A Closer Look

Restorative, Collaborative Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans

In 2020, multiple overlapping environmental, health, political, and social crises meant that school psychologists nationwide began the process of questioning best practices. Perhaps most importantly, school psychologists focused on working to include the power inherent in the voices of students and their families. This restorative strategy—the inclusion of voice—is particularly important for students’ families, who are disproportionately affected by the systemic bias inherent in any school system. KIPP NYC worked to address this systemic bias against families during the 2020–2021 school year by incorporating a power-sharing approach, one that is required to invest persons from historically marginalized communities as equal partners in defining assessment questions, implementing behavior plans, and progress monitoring effectiveness. Using existing functional behavior assessments (FBA) and behavior intervention plans (BIP), we felt that revisions to these existing materials can include therapeutic, restorative strategies that give voice to historically marginalized children and their families when working within K–12 American education. The main goal is to provide school psychologists a new paradigm for conducting these two assessments.

Restorative, collaborative functional behavior assessments (RC-FBAs) and behavior intervention plans (RC-BIPs) are a potentially powerful method for students and their families. RC-FBAs and RC-BIPs work to incorporate critical cultural and racial perspectives not included in traditional FBAs and BIPs. By rethinking the traditional interview process, school psychologists can acquire information to ensure the assessment reflects cultural and personal values, identity, and traditions in concert with the collaborative identification of target behaviors and potential motivating operations.

Mutually Defining the Target Behavior

To understand student and family perceptions, it is imperative that we update traditional methods of indirect measurement, focusing on the process of obtaining information from students and families. The primary aim of this revised initial interview with families and students is to conduct the behavior assessment using restorative practices with our students, not for them or to their families.

Working Towards Culturally Responsive Implementation

RC-FBAs and RC-BIPs create a balance of control and support to ensure this process is restorative and collaborative. Within this process, the educator shares data collected with the team, including the family and the student, and the team makes the decisions based on those data and any additional indirect data reported by the student and family. Decisions are made with all stakeholders and not solely determined by the traditional seat of authority (the school psychologists and related constellations of professionals).

Antiracist Approaches With Black Families and Children

We particularly feel that RC-FBAs and RC-BIPs are essential practices when working with Black families and children. An antiracist approach to those who have been on the receiving end of more discipline, harsher punishment, and lengthier punishments than their White counterparts is essential to reframe the lens through which we view behavior. We have strategically included questions to ask of families and their children to ensure that we account for cultural, ethnic, and identity markers that will help educators understand the root of children’s behaviors. For example, when we begin working with students, we ask them “You are the expert on you, so I need to know what you think is most important for me to understand about you. This will help you tell all the adults in your life what you need. First I want to know: What puzzles or questions do you have about yourself?” During the course of this school year, we have been dazzled and impressed with several children who help define their own behavior assessment, such as one child who replied “Why am I so angry all the time?” and “Why am I so distracted all the time?” By empowering children to help guide the behavior assessment process, we share expertise with children who collectively have not had agency and voice in determining target behaviors and interventions.


School psychologists must be willing to accept proactive actions that promote justice and fairness for all students, particularly those who are at risk of being marginalized because of their identities. There is a particular critical need to address the historical injustices wrought upon Black males within school settings. We recommend that school psychologists begin or continue to reflect on current practices and identify those that cause harm to all marginalized students, are punitive, or are rooted in educators holding the sole authority. This includes the inner work of reflection and self-awareness of intersecting identities, knowledge development, and education that is focused on gaining knowledge about the diverse populations being served. Furthermore, school psychologists should acknowledge how diverse students’ intersecting identities can place them at greater risk for discrimination and marginalizing experiences, encourage systems change, and be social justice advocates who require action to enforce equality and fairness for all students.

About the Author

Matthew James Graziano, MSW, PhD; Anya Morales, MsEd; Kelsie Morales, BA; Craig Varsa, MA