For Teachers

Creating Comprehensive Student Behavior Contracts: Tips, Tricks, and Benefits

By Ashley Watters December 2, 2019

All educators have tough cases. You know the ones — those kiddos who persistently color on classroom materials that are most definitely NOT meant for art displays. Or the middle schoolers who just can’t seem to internalize the phrase, “keep your hands to yourself.” These students are difficult for teachers and having to communicate the trouble to parents often leads to a difficult conversation. However, using a behavior contract can help redirect the conversation and the student’s conduct down a more positive path.

What is a behavior contract?

Behavior contracts are agreements between teachers, parents, and students that accomplish the following:

·         Clearly communicates the limits for behavior.

·         Plainly outlines the consequences for continuing to engage in negative actions.

·         Documents offenses to promote discussion and understanding.

·         Provides a straightforward and visual means for tracking behavior.

·         Supplies rewards for engaging in replacement behavior.

The primary purpose of a behavior contract is to improve the student’s conduct. It provides a positive avenue for approaching distracting, negative, or harmful behavior in the classroom. The contract encourages student and parent involvement, provides a way for students to monitor their own progress, and lets students build the skills for managing their own behavior.

The benefits of behavior contracts

Behavior contracts are a collective approach to dealing with undesirable conduct. They offer multiple benefits for students, educators, and parents, such as the following:

  • Better communication: A behavior contract allows parents and teachers to have consistent communication about students. Many behavior contracts are accompanied by daily or weekly progress reports so that parents are receiving consistent feedback on improvement, or lack thereof.
  • Documentation: Behavior contracts track progress and let all participants identify positive or negative trends. They also provide documentation of past efforts, in case modifications need to be made.
  • Ownership: Engaging the students and parents in the problem encourages ownership of the situation. The ultimate goal is to encourage students to manage their own behavior in the future. By prompting them to evaluate their behavior and weigh the consequences, you are teaching them better conduct and giving them the skills for future behavior success!
  • Clear expectations: Defining clear expectations on the behavior contract is critical if you want to see improvements and makes those standards visible and easy to understand for all those involved.
  • Consistency: In the heat of a difficult moment, it can sometimes be tough to follow through with the promised consequence. Maybe the consequence doesn’t seem like enough on a rough day. Having a behavior contract makes sticking to your resolve a little easier because it’s been clearly defined and agreed to.
  • Customized approach: Every student is different and creating a customized behavior contract allows for success because it accounts for individual challenges and preferences, increasing the likelihood of success.
  • Improved student/teacher relationships: Positive student relationships are important for engaging kids and providing a successful learning environment. Behavior contracts help get those relationships back on better ground.

Tips for effective behavior contracts

If you want your behavior contract to be successful, take careful consideration when developing the document for each student. It can be beneficial to have a parent discussion prior to outlining the contract so that you make are making more informed decisions.

Here are some additional tips for behavior contracts:

Make it a group effort. Everyone should sign the behavior contract. In doing so, it allows for student and parent input and gives all participants an active role in encouraging the outcomes.

Provide all information the student needs for correcting their conduct. Provide the negative behavior, the replacement actions, the result when the negative behavior is used, and the result of engaging in the replacement behavior. This leaves no question as to what will happen in any situation. Also, frame the contract with positive incentives for the replacement behavior, rather than placing emphasis on the negative behavior. For example, don’t use “I did not complete all of my assigned work.” Instead use, “I completed all of my assigned work for the day,” leaving space for a checkmark, smiley face, or sticker.

Use logical consequences to frame the terms for not adhering to the rules. Punishments have been proven to be ineffective for most children. Instead of punitive motivation, explain what will happen when the student doesn’t achieve the desired behavior. For example, one consequence might be “if I do not follow the rules of group discussion, I will not be allowed to participate in the group.”

Connect the consequence to the behavior. The result should make sense to the student. For example, it would be hard to connect the action of “if I do not complete my assigned work” to the consequence of “I lose my toys for three days.” Behavior contracts are more effective when students can directly associate their behavior to a related outcome. Instead, you might try “if I do not complete my assigned work today, I will have to complete the work during my free time.” You might also encourage parents to discuss what that means at home, such as “doing your schoolwork at home might mean you lose out on playtime with friends.”

Make behavior contracts visual and easy to understand. Especially with younger students, it’s very important that they clearly understand the system and the expectations. Making it visual with stars or adding in graphic elements will assist with comprehension. Charts, tables, and other structured elements are also helpful items to integrate.

Be patient. The behavior contract needs time to work. You may not see success in the initial attempts, but a comprehensive plan will work with time.

Remember, the driving force behind the behavior contract is to provide students with the tools they need to manage their own behavior. Keep a positive attitude and continue being an inspirational educator!

Ashley gained a passion for all things writing by spending years teaching a high school English class. She founded Contenthusiast so that she could spend her days hovering over a keyboard. When she isn’t writing, you can find her traveling with family or buried in a book.

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