What is a Positive Behavior Support Plan?

young female educator reviewing school work with a young female student at her desk in a classroom

If your child’s school conducted a Functional Behavior Assessment to help identify and manage interfering behaviors, they may have included a recommendation to develop and implement a Positive Behavior Support Plan. In this article, you’ll learn what a Positive Behavior Support plan is and how educators and support staff can use this tool to help manage your child’s interfering behaviors at school. 

Using the analysis collected in the Functional Behavior Assessment, a behavior specialist or consultant can build out the components of the PBSP in collaboration with your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team, of which family members are a part.

Positive Behavior Support Plan / Behavior Intervention Plan

A Positive Behavior Support Plan (may also be referred to as a Behavior Intervention Plan) is a formalized document which outlines the following:

  • The student’s interfering behaviors. What action(s) is the student taking that may be disruptive to their learning or their peers’ ability to learn?
  • Reasons behind the behaviors. Why is the student doing the behavior? Is it in response to a particular task or activity? What are they trying to communicate?
  • Interventions to replace and reduce the behaviors. What skills or behaviors can be taught to the student to replace the interfering behaviors?
  • Measurable behavior goals and strategies to teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors. These goals should be appropriately tailored to the student’s needs and abilities and should set reasonable and realistic measurements for success. 

This information will be documented comprehensively in three main parts of the behavior plan:

  1. A definition of the interfering behavior and ABC analysis
  2. Measurable behavior goals
  3. A plan for how to teach and reinforce new skills

Definition of Interfering Behavior(s) and an ABC Analysis

The initial section of the Positive Behavior Support Plan should summarize the findings of the Functional Behavior Assessment. The author should clearly describe the interfering behavior(s) using observable language and describe what commonly occurred before (antecedent) and after (consequence) the interfering behavior. Most Positive Behavior Support Plans / Behavior Intervention Plans include a table such as the one below:

Told “It is time for math.”Student throws chair and hides underneath the desk.The teacher and staff ignore and begin the lesson.

Notice how the interfering behavior is described in observable terms rather than a generalized statement such as “the student got mad”. The description of the behavior and surrounding events assists in summarizing the current information.

Finally, this section will include a potential hypothesis/theory as to why the student engages in the interfering behaviors. In behavior analysis, the hypothesis describes the potential “function” for the behaviors (escape, tangibles, attention, automatic). In other words, the “why” of the behaviors. Knowing the “why” helps the plan to develop potential solutions to minimize the interfering behaviors and maximize news skills.

Measurable Behavior Goals

The Behavior Support Plan should outline measurable behavior goals for the student to work towards. For example, if the student stands up from their desk to get the teacher’s attention, a matching replacement behavior goal could be teaching the student to raise their hand to request attention instead. The plan should identify a new, appropriate skill to teach that directly relates to the function of the interfering behaviors.

Similar to the previous section, all goals should be measurable and align with the student’s current abilities and skills. Many behavior plans fail because they do not take into account the student’s strengths and needs. For example, if a student hides under his desk during math class, not only does the student need to learn new ways to escape and avoid unpleasant situations, but also the team needs to evaluate why the student may hide during math. Does the student have the correct supports in place to complete the assignments? Does he understand the material? Addressing an interfering behavior means assessing and addressing a student’s needs across many domains.

All of the behavior goals should have measurable components to them so that the teacher and staff can collect accurate data. The data will help your student’s educational team identify if the interventions work or if they need revisions.

In addition to collecting data on the interfering behaviors, teachers and staff should collect data on any replacement behaviors as well. This will allow the IEP team to assess whether a student is both decreasing the inappropriate behaviors as well as learning new skills. 

Teaching Strategies for Behavior Interventions

The final piece of the Positive Behavior Support Plan/ Behavior Intervention Plan outlines how teachers and staff will implement each component. It is important for this section of the plan to very specifically outline how the student will be taught the new skills. The team should answer the questions of where the student will be taught, when, by whom, and how.

The plan should clearly lay out the consequences for using the replacement skill AND for engaging in the interfering behaviors. What will the teacher do when the student uses the replacement behavior or continues to use the interfering behavior? The goal is for the student to access desired reinforcement for using the replacement behaviors instead of engaging in the interfering behaviors. If we use the example of the student in math class, a replacement behavior may be to request help or to ask for a break. The teacher would instantly reward the student by either giving help immediately or allowing the student to take a break. In this example, the teacher is reinforcing the use of the replacement skill, making the behavior of hiding under the desk less powerful.

Knowing what to look for in your child’s Positive Behavior Support Plan can help you better understand the methods and strategies being used by their educators to help your child be successful at school.

The Watson Institute’s educational consultants share insights and resources on a variety of topics for families and educators, including more information on Positive Behavior Support Plans.

Dr. Rachel Schwartz, BCBA-D is an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute. She received her Master’s Degree in Teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Schwartz has worked internationally creating supervising programs for individuals with developmental disabilities and conducts research on the importance of sexual education and expression for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.