Be the change, behavior, being me, classroom management, reflection, students

So What’s My Problem With Public Behavior Charts?

image borrowed from Kimberley Moran – see her great post on how to move past behavior charts linked at the bottom of the post


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.


143 thoughts on “So What’s My Problem With Public Behavior Charts?”

  1. I gave it up and my kids were better. I was amazed at first and thankful everyday for the improved behavior. Yes I still had to some issues but we took care of it as a team and the problem would be resolved by the kids as a general rule.

  2. I love this article and have read your other articles on this subject. I definitely want to do this in the upcoming school year. I did want to ask for your advice on something we do at my school that is mandatory. It is called pbs (positive behavior support) and it is a reward system to improve positive behavior. I want to utilize the no reward system but how would I do it and still so this mandatory pbs.

    1. In considering PBIS – or PBS, remember it is multifaceted and is more than just handing out candy all the time, which can be a slippery slope of “what are you going to do for me if I behave” if you aren’t careful. A big part of PBIS is actually teaching expected behaviors, having a uniform set of school rules, and monitoring data. Rewards can be as simple as a thank you, a smile, a public compliment – “I love the way Susie came right in and got her homework out!” Positive notes and calls home or allowing the kids to play on the smart board the last five minutes of class because they were all on task, extra recess or allowing kids to work in small groups are all rewards. You probably do a lot of this already, with PBIS it is a bit more systematic. We all like rewards and recognition and will work for it – most people will work harder for praise / rewards than they will to avoid punishment.

  3. We adopted an older child with some behavior issues. Sitting still and being quiet were just not priorities in his mind. His second grade teacher used putting your name on the board as her method of humiliation. My son would get his name on the board within the first 15 minutes of school every day, then settle down a bit for the remainder of the day. The teacher spoke to me about this pattern and in turn, I spoke with my son. What I found out was that in his upside down world, getting his name on the board meant he was important and mattered. When I returned to the teacher to suggest that it would be more effective with this particular child to write his name on the board and erase it when he misbehaved, she said she could not do that because it was “not in her behavior plan”. OK, then….I can’t help you.

    1. Maybe the school psychologist can help the teacher understand the concept of an individualized behavior intervention plan and a functional behavior assessment. Just as schools are required to provide differentiated instruction for various academic needs we are also mandated to provide for individual behavioral needs – and it sounds like in her case it would make mornings more pleasant! Good luck!

  4. Yes, yes, yes! I was just in a Sunday school meeting and one of the other teachers wanted a name on the board for bad behavior. I thought that was a great way to get a kid to NOT want to come to church! Shame is so prevalent in our culture and not a great motivator.

  5. Thank you, Pernille for helping us have this important conversation. As an elementary school principal, I “banned” public displays of discipline AND public comparisons of individual achievement in my school. We then worked together as a staff to develop alternative means of helping children learn to regulate their own behavior.

    The first step for us was to develop a school culture in which constructive criticism of an educational PRACTICE was not interpreted as criticism of the teacher as a PERSON. Second, we changed from choosing educational strategies based on “what works for ME” to one in which we said, “Let’s choose practices and strategies based on what works for the children in our school”.

    I’ve worked in dozens of schools as a school change coach, and I have seen firsthand that the very best schools teach children how to regulate their own behavior rather than relying on adults to tell them if they are “good” or “bad” (please don’t respond by saying students don’t understand what’s good for them because they are only children – they DO know.) It’s a lot more fun and satisfying working in a school with students who take that responsibility rather than the adults making judgments and always being “in charge.” Why should WE be responsible for their behavior? Let’s teach THEM how to do it!

    1. I have to respectfully disagree with most all of you. Adults are most definitely in charge and students do need to be held accountable for their behavior. There are other ways to allow students choices in their day. Behaving appropriately is NOT a choice. Effective classroom management begins with respect. If it is reciprocated, the public humiliation chart you all are so referring to, will not pose a problem. It will then also serve as a visual reminder to those students needing it. Students need to understand the consequence of misbehavior. If they don’t wish to “pull their pins, ” they should make good choices. An effective teacher will have taught what it means to make good, appropriate choices. Is this behavior management ideal for all students? Of course not. And just like our lessons, teachers must differentiate as needed. You All are being so over dramatic with this public humiliation garbage. The teachers who have problems with this system are the ones who do not have good classroom management in the first place. So, it doesn’t work for your students? Then try something else and stop publicly humiliating those teachers for whom it does work.

