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 have said the same thing and see it in my grandson’s face when he comes home and has to tell his mother he was on a yellow or red. He has such an excitement and zest for learning and they are taking it away.

  1. As is, I’d have to file this in the “anti-something rant without a solution” file. If I were to accept your criticism of behavior charts (the adult example was awesome), what are my alternatives?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. I don’t and have never used behavior charts (I teach in a high school.) but have tried doing a weekly “Top Student” award type chart. I have 3 categories for each class: Highest grade, Best Behavior and Most Improved. After the first few weeks, as the students have gotten to know each other some, I give them a vote in the matter. Sometimes it’s “Do you think it should be Johnny or Sue this week?” and sometimes it is just “Who do you think deserves it this week?” I make sure to point out there is only one spot each week and always more than one deserving student. I’m not sold this is the best method either, but it’s what I’ve tried so far as a new teacher. I want to reward those who are really trying, who excel, and those who improve. Often times it seems we spend so much time disciplining or lecturing about bad behavior that the good students get left out. I’m open for any and all suggestions at this point.

    2. No kidding? I’m pretty sure my students don’t lose their motivation after they move their clip. In my room they can move their clip up or down. So moving it down in the morning doesn’t mean they are in the negative all day. They just have to work hard to move it back up. It improves behavior. I’m sorry, but being an overprotective, hypersensitive teacher will get my students nowhere. They need to take responsibility for their actions and work to improve them. Also, the author is a 7th grade teacher. Why in the heck were they using a behavior chart? Oh dear… Perhaps the issue wasn’t the chart.

      1. Thank you so much everyone for giving me all of your comments and reading this post. Couple of misconceptions need to be cleared up, first of all I am beginning a new job as a seventh grade teacher until now I have been in the elementary classroom.  Second of all if you read any of my other posts you will see that my classroom is not one where there are no consequences,  and instead a classroom that functions on mutual respect and setting the rules together.  That does not mean I baby my students, in fact, quite the opposite.  My students are expected to behave and to act responsibly.  They do not need a chart to tell them when they are misbehaving.  I have had much better classroom order since I got rid of the behavior chart.  My students grow and take responsibility for their learning.  So while I encourage open conversation on this topic, please refrain from drawing conclusions about me or my experiences without reading more.  My final question is, has anyone asked students how they feel about this?  Because  I did, my students told me that it did not help them behave better.

      2. My “conclusions” were based on the description below the article. Admittedly, this was the first post I have read of yours. Anyways, if asked, my students would tell me any consequences or behavior systems weren’t beneficial or effective as they don’t understand the benefits. We have had similar conversations when they question a consequence. We always discuss what makes a good teacher and a good student. My parent and student surveys have well established the amount of respect I have for my students. They don’t doubt my intentions or how much I care, and yes, I use a behavior chart. Gasp!

      3. Lins: I can see your point because by the end of the day if I have one person in the yellow area, I feel I did not do my job of helping that student to choose better options for their behavior. My students know from the beginning that we all make mistakes, but these mistakes are not life hindering. They like the structure and know that if they or someone else is taking away their learning, they will be redirected. If they are working cooperatively or productively, the group or student will be asked to move their clip up.

        Even when I have had a substitute, my students continue to redirect their own behavior. They know that if procedures are not followed many jobs in the classroom will be slowed. They go a move their clip without anyone noticing. My chart is quite small and their magnets only have small initials. This is a fifth grade, not a seventh grade.

        Thanks Lins, for helping me see that how I’m using my behavior chart is not harming anyone!

      4. Once again, I have been an elementary teacher for the last 6 years, I am just moving into 7th, not sure what that has to do with the post either way.

    3. Thanks for the follow up, Pernille. I’ve got a good reading list as I rethink my procedures. 🙂

      There, Patrick Lollis….now you have a discussion topic with a solution!
      I wish you well as you discover ways to see behaviors as opportunities to teach missing skills!

