Three Reasons Why Your Classroom Behavior Plan Is Failing (And What to Do About It)

Managing the conduct and behavior of kids in a classroom is crucial to your success as a teacher. Having an effective behavior plan gives you a much better handle on a situation and allows you to know where you’re going and to measure your progress along the way.

Listen to ClasStars Founder and Social Worker Moshe Fried talk more about why tracking and measuring your daily efforts to acknowledge each student is so important on this episode of the ClasStars Podcast.”

However, if you’ve already got a plan for your kids and find that it’s not working, it could be due to three possible reasons.

#1 Not Clearly Communicating Expectations to the Child

Many teachers are very good at implementing and following through on behavior programs and seeing positive results, but where they tend to falter is in how they communicate the expectations of the system to the kids.

Communication is key. Often, kids will misbehave because they don’t understand they have exceeded boundaries when their behavior has gone too far. One day, they’ll act out in one way, and nothing will happen. They’ll do it again the second day, and nothing will happen. But when they do it a third day, they suddenly get punished.

Be clear in your communication with them and be consistent in your actions, and you’ll have a much greater chance of success. If you don’t take this approach to heart, no behavior plan – no matter how well thought out – will work. It’s the foundation of mutual understanding between child, teacher, and parent.

One tip for communication is clarity. You have to talk directly to younger kids in that 7-8 year old range and without sarcasm (they won’t get it). The time between kindergarten to the third grade is generally when you must be very clear, concrete, and literal with them. If you don’t clearly communicate your expectations in a way they understand and break them down into clear, concrete goals, your plan will fail.

#2 Not Providing Easy Wins for Students

We should definitely challenge our kids. It’s what helps them learn and grow, and it gives them resilience. When it comes to behavior plans and points systems, however, if we don’t give them at least one easily-attainable goal, they will decide that the whole thing is too hard and will just give up. One example of an easily attainable goal is to be prepared with a sharpened pencil. It’s not a hard thing to communicate, and it’s definitely an easy win for the child. It may seem too easy to you, but to that child, when they get the full points doing this very simple thing, they’ll feel more confident to take on the bigger challenges, whatever they happen to be.

Remember: each behavior plan ought to be uniquely designed to suit specific children at specific ages. Find out what would be an easy win for your particular kids and make it work.

#3 Not Understanding Entitlements, Privileges, and Earnings in Your Points System

One thing I’ve noticed is that when their kids score highly in some behavior categories and poorly in others, teachers will deduct the points from the high categories to make up for low ones. This kind of thinking is not only unfair but can cause a behavior plan to fail outright. Imagine a kid whose parents pay them $10 to shovel the driveway, but deduct two dollars because their room was messy. How fair is that? How likely is that kid going to buy into your system if that’s what he can expect to happen? And yet, many teachers do this all the time in their classrooms.

One reason this happens is that many teachers don’t appreciate the differences between entitlements, privileges, and earnings.

Many people today like to say that kids think they’re “entitled” to things they ought not to be, but in truth, there are a few “true” entitlements. They have a right to food, basic clothing, shelter, and physical and emotional care.

This is why sending a kid to bed early without any supper isn’t just unsound parenting, it’s harmful. Kids are entitled to a meal. In a behavior program, you don’t take away entitlements.

Privileges are the next level up. This is where the points system in a behavior program operates. Let’s use food as an example. A child is entitled to food, but going to a restaurant one night a week could be a privilege, one that they can earn through good behavior. You can find a comparable idea in your classroom plan (for example, having a pizza day if the class as a whole scores very highly).

Finally, earnings are paid for accomplishments that the child has already achieved regardless of any other area where they’ve underperformed. Again, the snow shoveling example applies: if you’ve promised them $10 to shovel the driveway and they’ve held up their end of the bargain, then they’ve earned that $10. You don’t deduct from it because of bad performance in other areas. Ask yourself: in your points system, what would that look like to your kids?

There is an art to teaching. You know yourself, and you know the kid. Now you need to make the plan work. When we use clear communication, establish achievable goals and fair practices, and create a points system around that, we have a much greater possibility of a win-win situation both for ourselves as parents and educators, and for our kids.

