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Resolving Conflicts with Behavior Agreements

Resolving Conflicts with Behavior Agreements

The intervention in brief: 

I end up dealing with a large number of discipline issues, as I am sure many school social workers do. This year, I started using behavior agreements as a means of resolving moderate to major conflicts between two students.

Behavior agreements (aka “behavior contracts”) take students through the process of mediating issues that cannot be solved quickly (5 minutes or less). Here is a copy of the behavior agreement document I use. First, each student verbally describes their side of what occurred, and then records it on the paper in front of them. Then, the students take turns stating how they think the other student could “make it right.”  Saying sorry, giving back a stolen item, or erasing what something mean or vulgar are all examples of making it right. They record what they said could make it right and how the other student asked them to make it right. Finally, they agree on what to do moving forward.

Where I got it and how I changed it: 

The idea of a behavior agreement came from a professional development inservice my district provided back in September. I made my own behavior agreement form from scratch to suit my needs. Generally, this process has worked well with students from 2nd through 5th grade. Older and younger students could also use the form as well if it were adapted slightly.

How I measure it: 

Thus far, the data I have at my disposal is that of the eighteen students who have completed behavior agreements, absolutely none have had to come back and repeat the process. I have one student who has come back with a different student and a different issue, but this is to be expected. In fact, his willingness to return shows that he has bought in to its effectiveness. 

I believe that part of the reason this is working is the time it takes out of the students’ day. The discussion that goes with the agreement is lengthy. I recommend devoting approximately 30 minutes to resolving the conflict in order for the intervention to be effective. Each student needs to be heard for the behavior agreement to feel meaningful.  The time spent on a behavior agreement now can save time later. 

If I could go back, what I would do differently:

Right now things are working fairly well. I think a good next step, however, may be to provide teachers with brief training in how to use the behavior agreement in class.


About The Author

Ruth Orme-Johnson

Ruth Orme-Johnson is a school social worker at James Giles Elementary School in Norridge, Illinois. She earned her MSW from Boston University in 2012 and a Bachelors of Education in Social Policy from Northwestern University in 2009. Prior to school social work, Ruth was in non-profit fundraising for five years.

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