The 11 Key Questions That Make Or Break Behaviour Interventions

The 11 Key Questions That Make Or Break Behaviour Interventions

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Want to make sure the behaviour plans you write for your SEN students are successful? Then picking the correct target behaviours is essential - because a plan that focuses on the wrong areas isn't likely to succeed.

In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we share 11 questions that will laser focus your interventions on the target behaviours that really matter. We explain what those questions are, why they're important, and how to use them. Don't write another behaviour plan until you've heard this!

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

How are we going to motivate the child to carry on with their newfound preferable behaviours? Ideally, they will feel better when they demonstrate their new behaviours. That way, they'll be self motivated to carry on with the change.

Simon Currigan  0:15  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're, obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behaviour  special needs, whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. Welcome to Episode 15 of school behaviour secrets, the kettles just boiled and you know the way to vacation, so why not get yourself a nice cup of tea. My name is Simon Currigan. And I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:07  

Hi there.

Simon Currigan  1:08  

Emma. Before we get on to the topic of this week's podcast, I've got a question that I've been bursting to ask you.

Emma Shackleton  1:15  

Go on. Yes.

Simon Currigan  1:17  

Have you ever had a problem that seemed to so complicated, you didn't know where to start? What to prioritize?

Emma Shackleton  1:23  

I remember when a long time ago, my husband and I decided to relocate from one area of the UK to another because my husband had got a new job at the time that felt like a huge problem for us because it was really difficult to work out what order to tackle things in. So should we focus on house hunting or staying where we were and commuting? It all worked out in the end. But what's this got to do with a podcast?

Simon Currigan  1:50  

It's a perfect segway. So sometimes we're working with kids who present a range of different challenging behaviours, and we want to support them with a behaviour intervention plan. But we're not quite sure which behaviours to focus on first, which behaviours are the most important and what we need to prioritize

Emma Shackleton  2:08  

So, for example, if we've got a pupil who engages in verbal aggression, running out of class, distracting the other pupils, what should we focus our interventions on first?

Simon Currigan  2:19  

Yeah, that's right.

Emma Shackleton  2:20  

I've seen this unravel before in schools, trying to focus on everything at once. Because let's face it, when behaviours are big like that, it feels like everything needs to be tackled right now, that kind of dilutes your effectiveness focusing on everything is actually focusing on nothing. Plans become too complicated. Adults end up getting frustrated because they're not being effective, and the child just gets overwhelmed.

Simon Currigan  2:48  

Well, today, we're going to share 11 questions to ask when you're setting up an IEP, that's an individual education plan, or a behaviour plan that will help prioritize the one or two key behaviours that will make all the difference. The behaviours that are going to have the biggest impact on the child and their success in school. So you can focus on the important stuff.

Emma Shackleton  3:09  

Okay, that makes sense. So picking the right behaviours to focus on will make our interventions laser sharp, and there'll be so much more successful.

Simon Currigan  3:18  

But before we get into that, I want to say that if you find today's episode useful help other teachers and school leaders find this podcast by giving us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. Because every review you leave encourages Apple to recommend school behaviour secrets to other listeners, so they can find the show and start getting the help they need to support kids in their classrooms. So let's grab a plunger and see if we can make the sink of progress drain freely again. Right? So let's start with question one is the target behaviour serious and likely to lead to serious consequences for the child. So sometimes when we're presented with a list of behaviours, like Emma spoke about there, things like verbal aggression, maybe swearing, physical aggression, leaving the class, some of those behaviours are much more likely to lead the child to sort of imminent exclusion. Or maybe they're kind of unsafe to other children. If the consequences for those behaviours are serious, then usually, it makes sense to focus on those behaviours first. So if you've got a child, he does engage in a list of, you know, kind of like 678 difficult behaviours, perhaps create a list, get some bullet points on a piece of paper, and actually split them into two categories. The first category being the consequences for this behaviour are serious. And then on the second half of the list, put behaviours that may be serious but won't lead to a serious consequence like exclusion, whether that's a fixed term exclusion or a permanent exclusion. We've got to ask is the behaviour we're looking at, Is this behaviour just an annoyance or are there bigger fish to fry?

Emma Shackleton  5:00  

Okay, so the second question then is related to the first is the target behaviour, unsafe or dangerous? Safety trumps everything. So the key questions to ask here are, is the child likely to hurt themselves? Is the child likely to hurt are the people for example, if they are running out of class and attempting to scale the fence and run for the hills. This is obviously a high risk behaviour that has a high likelihood of ending in the child getting hurt, maybe even seriously. So by default, we kind of have to tackle potentially risky behaviours first, they have to be top priority. Putting in a risk assessment document at this point can be super useful in prioritizing which behaviours to tackle, especially if there are more than one dangerous behaviour in play.