    5. @Lins…your snarky, aggressive and completely close minded responses are the exact type attitudes in many teachers that have lead me to pull my children from public education and instead, use private and homeschool groups.
      To the author and other teachers I see responding here with open minds and pausing to consider the alternate point of view on this… I applaud you all! You give me hope in the education system moving in a positive direction. Children need positive environments, not one which any adult would cringe at being in. If I had a boss who openly chastised enthusiasm and charted behavior of employees publicly…he or she would not be my boss for even a full day. We expect our children to thrive in a such a way? Absurd. Thank you again for the teachers striving to provide positive classrooms, having open minds and working hard to use alternative techniques.

      1. @ Michelle, as a public school teacher, first let me apologize to you for those who have let you and your children down. I hope that is an isolated event, because there are so many positives about public schools. Interacting with other children and adults allow our children to grow; aid in decision making, social skills, problem solving, and also allows students to get exposure to professionally trained adults who can offer life skills and exposure to the arts. Now for my comment. As a child growing up in the seventies, We were “charted” for most things educational, but not behaviorally. I can’t imagine if I had that pressure thrust upon me as well, because I was horrified on Friday if there wasn’t a shiny foil star by name for spelling. Attendance was another…THEN someone got the bright idea to have a school wide chart on cleanliness! If you were “clean” you got an Ivory soap sticker. If you were “so-so” you got a yellow dot, dirty?…the red dot of death. Talk about being under pressure! We had student monitors who looked at your hands, ankles, behind your ears, and your face. I always got an Ivory soap, BUT there was a young man in my class who transferred in to our school because he was troubled. No one liked him, or played with him, and needless to say, he received red dots across the board. Was he dirty? No…just bullied by a class of goody two shoes who ostracized him. Did it impact him? Not sure, but I’ve held on to it for over 35 years…

  2. Pernille,

    For the first few years of my teaching career I also had a chart. And then one day I got called out at a staff meeting for being disengaged.

    As you can imagine my attitude went from bad to worse. After some time passed I began to think about how that situation was eerily similar to what was occurring in my classroom. I met with a veteran teacher who did not use these charts. He simply had a system that was individualized and he conferenced with each student individually. I was impressed…and this led to my change. I then modified his system to fit me and I did away with behavior charts.

    What I learned was, kids craved the positive reinforcement, kids didn’t want to look bad in front of their peers and most importantly my challenging students appeared to come in each day with an improved attitude. Looking back I think the chart was too much pressure. It felt like a dark cloud looming over some students.

    I applaud your courage to change, but more importantly I applaud your ability to see through the eyes of a child. I wish more adults would shift their view, it shouldn’t be how do we make things easier for ourselves…the focus should be what is best for kids.

    Thank you for putting this message out there for all to read.


  3. I’m a teacher who abhors these charts, and am trying to figure out how to help my daughter’s teacher leave them behind. Trying to step carefully, but…

  4. Thank you Pernille for this.

    I am wondering -what about the cards that display names for math and reading groups? I have them for convenience, so that at a glance we can see who needs to be working with me or on the computers etc.

    Do you think these should be hidden from view? I am also open to all suggestions.


  5. I was the ‘queen of behavior charts’ too and had a stellar classroom management record. I didn’t call students out in front of others. I gave them a private warning first and then the next time I silently moved the card behind their name from green to yellow. It was still public shaming though since I used a chart. It wasn’t until two years ago that I read about the responsive classroom and loved it. Out went behavior charts and I am so glad I did it! Thanks for posting. It is great to read about other teachers who have gone through similar experiences. 🙂

    1. No, we don’t have more important things to worry about! A child’s heart is the most important thing in the world. Teaching is about relationships, and punishment is for criminals; guidance is for children. We are helping to raise small humans, and everything we do, every day, every minute, counts mightily.

    2. Shelby, I think you have totally missed the point. It’s not about “which” behavior chart to use, but instead whether or not it is a good idea to use them at all. And worrying about what is best for a child and their education (in other words, our vital role in their life) is something that we should always strive to improve upon. I think a very viable topic has been addressed and I am personally thankful that someone gave me something to ponder. I, too, have used behavior charts. But, this gives me something to think about as it should with anyone who uses them. I don’t “think” that I use it in a negative/shameful way, but I am definitely going to try and put this in perspective. I may or may not continue to use this system. But the fact remains that Pernille brings a very thought provoking issue up. And it IS something to worry about. So, for pete’s sake or any other person’s sake, take the time to ponder.

