The Toolbox consists of ten tools that school administrators can use in dealing with students with disabilities whose behavior may be challenging.  Last week on Toolbox Tuesday we made note of the fact that the law requires you to do two things at the same time: serve all kids appropriately, and in the least restrictive environment; and at the same time, maintain safety.  The Toolbox provides a framework and common vocabulary to help you fulfill those two duties.

Of the ten tools in the Toolbox, we consider Tool #1 to be the most important. Tool #1 is a behavior plan, most commonly called a BIP (Behavior Intervention/Improvement Plan).  It’s the most important tool for a simple reason. If Tool #1 works, you can put away the rest of the Toolbox. You won’t need to change the child’s placement, or order short term removals, or call the cops.  If Tool #1 works, you won’t need to use any of the other nine.

The law tells us very little about how a BIP is to be created.  Thus, you have a lot of flexibility, and should rely on people with expertise in crafting behavior plans that really work. But we do know that a BIP is not simply a student’s individualized code of conduct. The code of conduct lays out the basic rules for all students—ALL students, and is full of negative consequences.  It puts kids “on notice” of what the rules are, and what the potential penalties are. Fair enough.

A BIP serves a very different function. When we develop a BIP, we are addressing a specific behavior that is impeding the learning of the student or of others.  A BIP targets that behavior with positive behavior interventions, strategies and supports designed to reduce or eliminate the inappropriate behavior, and replace it with more productive behaviors.

You don’t need a lot of expertise to address the first part of a BIP—the identification of the inappropriate behavior. Nor do you need any particular expertise to figure out the goal.  Let’s say we have a student whose colorful vocabulary is disrupting the learning environment on a regular basis.  It only takes common sense to figure out that 1) too many F-bombs during class time is a problem; and 2) the goal is to reduce and/or eliminate that particular behavior.

The harder part is figuring out how to do that.  Of course administrators have the authority to impose short term disciplinary consequences as per the code of conduct. But will that improve the student’s behavior?  Will that reduce or eliminate the behavior that impedes learning?  Short term disciplinary consequences, such as ISS and/or out of school suspension, are methods of managing a student’s behavior, but I would not put them in the category of improving behavior. The law speaks of positive behavior interventions, strategies and supports. So how do you teach proper behavior?  What “strategy” will you use to “intervene” in a way that really works? That’s what a BIP does, and thus it should be a part of the program for any student whose behavior impedes learning.

Next Tuesday we will look at Tool #2—a change of placement with parental agreement. But keep in mind that Tool #1 is listed first for a reason. It’s your most important tool, and should be the one you use the most.