Simon Currigan  5:55  

Question three, does the students have all the skills they need to learn a new behaviour? Or do they need to learn something else first? So does the child have the building blocks necessary to perform the desired new behaviour? So let's think of an example here. If you want your child to learn the behaviour of helping their friends when they're upset, instead of maybe laughing or making a derogatory comment that requires you first to be able to recognize emotions in other people, if you can't do that, if you can't recognize that someone else is upset, then you cannot act on that information. Another example might be if you're going to regulate your emotions. Before you can do that, you've got to be able to recognize the intensity of your emotions, before you can use calming techniques. Because if you try and do it when your emotions have gone too far, and you're experiencing anger outburst or a meltdown, then it's too late. Your brain cant deal with the information that it needs. So does the child have the skills necessary to learn the new behaviour?

Emma Shackleton  6:56  

Question four then goes learning the new behaviour unlock other skills or opportunities. If the child can do this, will they be able to access new environments or social situations that will encourage more positive behaviour? Is this a foundation skill that will help the child develop other skills, like the first domino in a series of dominoes. Sometimes when we take a step back and look objectively at the situation, it becomes clearer which behaviours we need to tackle first, because there is a sequence to success if you like, let's take emotional regulation as an example, what we want is for the child to deploy calming down strategies at the correct time, that is when they get angry. But here's the rub. If we only teach the calming down strategies, even really good ones that work, they will only work when they are deployed at the correct time. So if the child doesn't recognize that they are getting worked up, chances are it'll be too late and there'll be a meltdown or an explosion, before the child has even had chance to deploy their perfect strategy. So let's rewind. What do they need to know before they use their strategy? They need to know when they are getting angry? Where do they feel that sensation in their body? What is that feeling called? Once they can identify the emotion accurately? Only then will they have a chance of deploying the de escalation strategy at that crucial moment? And only then will they be able to successfully regulate their emotions. So in this instance, first comes self awareness and identification of emotion. And like Simon said, recognizing how strong that emotion is, then comes the strategy to address the emotion. There is a sequence to success, it won't work if you put the cart before the horse.

Simon Currigan  8:54  

And related to that is question five? Is the target behaviour a cause or a symptom? So is the behaviour the child is exhibiting, Is it caused by a deficit? Or another issue somewhere else? are we treating the cause or the problem? And we always want to dig down and focus on the problem behaviours and not the symptoms. So let's imagine we've got a child who has issues around saying unkind things to other children, he might set them a target of using kind words, but if we dig a little bit deeper, what if their behaviour is actually driven by a lack of social understanding, it might be better to focus on that or their behaviour might be driven on a lack of emotional regulation. And it might be better to focus on that. If you can dig down into the real causes of the behaviours and separate causes from symptoms. Then the unkind word problem disappears as a result and you're hitting both problems in one go. There's a story that this reminds me of, I went to imagine there's a river and there's a lady having a relaxing afternoon by the river. It's a sunny day and to her horror, she sees an unconscious child floating down the river. So she wades in she pulls the child to the bank, she knows CPR. So she gives the child CPR brings the child round. The child gets groggily to their feet, thanks the lady and walks off. Then 10 minutes later, another child floats down the river. To her horror, this child's also unconscious. So she jumps into the river pulls the child to shore CPR, the child gets groggily up, is very thankful and walks off. And then a third child comes down the river. So that lady waits into the river pulls the child to shore CPR. What a day! There's another lady walking past and she says, you know, I've been watching you, you're doing fantastic work, dragging those children out of the river and giving them CPR and bringing them back to life. But if you really want to have an impact on this problem, I'd walk upstream a little because there's a man on a bridge throwing the children off, and you might be better off doing something about that problem than pulling them out of the river. And it's the same with behaviours here, you get behaviours that are caused by deficits in other directions in other places. And if we can focus on those cause behaviours, rather than the symptoms behaviour, we're much more likely to have an impact. Otherwise, we just keep dragging kids out the river and giving them CPR.

Emma Shackleton  11:13  

Question six then is how often does that target behaviour happen? So what's the frequency of this behaviour? If the behaviour that you're targeting only actually happens once in a blue moon, is it really worth prioritizing and focusing on now, if it's not dangerous, or very unsafe, then maybe not. So some behaviours might happen so rarely, that actually there are other behaviours that it would be more beneficial to work on right now. So for example, if the child occasionally drops the F bomb, we know that that's not okay. And we'd rather they didn't do that. But if that happens, say, once a fortnight, but some other behaviour, such as calling out, for example, happens in every single lesson, every single day. And we think that they can control this with a little bit of support. Perhaps it's a good idea to focus on the calling out, and leave the swearing to tackle later on, when we've got that success ball rolling.