  6. I love this, Pernille, and have a very similar post of my own: If something would be humiliating to adults, what makes us think it is okay for children? (And for those who want guidance about how to manage WITHOUT a chart, I write about that, too: Our students deserve relationship-based classrooms, not system-based factories.

  7. Even as a child, I was more motivated by my own internal sense of right and wrong. External charts (both for praise or punishment) made me feel unsafe. Shame and labels might tamp down on students who occasionally make poor choices, but it will skewer students who see themselves as “good” and have little effect on students whose sense of proper behavior is underdeveloped. Praise charts (number of books read, time “on task”, etc…) took away any motivation I had to do things on my terms. Everything became about teacher-pleasing. Once those rewards went away, or if I wasn’t rewarded “fairly”, I started to hate having my name on the praise charts. Maybe there’s a time and place for behavior charts, but public display isn’t one of them.

  8. Thank you for writing about important issue. This is perhaps the most important issues in our school systems, that is often ignored in our exuberant discussions about edtech and such within our PLNs. However, this is an issue steeped in traditional school practices and traditional pedagogies that need to change. This change needs needs to happen not just for deeper learning, but for increased self-esteem, self-worth, growth mindset, motivation, and personal success in life.

    Thank you!

  9. So what then do suggest we do instead? Keep letting students be disrespectful with no consequence? That’s not the real world. If I was being insubordinate with my boss, I would be written up. No one coddled my generation. Why are we so quick to think we are hurting kids instead of making them aware of their choices. I really think the world is getting great at turning the other cheek and we are prepping ourselves for a huge mess in years to come. When I use my behavior chart the students ALWAYS have a chance to redeem themselves and I will even say, “I am so proud of you for turning it around”. Maybe if we didn’t “baby” kids they would be stronger individuals.

    1. Just because you don’t use a chart or clip system doesn’t mean you’re coddling the children either. I don’t use a traditional behavior system in my classroom, yet when my students misbehave, they don’t “get away with it”. They receive a quick and fair consequence appropriate to the behavior. You’re right, children do need to be held accountable for their behavior. I also agree with the poster’s idea of public shaming. I’ve seen many children shut down and withdraw because of it. That’s not the result that we want either. There are systems that work better and that help get the desired results. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and what works for them.

    2. I don’t think that there was ever a suggestion to allowing children to get away with bad choices. That was not the case at all. But perhaps an alternative method besides “public humiliation”. I also agree that as an adult, I do not like to be publicly humiliated. If I am not doing something the way that my boss would like for me to do, I would much rather he call me into his office during my planning period and talk to me privately instead of airing it out in front of my peers. The point of this topic is NOT about babying or coddling these children. It is about figuring out a way to hold children accountable without necessarily shaming them in front of others. Often times, this DOES result in students putting up a resistance to turning their behavior around. As far as suggestions for alternatives, please refer to the author’s P.S. section where she offers links that you may or may not find useful.

    3. But does your boss make your insubordination a public affair? Are all the other teachers made aware that you did something wrong, no matter how small?? As a former teacher and a mom of a child starting kindergarten this year, it’s appalling to me how many elementary teachers use this system. It wasn’t used 30 yrs ago, and those of us old enough to remember turned out just fine.

      1. No, because 30 years ago, parents expected their children to respect authority and to behave themselves at school and didn’t blame their child’s behavior on everyone or everything except the child. If the child was in trouble at school, they were in trouble at home. Corporal punishment was also still used to discipline students and was very effective and we have all turned out fine with the exception that we are raising an entire generation of hypersensitive kids who are unable to behave appropriately, and take responsibility for their own actions. Parents do not want their child to experience ANY discomfort and will stop at nothing to make sure Little Johnny’s or Little Susie’s feelings are not hurt. Sometimes getting your feelings hurt is the best thing for you. It makes you rethink your behavior and act accordingly.

  10. Wow – really enlightening! The public shaming technique goes beyond just charts… I remember instances of public shaming even in middle and high school. It was definitely my main motivation for not misbehaving.

