The day starts out fine, you had your breakfast, you had your tea, you feel prepared, happy even. You are off to school and ready to teach. At the morning staff meeting you get so excited over an idea you lean over to your colleague to whisper in their ear. After all, they really need to hear this. “Mrs. Ripp, please move your clip.” Shocked, you look around and feel every set of eyes on you. You stand up, walk to the front, move your clip from the top of the chart to yellow or whatever other step down there is. Quietly you sit down, gone is your motivation for the day, you know it can only get worse from here.
Ridiculous right? After all, how many times as adults are we asked to move our name, our clip, our stick, or even write our name on the board so others can see we are misbehaving? We don’t, and we wouldn’t if we were told to, after all, we demand respect, we demand common courtesy, we expect to be treated like, well, adults. So us, moving sticks, yeah right…
Search for “Classroom behavior charts” on Pinterest and prepare to be astounded. Sure, you will see the classic stop light charts, but now a new type of chart has emerged. The cute classroom behavior chart, filled with flowers, butterflies, and smiley faces. As if this innocent looking chart could never damage a child, as if something with polka-dots could ever be bad. And sure, must of them have more than three steps to move down, but the idea is still the same; a public behavior chart display will ensure students behave better. Why? Because they don’t want the humiliation that goes along with moving ones name. Nothing beats shaming a child into behaving.
The saddest thing for me is that I used to do it. I used to be the queen of moved sticks, checkmarks, and names on the board. I used to be the queen of public displays heralding accomplishments and shaming students. I stopped when I realized that all I did was create a classroom divided, a classroom that consisted of the students who were good and the students who were bad. I didn’t even have to tell my students out-loud who the “bad” kids were, they simply looked at our chart and then drew their own conclusions. And then as kids tend to do, they would tell their parents just who had misbehaved and been on red or yellow for the day. Word got around and parents would make comments whenever they visited our room of just how tough it must be to teach such and such. I couldn’t understand why they would say that until I realized it stared me in the face. My punishment/behavior system announced proudly to anyone who the bad kids were, so of course, parents knew it too. So I took it down and never looked back. No more public humiliation in my classroom ever again.
We may say that we do it for the good of the child. We may say that it helps us control our classrooms. We may say that public behavior charts have worked in our classrooms. I know I used to. And yet, have we thought of how the students feel about them? Have we thought about the stigma we create? Have we thought about the role we force students into and then are surprised when they continue to play it?
The fastest way to convince a child they are bad is to tell them in front of their peers. So if that is what we are trying to accomplish, then by all means, display the cute behavior charts. Frame them in smiley faces, hearts or whatever other pinterest idea you stumble upon. Start everyone in the middle so the divide becomes even more apparent when some children move up and others move down. Hang those banners of accomplishment, make sure not everyone is on there. Make sure everybody has been ranked and that everybody knows who is good and who is bad. Create a classroom where students actions are not questioned, nor discussed, but simply punished. And then tell them loudly and proudly to move their clip. After all, if the whole class doesn’t know someone is misbehaving then how will they ever change?
To see one teacher’s journey of how she moved past public behavior charts, please read this post by Kimberley Moran “Moving Past Behavior Charts”
PS: As Patrick’s comment wonders, what are the alternatives? I have blogged extensively about what to do instead, just click the links highlighted in the post or go to this page
PPS: More thoughts on this have been posted tonight
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.