backpack away, sitting on the carpet, and sitting in his seat after the mini lesson. After these positive interactions, the student would be on a pro-social, positive trajectory by the time he or she was faced with a less preferred academic task.
Consistent positive praise also helps build a relationship with a student, which is one of the most powerful tools and teaching opportunities at your disposal. According to Crystal Higgs, a fellow educator: “If students do not trust the person standing beyond the threshold, then they will refuse to welcome you into their safe spaces. It is through trust that people accept constructive criticism, verbalize their weaknesses and most importantly ask for help (Higgs, 2014, p. 27).” It is universal to accept criticism better when you understand that a person has good intentions and is rooting for your success. Our students, who struggle the most with controlling their behaviors, are in dire need of “safe spaces.” A consistent barrage of negativity and redirections make it more difficult for a student to want to open up and ask for help from a trusted adult.
Building a healthy relationship with appropriate student-teacher/child-adult boundaries also models for the child how to form healthy attachments. The 2×10 strategy is a simple intervention where the teacher spends two minutes a day for ten days talking about something the student likes and is appropriate. Making this time to get to know a student will hopefully make the rest of your class run more smoothly while providing a student or students the emotional support to be successful academically in your class.
Lastly and above all: remember to dig deep and be patient, since behavior change takes anywhere between 2 to 8 months and part of this variance depends on the complexity of the behavior (Lally, 2010, p. 998). This might require you to educate parents and students about having empathy for students with social and behavioral challenges – with parent’s permission, of course. There are great videos from Dr. Greene about delays in social emotional development and on YouTube about the bias against invisible illnesses vs. physical illness to help spur this conversation.
I would love to hear about resources your school has used to help educate parents, so please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will tag you and the resource!
Where did I find this cool stuff?!
Folkman, J. and Zenger, J. (2013). The ideal praise to criticism ratio. Harvard Business Review. Published March 15, 2013. Retrieved on: https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism
Higgs, C. (2014). Connecting with students: Strategies for building rapport with urban learners. Latham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Lally, P., Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H. and Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. Journal of Social Psychology (40), 998-1009.
Tennessee Behavior Supports Project. (2016, July). Behavior-specific praise in the classroom. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from: https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/assets/files/resources/psibehaviorspecpraise.pdf