  11. When these charts are used incorrectly (i.e. calling a child out publicly), then yes, I believe they can create a divided classroom. I’ve had great success using these charts with kindergarten. However, children aren’t called out publicly in my classroom. Rather, I privately conference with the child and tell them why they’re moving their clip. At times when it’s not possible to talk with them privately (i.e. during whole group instruction at the carpet), I use other strategies to manage the behavior and talk with them afterward. The thing is, these charts should never be a teacher’s ONLY tool for classroom management. It should be used as only one part of the whole package. I use a lot of positive reinforcement, spend countless times reviewing rules and establishing expectations, and countless more “tricks of the trade” in combination with the clip chart. When we’re teaching reading or math we always use a combination of strategies. Classroom management should be no different.

    Another point is that children pretty much know which children have been misbehaving – they don’t rely on a chart to tell them that. You have to hold kids accountable for their behavior. Along with that, think about the kids who are constantly doing what’s right. The clip chart shows them that as the teacher, you really appreciate how they’re making good choices. I don’t think it’s “public shaming” as much as just having a visual for what the kids already know anyway – who needs to shape up, and whose behavior is helpful to the class. Quite honestly, if I were a child in a classroom trying to do my work and was continually distracted by another student’s misbehavior, I would be relieved when the teacher actually did something about it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that child’s clip movedv down.

    Also, I’ve never felt like there was a huge divide between kids in my room because I never allow a child to remain on yellow, orange, or red for very long. If they clip below green, I always tell them i’m going to be looking for them to make good choices so they can clip back up. If a child is chronically on orange or red, then they definitely need other interventions because something isn’t working. When using the chart, it’s crucial that you give all students an equal chance to move up or down. Follow through when you tell a child that you’ll be watching, and most of the time, they’ll love the chance to make you happy. I’ve only had experience with these in kindergarten, so maybe another question is how long can these charts be effective and appropriate for?

    Like all things in the classroom, nothing works for every child. However, I wholeheartedly believe that clip charts can be an effective and positive tool when used correctly.

  12. I’ve been teaching 43 years, and have never used behavior charts. Instead, I employ a 5 x 5 for my disruptive students — 5 minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time (talking about anything the child was interested in) for 5 days. It’s amazing how effective positive reinforcement and positive relationships are. Except for a tiny handful of kids (who needed more time), this technique has served my students and me very well.

    1. Jackie,
      Would you mind expanding on your 5×5 ie: What level of behavior warrents the 5×5? When during the day did you meet with the children? On average how many children do you meet with each day for 5 minutes. What question or comment do you use to begin the 5 minute conversation with each child? At the end of the five days of meeting with the child how would you wrap up or summarize the meetings?
      Thanks so much,

  13. Wow, this is quite a charged issue! One thing I try to ask when re-thinking a strategy or practice I use with kids is: Who is benefitting from this? Is this filling a need for control or satisfying my fear of students,”going crazy?” In my early years of teaching kindergarten, I feared that even letting kids get silly was a no-no because I wouldn’t know how to “bring them back” to being ready for learning. I know better now and I teach them ways to become quiet with themselves and learn how to enjoy the silly moments and the serious moments.
    One of the most important things we do as teachers is influence students’ beliefs about themselves. We all know that there are students who become the “frequent fliers” up to the charts and the kids who never, ever more their clips. Even if you try to “catch everyone” it’s inevitable that many will not be seen. Is this the way we want to spend our precious minutes with our students?
    Thank you, Pernille, for this conversation, and I hope that others, even in their disagreement, can be respectful in the dialogue.

  14. Are you familiar with Class DoJo? It is a system of reward and consequence which can be done privately. The behaviors, both positive and negative, can be customized by the teacher. Reports can be sent to parents, and conferencing can take place between student and teacher. What are your thoughts regarding this?

    1. This is what I’m planning on using (I’ll be a first year teacher in August!) While subbing for the last half of the year, I noticed that I had a hard time even USING the clip chart. I feel like I was just telling those that were misbehaving to move their clips down, but never acknowledging those that had good behavior. I know that’s MY fault, but I feel like if it doesn’t work for you, then you need to find something else to do. I used Class Dojo in my student teaching class and LOVE IT! The thing I loved the most was that parents had a behavior report emailed to them every Friday, so they could see how their student behaved during the week. It’s a WONDERFUL program that is free to use.