Managing the conduct and behavior of kids in a classroom is crucial to your success as a teacher.  Having an effective behavior plan gives you a much better handle on a situation and allows you to know where you’re going and to measure your progress along the way.

Listen to ClasStars Founder and Social Worker Moshe Fried talk more about why tracking and measuring your daily efforts to acknowledge each student is so important on this episode of the ClasStars Podcast.”

However, if you’ve already got a plan for your kids and find that it’s not working, it could be due to three possible reasons.

#1 Not Clearly Communicating Expectations to the Child

Many teachers are very good at implementing and following through on behavior programs and seeing positive results, but where they tend to falter is in how they communicate the expectations of the system to the kids. 

Communication is key.  Often, kids will misbehave because they don’t understand they have exceeded boundaries when their behavior has gone too far. One day, they’ll act out in one way, and nothing will happen.  They’ll do it again the second day, and nothing will happen. But when they do it a third day, they suddenly get punished. 

Be clear in your communication with them and be consistent in your actions, and you’ll have a much greater chance of success. If you don’t take this approach to heart, no behavior plan – no matter how well thought out – will work. It’s the foundation of mutual understanding between child, teacher, and parent.

One tip for communication is clarity. You have to talk directly to younger kids in that 7-8 year old range and without sarcasm (they won’t get it). The time between kindergarten to the third grade is generally when you must be very clear, concrete, and literal with them. If you don’t clearly communicate your expectations in a way they understand and break them down into clear, concrete goals, your plan will fail. 

 #2 Not Providing Easy Wins for Students

We should definitely challenge our kids. It’s what helps them learn and grow, and it gives them resilience. When it comes to behavior plans and points systems, however, if we don’t give them at least one easily-attainable goal, they will decide that the whole thing is too hard and will just give up. One example of an easily attainable goal is to be prepared with a sharpened pencil. It’s not a hard thing to communicate, and it’s definitely an easy win for the child. It may seem too easy to you, but to that child, when they get the full points doing this very simple thing, they’ll feel more confident to take on the bigger challenges, whatever they happen to be. 

Remember: each behavior plan ought to be uniquely designed to suit specific children at specific ages. Find out what would be an easy win for your particular kids and make it work. 

#3 Not Understanding Entitlements, Privileges, and Earnings in Your Points System

One thing I’ve noticed is that when their kids score highly in some behavior categories and poorly in others, teachers will deduct the points from the high categories to make up for low ones. This kind of thinking is not only unfair but can cause a behavior plan to fail outright.  Imagine a kid whose parents pay them $10 to shovel the driveway, but deduct two dollars because their room was messy. How fair is that? How likely is that kid going to buy into your system if that’s what he can expect to happen? And yet, many teachers do this all the time in their classrooms.

One reason this happens is that many teachers don’t appreciate the differences between entitlements, privileges, and earnings. 

Many people today like to say that kids think they’re “entitled” to things they ought not to be, but in truth, there are a few “true” entitlements. They have a right to food, basic clothing, shelter, and physical and emotional care. 

This is why sending a kid to bed early without any supper isn’t just unsound parenting, it’s harmful. Kids are entitled to a meal. In a behavior program, you don’t take away entitlements. 

Privileges are the next level up. This is where the points system in a behavior program operates. Let’s use food as an example. A child is entitled to food, but going to a restaurant one night a week could be  a privilege, one that they can earn through good behavior. You can find a comparable idea in your classroom plan (for example, having a pizza day if the class as a whole scores very highly). 

Finally, earnings are paid for accomplishments that the child has already achieved regardless of any other area where they’ve underperformed. Again, the snow shoveling example applies: if you’ve promised them $10 to shovel the driveway and they’ve held up their end of the bargain, then they’ve earned that $10. You don’t deduct from it because of bad performance in other areas. Ask yourself: in your points system, what would that look like to your kids?

There is an art to teaching. You know yourself, and you know the kid. Now you need to make the plan work. When we use clear communication, establish achievable goals and fair practices, and create a points system around that, we have a much greater possibility of a win-win situation both for ourselves as parents and educators, and for our kids.