      1. You read a blog post that doesn’t match the practice in your classroom, and it made you feel “publicly humiliated.” (your words, last sentence) Yet, you propose that a public behavior chart is respectful toward students. I understand that this is partly just semantics, but even without the word “humiliation” in reference to your feelings, I still see some serious dissonance. If having your practice criticized from far away and out of view of your admin, colleagues, and students brings up these kinds of feelings, how can you expect your students to accept public correction in full view of their peers in stride?

        I’ll suggest an experiment. During your next teacher’s meeting, make a behavior chart and use it in secret. Have the counselor or asst principal make a mark on the chart each time a teacher talks out of turn, seems disengaged from the speaker, looks at an electronic device, or leaves the room (they should have planned their bathroom needs better). At the end of the meeting, hide the names, show the chart to the staff, and have them vote on whether they would like this system used for the remainder of the year. To make the analogy complete, the chart should be prominently displayed in the tracher’s lounge, and each teacher should move their own Popsicle stick as needed during future meetings. If you (or your union rep) would consider this disrespectful, unprofessional, or inappropriate, then perhaps we should reconsider using it with children.

        I’m sorry if any of that repeats previous posts or comments on the topic. I haven’t engaged with this article in awhile, and may be plagiarizing someone.

  6. God bless you!!

    I have a rising first grade daughter with a huge desire to please and motor planning problems. The two don’t go together very well. She typically had to move her clip down 1-2 times a week. Occasionally the reason was truly a behavior problem but most of the time she didn’t understand what she did wrong. When she did understand, I just didn’t see what she could do about it. The motor planning problems don’t make following directions or working quickly as easy for her as it is for some people. The teacher thought this was no big deal and that my daughter deserved what she got. My daughter spent the year anxious, sad and depressed. She was moved up three times during the school year (only three) and spent a lot of time trying to figure out why when she did those behaviors again they didn’t result in getting moved up again. She just couldn’t figure it out.

    In addition, one time a bunch of girls carried her and another little girl who was also labeled a “bad girl” by the clip system out on the playground against their will, lifted them up by their hands and feet, swung them through the air, and wouldn’t put them down. My daughter was afraid to go to school for a week. The girls who did it were in red for the day, but they were the “good girls” with the little jewels all over their clip. So the lesson that these kids are learning is that you’re good if you are mean to kids on the playground, but can color within the lines and stay on task. You’re bad if you have problems like ADHD, ADD or motor problems that cause writing resistance. It’s really a terrible, terrible system. If your student has his or her clip moved down consistently, there is something going on with that child that public humiliation can not solve.

  7. This is exactly the discussion I was looking for. I’ve taught 5th for the last 12 years with the behavior plan being if a student distracts others from learning, he or she needs to go to the hall to settle–count to 100–come back in when he/she feels ready. It worked well. They hate being out of our room. 😉 Now I’m headed to first and I have been wondering if I needed a behavior plan. Nothing I saw in other rooms felt right for me. I wasn’t sure if the 5th grade idea would work–but if there’s a place for a quiet time inside the room, with a smiling teddy bear, for anyone who needs it–that ought to work. I’ll put myself in it now and then to show them it’s for everyone.

  8. At my school we stared using a program called classroom Dojo. it works with any PBS system and can be used to track behavior patterns to see when a child is acting up. (math class perhaps) to help target changes for that child. You can set it to only display positive behavior points and hide the negative. The class hears a ring for positive behavior and it tells the class exactly who did a good job. When a student breaks a rule all the class hears is a negative sound with no name. So they don’t know who was breaking the rule but it gets their attention and they focus back on the lesson. Fro each positive the students earn a point and at the end of the day the points are added to their PBS punch card. If a student gets a full card they an dress out of uniform at the end of the month and be placed in a school wide drawing for a school spirit t-shirt given to them by the principal. Plus it give the parents and teach a print out report on that students behavior.

  9. I think you make some very valid points worth considering. However, please know that the source of the image you used is not pinterest {Just like ideas aren’t from pinterest}. It’s from an actual blog, with an actual teacher behind it. I don’t think it’s fair to use her picture to attack behavior charts without her permission. {I haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments, so this may have been mentioned}

    1. Thank you for your comment, I grabbed an image from Pinterest to illustrate the point, not to attack one teacher.  Since the image is readily available on the Internet, I used it, it could have been any number of images really.

  10. Popular post, Pernille – you are a Super Student! 😉 You definitely provide a unique perspective for your many readers in what you write here.