      I think the thing with this article, though I’m sure wasn’t meant to come off this way, is it almost came off sounding like if you use behavior charts you’re a bad, horrible teacher that could care less about the feelings of your students. All of the teachers that I know that use behavior charts LOVE their students and only want to see them succeed. Just because someone uses a behavior chart DOES NOT mean they are into shaming their students. For some people it works and for others it doesn’t. I think the author had good intentions in writing this article, BUT the wording of the article, and the way it made those that use behavior charts seem like horrible people, made me cringe, and I don’t even like the charts. I can’t imagine how it made those wonderful teachers that use them and like them feel while reading it.

      1. I am not trying to make anyone feel like a horrible teacher, however, I do think one should reevaluate the use of public behavior charts, notice the word “public” here. That doesn’t make you horrible, that makes you reflective. Being a teacher means changing and thinking of how to best suit the needs of all learners. I wish I had come to that realization sooner before I subjected students to it.

  15. I am a sub and have been for 8 years. I go into a different class each day and 95% of them have a clip chart. I choose not to use them because it just takes too much time to keep track of it. The kids lose learning time while we have to deal with clip moving. I prefer to give out individual stickers for good behavior rewards, which is kept at the student’s desk. I give each student a sticker for being there on time and randomly pick several times during the day to pick out star students to give stickers to. At the end of the day, I give out little prizes for the most earned stickers. I do give behavior challenged children stickers if I see they have been trying to correct a previous behavior. So, everyone has a chance to be the star student(s) of the day.

  16. I am so glad to see this article on here and your connection to staff meetings! Understanding and creating a classrroom environment together, having discussions holding students accountable for their actions is what makes a difference. I do not believe in babying kids or shaming them. Great article and thanks for listing other resources!

    1. If its purpose is not to publicly call out a child for their behavior, then why the need for a public chart? Many people have commented how they use private behavior plans and how they work effectively. So no, I don’t think it is a bit much at all.

      1. Wow! This really touched me. I can remember being crushed by being called out in high school by a sub (retired teacher) when I turned to discuss the assignment with a classmate. I felt like I had been slapped. HOWEVER, to the question “if it’s purpose is not to publicly call out a child for their behavior, then what is the need for a public chart?” I would answer this. It is for the teacher to quickly see who is having problems that day, to gauge what consequence they will have for their actions, and for that child to also see where their behavior needs improvement. That being said, it is not a one size fits all chart. My autistic student had much more redirect time (quietly and privately) as did my students with severe anger issues. With any discipline procedure, you have to have “heart” as the foundation, and be willing to reflect on what does and doesn’t work. It hurts me to read teachers being attacked for their opinions and ideas, as well as for having a different opinion than the author, as well as teachers being villainized by homeschooling parents. I don’t understand everyone’s situation, but I do know this; I was schooled in a private (Christian) school, homeschooled, as well as spending two years in a public school. I am a teacher who has worked with amazing teachers as well as those who were “lacking”. I am a parent who’s child has had amazing teachers, as well as (to be quite honest) a horrible teacher. I’ve seen a lot, learned a lot and observed a lot. This is what I almost always see, teachers try and try and try. Keep an open mind and an open heart and be willing to change. Love your students and you will see a world of difference! Thank you for the insight, I will think about this often.

  17. This type of behavior management (among other things) is part of why I homeschool. My 6 year old has very high functioning autism and this type of management would deflate her VERY quickly. But her aspergers would keep her from being able to understand the connection between what she’s doing (that she doesn’t understand it’s problem to begin with) and coming home on the lowest part of the chart every single day.

    The thing that bothers me about these is that they don’t take the individuality of the child into account. Yes, behaviors need to be addressed and consequences need to be inforced. But when it’s something that includes a developmental delay such as autism, you can’t have a blanket statement.

    1. I know many teachers who use behavior charts. None that I know, including myself, use them with autistic children without modification.

      I support your right to home school your child if that is your wish. You are doing what you genuinely believe is right for your child, and I support you.

