An individual written agreement is a strategy teachers use with children whose behavior persistently interferes with their learning or the classroom’s functioning. It’s an intensive intervention that works by setting concrete, realistic behavior goals; giving frequent feedback; tracking progress; and providing incentives for improvement.

How will I know when to try this strategy?

Consider using this strategy if you have a student whose problem behaviors persist after you’ve tried other classroom climate-building and problem-solving strategies. This strategy is particularly effective for children who feel discouraged or seem to lack sufficient motivation to change their behavior. If many children in your class seem to need such extra support, consider revisiting whole-class strategies such as reteaching, modeling expected behaviors, and consistently using logical consequences.

Is this a reward system?

Individual written agreements sometimes use rewards as incentives. For some children, the idea of earning a reward can be very motivating, and earning meaningful rewards can help children who struggle feel more positive about school. However, many students on individual written agreements don’t need rewards; just having a chart or some other visual way to track progress is often motivating enough. When you do use rewards, I recommend using nonmaterial ones such as getting to help another teacher with a project, having extra time to play a favorite game, or spending “buddy time” with a younger student.

How is this different from a behavior plan?

In many schools, what’s called a behavior plan (or behavior contract) is a protocol that involves a team of adults. Although it’s usually helpful to collaborate on an individual written agreement with other school adults, a teacher can use this strategy alone.

For comprehensive information on using individual written agreements, read this book!

Solving Thorny Behavior Problems: How Teachers and Students Can Work Together, by Caltha Crowe
Solving difficult behavior problems with children leads to long-lasting change. Learn practical strategies that will deepen your skills in resolving common but challenging misbehaviors.