    With regard to your fictional lead, while I would never go to that degree to make a point about my beliefs involving behavior charts (I don’t like them), as a principal I did ask my staff to visualize their classroom management system embedded within one of our meetings. “How comfortable would you feel in this type of learning environment?”

    I did not read every comment here, but I wonder if there has been any discussion about making disciplinary data public through these types of charts? How does FERPA apply in these types of situations? If parents are coming in and seeing this information… I really don’t know the answer. Maybe someone here does.

    My family and I just got back from a trip through Illinois to visit family. We stopped at a prairie museum in Mahomet and participated in a one room schoolhouse simulation. My kids were a little nervous about the hickory stick! 🙂 We have come a long way in how we manage classroom behavior, but we can always learn more. And if we aren’t learners, I question whether we truly are teachers, title notwithstanding.

    I will end my length comment with a favorite quote from Peter Johnston, author of Opening Minds: “We tend to view conflicts in the classroom as simply distractions from academic learning, so we try to eliminate them as quickly as possible by invoking our authorities as teachers… It might be better to view these interruptions as opportunities for building a moral compass and both the tools and the inclination for social problem solving” (91).

    Good luck in your new position, Pernille.

  11. Reblogged this on kbuschblog and commented:
    There is certainly enough segregation in our world…the have/have nots and countless other categories and labels. Our classrooms can be a place to break away from those categories…a place where children from different backgrounds and ethnicities work together. Sometimes, it might be the only time they have an opportunity to be free from those labels and work together to see how alike they really are and begin to break down the stereotypes, bias, and labels…Of course, we must maintain a sense of order to provide an environment where work can be accomplished and there are many ways to achieve this through those vital relationships and individual connections we foster with our students.

  12. I love your article. I found it as I was researching ways to talk to my daughters kindegarten teacher about how unhappy I am about the clip chart system she is using. Any suggestions? My husband is a teacher and he fears I risk alienating my kids by talking to her about it. My daughters do great. They (twins) always At least on green, and often higher, and as soon as they get home they tell me that. And that’s one of the reasons I hate it. I am raising future women, and I don’t want them learning that they need to seek their teachers or anyone else’s approval. Sure I want them to be respectful and kind, and hard working. But even more I want them to be grounded and confident in who they are, courageous and authentic. I want them to look inside to know how their day and their life is going. If they don’t meet their responsibilities or treat someone unkind, I want the educator I am entrusting them to to talk with them and help hem better understand the situation, and to help them understand it from other angles. I want t heir teacher to help them learn to empathize. I want them to act in ways that they feel good about because it makes them feel good. Period. I started by telling them that I don’t care what color they got for the day,and that I don’t want them to care either. But I would really like to talk with their teacher about it. I just don’t want her to feel attacked. And I can see where it could be hard to change after starting this system already, but it makes me crazy. And don’t get me started on the public shaming aspect of making them clip down. Ugh. I would love your advise as a teacher. Thanks for the great post.

  13. I am a parent of twins entering kindergarten this year, as well as having an M.Ed. in what ended up basically being Behavior Management. I do not have a teaching certificate, but I have spent a fair amount of time in classrooms with my students.

    As my children are entering kindergarten, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the stoplight behavior systems and other public behavior charts. Beyond the shaming of a student and the emotional situations that brings up for them, I simply find them to be lazy. There are many other systems which are more effective and create long term positive effects; they just take more effort on the teacher’s part. I understand teachers are mired in paperwork and other tasks, so sometimes this falls to the wayside.

    ANYWAY, I have a friend who is the school psychologist at the school where my daughters will be attending. She and I are trying to work together to present information to the principal to remove the requirement for these behavior charts. Yes. Currently ALL elementary teachers are REQUIRED to use this system district wide (!!!!). Are you aware of any studies that have been conducted that can express some of these principles and thoughts that we should share and try to affect change? Please feel free to email me rather than replying here. I appreciate your input and your article!

    1. You might consider reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. As a principal, my staff read and discussed his work – our shared learning became the basis of a more reflective school-wide system of behavior self-management. The faculty also developed a set of personal and social responsibility standards that served as a foundation for “being together” in the school. If you are looking for something already developed, you might consider the Responsive Classroom framework.

      Good luck in moving away from systems that gain short term compliance by using punishments and rewards. There are certainly more effective ways of helping students learn to take personal responsibility for their behavior. Build character, not just compliance!

  14. Okay. Now what?
    How do I approach the teacher?
    My son is easily embarrassed even by the most gentle of corrections that I make in the privacy of our own home.
    I can not imagine the humiliation and shame he will feel with these charts!

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