Simon Currigan  12:17  

Question seven is, is changing the target behaviour of direct benefit to the child? So sometimes it can be tempting to focus on those niggling behaviours that effect us in the classroom as adults or affect the other children. But at this moment in time, we've got to ask the question is focusing on this behaviour of direct benefit to the child. However, if the child's behaviour is driving the people around them mad, perhaps it's desperately annoying for the adult or desperately annoying for the other kids. Then it can be okay to focus on that, because that will improve the child's social interactions with the other children and the other adults in school. But then changing that target behaviour does become a direct benefit to them. So if you've got a lot of behaviours to look at, pick the ones that have the biggest direct benefit first, and put the other behaviours down to tackle later.

Emma Shackleton  13:08  

Question eight, then, can the new behaviour continue to be encouraged naturally after an intervention ends? So this is about thinking. How are we going to motivate the child to carry on with their newfound preferable behaviours? Ideally, they will feel better when they demonstrate their new behaviours. That way, they'll be self motivated to carry on with the change. But if the replacement behaviour is very heavily reliant on external motivators, such as getting a sticker every time they perform the new behaviour, for example, if the adult attention wanes, and it surely will, because the intensity is too difficult to keep up long term, then when the adults stop giving the sticker or drawing so much attention to that new behaviour is the child going to simply stop repeating that behaviour, because they haven't yet become internally motivated? You find this a lot actually, with interventions, they tend to wear off after a while. I think it's when the adult interest starts to wane because the adults now focusing on something else the child picks up on that recognizes that they're no longer such a priority or the behaviour is not such a priority. And they start to think actually what is the point. Changing your behaviour is hard, it takes energy, it takes effort. And as humans we are very quick to slip back into habits. If any of you have ever tried to lose weight or give up smoking or give up drinking or do more exercise? Lots of the time we start off with all good intention. We do it for a while we feel really good about it, then we hit a wall that gets really hard, and it's easy to just end up going back to square one if the behaviour isn't likely to be naturally encouraged after that intensive period of intervention. You're probably going to have some short term success. But you might see long term failure, because the behaviour's just going to fizzle out and die, and the child will likely revert back to their old habitual behaviours.

Simon Currigan  15:12  

Another thing to think about is how many people does the target behaviour affect, because that's going to have an impact on how the child integrates socially. So if we've got a child who's continually disruptive throughout a lesson, or child who continually shouts out, maybe they're running around the class, shouting down to the children climbing over tables, or under tables, this is going to affect 29 other children who are trying to focus on the lesson, this is going to affect the teacher's ability to share information with the children and explain a task and get the lesson running effectively, it has a really large impact. If you look at those behaviours by themselves, they're not necessarily the biggest behaviours in the world shouting out running around climbing under and over tables. But when you look at the impact, like a stone dropped into a pool of water, the ripples of those behaviours really have a massive impact on the other 29 children. On the other hand, if the child refuses to join in with a piece of work, and just puts their head on the table, that has a very limited impact on other people, really only affects one person, and that's the child with their head on the table. So when we're thinking about behaviours to target, you might see some lesser behaviours, but if the impact in the classroom is huge, if it's stopping lots of other children from learning or engaging with their peers, then it may be worth digging down and focusing on this target behaviour first, before behaviours that only affect the child themselves.

Emma Shackleton  16:42  

Okay, so question 10, when we're trying to prioritize which behaviours to target, will learning a new behaviour improve the way that the child interacts with their classmates or adults. Deep down us humans all want to belong, and if switching to a new behaviour, and we know that that takes time, energy and effort, but if switching to that new behaviour leads to a greater sense of integration amongst our peers, and we care about this and are motivated by this, then the behaviour is likely to be more sustainable. If it does, this will lead to more positive social networks, opportunities in and out of school, so maybe they'll start getting invited to other people's houses to play, maybe they'll be able to join that swimming club or that gymnastics club that they've previously not been allowed to join because of behaviour. And that will enhance their social status, and their friendships. That makes future sustained behaviour change much more likely, we do need to remember though, that this element of social connection would need to be seriously considered if we're working with a pupil with autism, for example. As they are far less likely to seek the social connections that other children will, they're far less likely to be concerned about how they fit in with the group, because in essence, that's one of the areas of impairment.

