How to Respectfully Disagree with Your Colleague’s Behavior Advice

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a student for whom I have been given a behavior plan to use. It has been unsuccessful, just like every other behavior plan I have been told to use in the past. I have been given a myriad of time- consuming suggestions for how to modify work and his environment to limit distractions. This child takes up a majority of my time in class and even my planning time, which I spend documenting everything he has and has not done. Frankly, I am exhausted. I am afraid if someone tells me to try one more thing, I may not be very professional in my response. Do you have a suggestion for how I could respond in a professional manner so I can take back control of my classroom? I have been to your summer conference and have used the skills I learned with great success, but the way that I am being asked to work with this child is so time- consuming that I feel like I am too overwhelmed to function. – Mary, Columbus, Ohio


Your story is the story of thousands of teachers across the country. When given a behavior plan by another professional who does not teach that teacher’s students (i.e. school counselor, behavior coach), teachers often get a case of the “Okaybuts”, as in, “Okay, but I don’t have time to give him a sticker/prize every fifteen minutes that he doesn’t have an outburst, and furthermore, won’t giving prizes to the most poorly behaved kid in the class send the wrong message?” or “Okay, but I really don’t think telling a kid that he doesn’t have to do work just to avoid his tantrum is a good idea and maybe we should make sure we are not training him to be a lazy jerk.”

To be clear, the people giving you this advice are good-hearted people who care for kids just as much as you and I do. Like you, they are also victims of this method of addressing behaviors. Like you, they were asked to help kids without effective training on how to do so. Unlike you, they don’t have to work with difficult kids seven hours per day using ineffective, time consuming strategies. Everyone is suffering from living through The Dark Ages of Behavior Management.

Over and over, I have had counselors and behavior specialists tell me that what they are telling teachers to do doesn’t work. Sometimes they will blame the teacher, but, in private, they often admit that they have all of the same concerns that you and other teachers will share during their “Okaybut” moments. They can’t share this with you because they feel that it would be unprofessional or that they would be reprimanded by those above them who are even father away from dealing with students for whom these behavior plans don’t work.

Just for the record, I’m not proposing that no behavior plan has ever worked in the history of time. If you are reading this and thinking, “Behavior plans at my school work great and all is well,” then terrific, and carry on. I have just never met anyone who felt that way.

This is how I would respond to a colleague who wants me to use a behavior plan that I don’t want to use:

Kid Whisperer: Hi. I know we are on the same team on this situation with Edward, and I know that it’s not your intention, but using all of the plans, stickers, prizes, and warnings that I am supposed to use makes my job impossible. In addition, bribing kids to do what they are supposed to do does not fit into my value structure.

This student is going to suffer consequences, prefaced with empathy, in order to learn about proper behavior, just like I did as a child. His behavior will get worse at first as he tries to get what he wants through defiant, lazy behavior, just as he has throughout his life. The difference in this case will be that I have the skills to calmly hold my ground in order to set limits.

You can ask your colleague to support you by coming to your room to count negative behaviors every few days so she can witness the effectiveness of using consequences instead of bribes.