The Behavior Contract

Sometimes, addressing student behavior can be as simple as negotiating a “deal.” A behavior contract can be a great tool to take what can seem like an unresolvable situation and turn it into a win-win for everyone involved. 

While behavior contracts are nothing new in education, there are some keys to implementing them as an MTSS Tier II intervention that can make them more effective, help you maintain student-teacher relationships, and help students ultimately succeed.

Negotiating the deal

Effectively negotiating the behavioral contract between teacher and student results in an outcome where both parties stand to gain by it, and both become invested in carrying out their respective end of the bargain.

In this deal, the student has something the adult wants: appropriate behavior and academic engagement.

The adult also has something the student wants: a reward, preferred activity, or extra privilege.

The word “negotiated” is an important one in an MTSS behavioral contract. In the MTSS classroom, the behavior contract process brings the student to the table as a real partner. The student is not merely presented with an agreement that he/she needs to sign.

Instead, they help craft the contract itself. Within reason, of course.

Components of effective behavioral contracts:

An evidence-based behavior contract gives a student a voice, yet still contains structure. It’s much more than pulling a student into a meeting just to tell him/her how wrong their behavior is and how they need to fix it. Rather, it becomes an opportunity to specify to a student the precise behaviors and social skills that the teacher would like to see.

  •  Description of the desired, expected behaviors to be performed – that the student is capable of performing
  • Clear goal statement specifying by when, what behavior, and under what conditions a reward will be earned – so the student understands explicitly what he/she needs to do to earn it
  • Teacher works with the student on identifying potential items, activities, privileges, or experiences that could serve as the payoff (i.e., the reinforcement)
  • Signatures from all parties involved
  • Teacher pre-correction and prompting, so the student is reinforced on a daily basis

Effective vs. ineffective behavior contracts:

The following can be used as a fidelity checklist of sorts. See how your next behavioral contract stacks up:

Effective Behavior Contract

  • Negotiated with student, not done to student
  • Describes what student should do
  • Provides a goal statement
  • Outlines what student will earn as a reward for meeting the goal
  • Teacher uses contract to pre-correct and prompt behavior

Ineffective Behavior Contract

  • Non-negotiated
  • Describes what student is doing wrong
  • Provides no goal(s)
  • Outlines how student will be punished if problem behavior continues
  • No other adult follow through after creation of contract

Pre-correction and prompting

The main teacher responsibilities associated with implementing an evidence-based behavior contract are pre-correction and prompting.

The pre-correction component involves the teacher reminding the student of the expectations outlined in the behavior contract prior to class beginning or transitioning to other activities that the teacher has learned might trigger a student’s problem behavior. The teacher remains positive and encourages the student to have a good day to earn the reinforcer or reward specified on the contract.

Pre-corrective gestures or statements are best delivered immediately preceding the context in which the behavior is expected. It provides the student with a proactive reminder to increase the probability of success.

It should take no more than a minute or two.

The prompting component consists of the teacher responding to incidents of the target student’s problem behavior by cueing them to engage in the appropriate behavior or social skill. This appropriate behavior has already been included on the contract and discussed with the student. The teacher reminds the student of the reward to be earned, which serves to prompt them to engage in the positive behavior.

Together, these two components require very little time, and allow teachers to maintain their focus on their main responsibility—teaching and managing the entire class.

Which students do behavior contracts work well for?

An MTSS behavior contract is most useful for students who respond well to earning incentives. These students are often highly motivated to earn things or gain privileges. It works for either externalizing (acting out, aggressive) or internalizing (withdrawn, low class participation) behavior, because for both types of students, it outlines specifically what kinds of desirable behaviors can help the child be successful in school.

Steps to a successful behavior contract meeting:

  • Step 1: Introductions and description of the meaning of a contract
  • Step 2: Make it a big deal to fulfill the terms
  • Step 3: Describe the student’s inappropriate behaviors
  • Step 4: Describe the alternative appropriate behaviors you expect to see in a goal statement
  • Step 5: Select a date to reconvene and review the student’s progress toward goal
  • Step 6: Have the student identify reinforcers that would motivate him/her to do well
  • Step 7: Have all parties sign the contract
  • Step 8: Give everyone a copy of the contract
  • Step 9: Teacher provides positive pre-correction and prompts


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