Simon Currigan  18:10  

And last of all, we need to ask is the child's behaviour significantly different from their classmates. So this tends to be more of an issue where you've been working with a child for a while, maybe 6,7,8 months, and you're looking at behaviours that are still on your list of things to target and change. If you look at their child's peers, if you walk into the classroom, if everyone else is engaging in the target behaviour, if everyone else is shouting out or if all of you, the children in the room take five or six minutes to settle down to their task, then it might be looking at whole class strategies are more appropriate, there might be an issue with the way that classrooms set out or routines or boundaries. So if everyone's doing it generally, that tends to say that we need to look at the classroom management, we need to look at the routines in class. And it's really unfair to target one child about the behaviours, they're showing if all of their classmates are engaging in it to. Another issue, you might see zombie targets, which is related to this, which is where a child has a target on their behaviour plan. And maybe the target say something along the lines of not to shout out during whole class time. When the target is written, this is 100% relevant because the child is continually shouting out during whole class time. So you do some work with the child you put in place an intervention and over time, they reduce the amount of shouting out they're doing to maybe sort of 234 times a lesson that target then stays on the child's behaviour plan because the goal is to get no shouting out at all. But this might become a zombie targets because if you walk into the classroom, and you see 5-10 other children who are shouting out three, four or five times during whole class input, then actually you're holding the child with the behaviour plan to a higher standard than the rest of the room. So we have to place that child's behaviour in the context, we have to compare them to all the other kids in the room. And sometimes we have to ask ourselves, are we holding the child to a higher standard than the other children? Or is there something going on here with whole class strategies or the way the classroom is being managed or the environment that we would be better off tackling. 

I'd just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our Inner Circle program. The Inner Circle is your one-stop-shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform, filled with videos, resources, and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. Practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behavioUr management techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions, step by step. Just like Netflix, you can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to. With no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner Circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers you've been looking forward today with Inner Circle, visit to  And click on the Inner Circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information.

Emma Shackleton  21:37  

So those are our 11 questions that will help to focus your intervention plans or individual education plans on the right target behaviours.

Simon Currigan  21:47  

Is the target behaviour serious and likely to lead to serious consequences for the child?

Emma Shackleton  21:52  

Two, is the target behaviour unsafe or dangerous?

Simon Currigan  21:56  

Three. Does the students have all the skills they need to learn the new behaviour? Or do they need to learn something else first?

Emma Shackleton  22:03  

Four, does learning the new behaviour unlock other skills or opportunities?

Simon Currigan  22:08  

Five. Is the target behaviour a cause or a symptom?

Emma Shackleton  22:12  

Six. How often does that target behaviour happen?

Simon Currigan  22:16  

Seven. is changing the target behaviour of direct benefit to the child.

Emma Shackleton  22:21  

Eight. can the new behaviour continue to be encouraged naturally after the intervention ends?

Simon Currigan  22:27  

Nine. How many people does the target behaviour affect?

Emma Shackleton  22:31  

10. Will learning a new behaviour improve the way the child interacts with their classmates or adults?

Simon Currigan  22:38  

11. is the child's behaviour significantly different from their classmates? And remember, avoid writing behaviour plans that try to focus on everything. When you try to focus on everything, you focus on nothing.

Emma Shackleton  22:52  

So if you want to get a comprehensive framework for developing behaviour plans and interventions, we've got a completely free download, and it's called the graduated SEMH framework, you'll find this really useful.

Simon Currigan  23:07  

it's going to do four things for you. It's going to give you all the behavioUr plans and risk assessments, you need to make sure you're approaching behaviour issues in the right way. By focusing on causes and tackling those, It's going to give you clarity, on what behaviours you're going to focus on what strategies you're going to use, and how you measure your success is going to help you organize your approach. So you're approaching those needs in a graduated way. So you will be using the best practice plan do review approach. And it's going to help you collect evidence to prove that you've acted in a graduated proportional way, which is really important if you're in the UK, and your pupil may need an EHCP assessment for their SMEH needs. The framework also comes with a video guiding you through the process. It's completely free. And I'll put a direct link in the show description or you can download it by going to Clicking on the free resources button and scrolling down to the free graduated SMEH framework download near the top.

Emma Shackleton  24:14  

Super, super useful. So next week, we're going to be talking to Ruth Fidler about how to support students with pathological demand avoidance or PDA. As well as writing books on the topic. Ruth is also a school leader who has first hand experience of working with children with PDA. So this episode is going to be full of practical tips, tricks and strategies.

Simon Currigan  24:39  

Don't leave hearing that interview to chance. Instead, tell your podcast app to automatically download and save it so you can listen at a time that's good for you. It's a simple three step process to subscribe. Firstly, open your podcast app. Secondly, extend your pointing finger and connect it to the subscribe button in a pointing and tapping motion. Step three call out I command thee to subscribe in your loudest voice, and now your podcast that will download the episode as soon as it's released and give you a reminder. Step three is optional, but it's genuinely therapeutic.

Emma Shackleton  25:12  

And finally, if you found today's episode useful, please do go ahead and leave us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. This makes a huge difference because when you rate and review as it makes it more likely that School Behaviour Secrets will be recommended to other listeners, and then other teachers and school leaders can find the show and start getting the help they need to support the children in their classrooms.

Simon Currigan  25:39  

Thank you for listening to school behaviour secrets. Have a great week and we look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Bye now

Emma Shackleton  25:46  

Bye now.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)