Behaviour Agreements

I’ve contended for some time that most of the Individual Behaviour Plans (IBPs) I see in our schools are a waste of time, paper and the server space they’re saved on.

It’s not because you’re bad people.  It’s just because we let our impatience and our frustration write these plans on our behalf.

As a result, they end up as wish lists of all the things we want the student to stop doing (impatience) and what we’ll do to them if they fail (frustration).

It’s a flawed framework because multiple, unmotivated (as in, I don’t even want to stop doing these things) behaviour changes routinely fail.  It’s part of the human condition.  This is the case, even when somebody that we truly love tells us we need to change.

Imagine that I get home from work this evening and my wife, Anthea, has left a list on the fridge of the ten things I need to stop doing … or else.  Well, I’m a pretty obedient chap but I can tell you that I’m not even attempting the first command.

If you’re going to fall, you see, we’d prefer to fail fast.  I can, however, predict with reasonable accuracy the behavioural choice I’ll make about what I do with that list.

We need our students to share our motivation for improvement.

So, here’s a simplified way to get started on an improvement trajectory with one of your most challenging students.  Grab a piece of blank paper and a pen for yourself and an undeserved Mars Bar for the student, then:

  • Negotiate a single behavioural target together. Ask the kid “What behaviour would you like to get better at?”  Mostly, they’ll choose the one you wanted anyway, and even if they don’t, you’ll get a little worthwhile win.
  • Negotiate a time limit. I know I shouldn’t eat KFC, but asking me to avoid that smell forever is just too much for me to commit to.
  • Negotiate the consequence. “What would be a fair penalty for failing to get this done?” If you need to moderate this, it’ll probably be down.  Kids are much harder on themselves than we’d ever be.
  • Get a signature. I don’t know why, but the literature tells us that a student’s signature on a written behavioural agreement increases their success chances by up to 40%.

There are only two possible scenarios from here:

  • The student succeeds and you can both celebrate throwing that piece of paper in the bin basketball style.
  • The student fails and you merely need to follow through on what they negotiated and agreed to, preserving your relationships for the trust to try again … together.

Keep fighting that good fight,

PS. For the really “pointy end” kids, you might need something a little more comprehensive.  I’m thinking about the most challenging 3-5% of students here.  If you’d like an IBP template, IBP instructional guide and a video tutorial on how to do that … just reply to this email.


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