      I won’t speak for the author here, but when I put myself on record as being critical of an issue in public education, it is to IMPROVE public education for ALL children. It is not to provide validation or a rallying point for those who would diminish what I believe to be one of the primary accomplishments of democratic society.

      It’s like having a hard conversation with someone you’re dating about some part of their personality they need to work on. If you are in the relationship, you have the right to do this. If you’ve already broken up, it seems like you’re just being mean.

  18. *kinda* makes sense….unfortunately, so many people have decided that kids’ delicate egos shouldn’t be bruised… the point that kids don’t learn respect, they don’t learn that they *should* feel bad when they do bad, and they don’t learn responsibility and accountability. Kinda like the “participation” trophies–imo one of the worst things to ever hit the school scene–when everyone gets it, it’s not earned, and it’s worthless. No, adults don’t “pull their clips” in meetings–but children aren’t adults. If we don’t teach them, they never will be true adults….which is what we’re seeing in the world today, and appears it will only get worse. You want a society of sociopaths? Keep rewarding (or not addressing) bad behavior and failing to teach values.

  19. I am also a teacher (although I am currently staying home with my children) but I have not ever used a behavior chart instead positive reinforcement tickets. Yes there were consequences in my classroom but I agree whole heartedly with this article. The behavior charts visually show each student, teacher, and parent who walks into that classroom who the behaved and un-behaved children are. What if it was your child on red each and every day? How would you feel as a child to walk in front of the classroom and have everyone pass by only to see your name on red. This does not build a positive relationship and it doesn’t teach respect. One of the most important things is to build an emotionally safe environment and in my opinion these charts do not do this.

  20. Pernille, thank you for a very insightful point of view. When I first saw the title and began reading the first few lines of your comments, I wanted to ruffle my feathers just a little because I am one of those “clip chart” behavior management teachers. I guess I have always viewed this method as a visible way for individual students to have a reminder of where they stand for the day. I have seen some teachers use this system as a way to publicly “shame” the students (the way they make such a big deal of it). But I do it in a more discreet way. However, it is still public. Thank you for giving me something to think about. I don’t know if I will continue my system or not, but I will definitely be reading and researching the responsive classroom approach to see if it would work for me.

    I am sure you will continue to get praise and criticisms throughout the days ahead. We all have our opinions. But I applaud you for being so “brave” and putting this out there for us to ponder. Otherwise, I would have never even thought about it. Kuddos to you!!!!!

  21. I personally use this chart and it works wonders in the elementary setting. As previous comments, if they clip down they turn their behavior around real quick to try to clip back up. I’m sick of an education world that wants to tip toe around bad behavior as to not hurt anyone’s feelings. My job is prepare them for the real world, which is going never going to always be positive.

  22. I teach in a self-contained classroom and some of my students have severe behavior problems for various reasons. When I started out I had no behavior chart system and the behavior in the classroom was okay, but not great. During my 2nd/3rd year I started using individual behavior charts based on each students individual needs. This worked well for some of the kids, but others were not motivated at all. My 4th year I moved to a clip chart and had a lot of success. All 4 years I used treasure box for good behavior. This last year I continued the clip chart for the students it was benefiting and used individual charts for the students who needed those. I did not have to use my treasure box for most of the year because the students were motivated just by clipping up or by their individual charts. I want to explain more, but it’s difficult because it’s so individualized. If a student has a meltdown I often do not have them clip down because they were able to calm themselves down. Students who clip down rarely stay there for very long because I find something positive as quickly as possible to move them back up. If a student is prone to clipping down I know the chart is not working and it’s time for an individual chart. I try to make my classroom a positive environment. I have discussions with my students privately because I have so many different levels in my class and students with cognitive, behavior and/or language difficulties. Consequences are usually natural consequences and I rarely send a kid to the office. What’s the point? My kids know that we all make mistakes and that it’s okay to make mistakes.

