Writing Behavior Plans that Work - Creatively Focused

Writing Behavior Plans that Work

Addressing student behaviors can be frustrating, stressful, and lead to increased teacher burnout (See A Meta-Analysis of Special Education Teachers’ Burnout, 2020). Although behavior management and behavior supports may be effective for many students, for some students with disabilities, the behaviors rise to the level of requiring a behavior plan as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address them. 

Behavior plans may be referred to as behavior improvement plans (BIPs), positive behavior support plans (PBSPs), behavior support plans (BSPs), or something else. These plans all boil down to three primary elements: 1) the behaviors we don’t want to see (target behaviors), 2) the behaviors we want to see instead (replacement behaviors), and 3) how adults react to the behaviors (consequences and positive reinforcements). Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements. 



Target behaviors are specific undesired behaviors that interfere with the safety and/ or learning of the student and/ or others. The student is displaying these behaviors because they serve some purpose for the student, even if the student is not aware or doing it intentionally. This is referred to as the function of the behavior (e.g., to obtain/ get something or escape/ avoid something). Knowing the function of the behavior is critical for teams to set effective replacement behaviors. 

Target behaviors are identified in a functional behavior assessment or FBA. If an FBA has not yet been conducted for the student, this must be done before a successful behavior plan can be developed by the IEP team. 


Replacement behaviors are those we want the student to demonstrate rather than the target behavior. These should help the student get their needs met in an acceptable or appropriate way. These behaviors may support the student in developing coping skills and emotional self-regulation. Replacement behaviors are also identified by the FBA. The behavior plan should clearly state what the student will do in place of the target behavior, as well as how teams will teach and reinforce those replacement behaviors, which may include using a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum.  


Consequences and positive reinforcements are how adults respond to the student demonstrating either the target behavior or the replacement behavior. Let’s start with the positive reinforcements. These are adult responses to the student demonstrating the replacement behavior. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated. This may look like a high five, specific verbal praise, a behavior chart, or something else that is motivating for the student. Although it is ideal if the student can be intrinsically motivated, this does not work (at least at first) for many students. It is important for teams to meet students where they are in terms of effective positive reinforcement. 

Consequences, on the other hand, are adult responses to the target behavior. These should be listed by the target behavior and identify steps of adult response from least to greatest based on the student demonstrating the behavior. For instance, if the behavior tends to start with signs of escalation such as pacing and making a fist, the least restrictive adult response might be a nonverbal prompt for the student to take a break. If the student continues to show signs of escalation, there might be a verbal prompt, a directive to take a walk with an adult, having other students leave the room, etc. Be as specific as possible with language and phrases to help staff members be more consistent and lead to greater success of the consequences. Keep in mind that restrictive procedures should always be a last resort.

When teams effectively incorporate these three primary elements, they can develop behavior plans that REALLY work for students (which also helps teachers!). For educators looking for additional support on writing behavior plans, axis3 (powered by Creatively Focused) offers resources such as Writing a Positive Behavior Support Plan: Step by Step Guide and Behavior Plan: Annual Review Guidance. Click here for a for a free download of the Annual Review Guidance for Behavior Plans! 


Written by Kalin Schoephoerster,

Instructional Designer & Licensed Special Education Teacher