  23. The point made about knowing who the “bad” kids are was right on target…my daughters would come home and tell me who got on red and that “so and so” was Always on red! Another thing that came to mind is how we learn from such a young age to compare ourselves to others instead of trying to give our selves and internal point of reference with which to measure our grades, behavior, attitude, etc….one day you are one of the only kids on green…you are on top of the world and a great student…the next day you are the only one who switched your color card and it was the worst day of your life…kids who are consistently on Green feel pretty good with themselves, but oh boy do they fear a card change and how terrible they must be (or how wrong the teacher is) when it happens…a stable sense of self and motivation to learn is WAY better than a classroom of “well-behaved” children!!!

  24. I am a 30 year-old high school math teacher and I vividly remember to this day how defeated and demoralized I felt getting orange and red cards and that I didn’t get to go to the party at the end of the week. I think instead of working harder to get to go to the party, I just accepted the fact that I wouldn’t get to go to class parties.

  25. My daughter just finished her first year of school. On the last day of school, I asked her what her most proud accomplishment was. She said she was most proud that she “never got a mark” (her teacher’s behavior management system). I was sad to think that in a year where she learned how to read independently, write beginner stories, etc, her most proud accomplishment was not being called out publicly. I’m somewhat distressed that this is what she’s determined it means to be a “good student” after only one year. I’m a teacher myself and I know that being respectful is critical to her success, but so is being a risk taker and I often view my students who are willing to challenge the status quo as well on their way to making a difference in the world.

  26. Seriously? You do not need a chart to call attention to bad behavior or have a student possibily be public humiliated. If a teacher is re-directing a student frequently….you don’t think the other students are catching on who the “bad” kid is? Do they need a chart to tell them that? No….the student who acts out is public humiliating themselves by the choices they are making. The chart is a visual cue…’s fluid…you can move up or down based on your choices. When you have a classroom filled with disrespectful students who could care less, who’s parents could care less….who will not stop irritating, distracting, instigating others…..yes for sure I will have them move their clip, or card or whatever….put their name on the board. Call the parents…etc. My main objective is to teach, not behavior management all day. It’s cut and dry in my classroom- behave, follow the social contract….if not there are consequences. One of them is having your clip moved down….if you don’t like that…then again follow the classroom and school rules. So tired of these parents who want to caudle these disrespectful beings….oh I don’t want to hurt their feelings….please….I seriously would like to see you try to teach a group of children who are quite difficult….making noises, throwing chairs, flipping desks, kicking or hitting THE TEACHER! Yes, these are kids in regular classrooms….and yes they are on behavior plans… try to teach with these kinds of kids in your classroom…’s not easy, and stop judging teachers who are trying to do the best they can. If they choose to use a chart- so be it. I just one, and I will keep using it in conjunction with other reward systems. I am an elementary education teacher in a school with 75% free and reduced lunch.

    1. I think relationship building will help you out. I teach elementary school, kinder specifically, and have all that you mentioned above…i don’t think there are too many public schools today that are not in similar situations…fair is not always equal but you have to start somewhere…start with building relationships with your students. ..If you really try and I mean really put forth the effort…you will see a difference. So many kids with problems today need safety and stability in the classroom…your scenario sounds as if the kids need you more than ever. I know mine me and while it does take all year the first grade teachers appreciate the effort put forth. Try it. It may be just what you are looking for. I use the principles from capturing kids hearts…Google it. The 4-5 questions really helped me to have students reflect on their own behavior!

    2. Wow! I hope you are still able to see each new student as “new” and falling into some pre-determined category based on your experience or their lunch status.

      1. Correction….and “not” falling into some pre-determined category based on your experience or the child’s free lunch status. (response to Hanna).

    3. Hang in there, Hanna! Some days will be great, some will be bad, and frankly some will be downright horrible. Remember that those little people need you so much! I really like what Kara says about building relationships – so true! Sometimes it takes a whole year to see the progress you’ve made together, but keep going – you (and they) are worth it!

  27. I work as a Therapeutic Day Treatment Counselor in an elementary school where they use the card flipping system in most of the classrooms. I’ve had extensive conversations with some of the teachers I work with about just how the behavior chart thing doesn’t work. It doesn’t make the bad kids any better. It certainly doesn’t make the good kids any more humble. I’ve just never understood why these things are so popular now. And not even from a standpoint of dealing with public humiliation. I just remember being a kid in a public elementary school and having nothing like this in the classrooms I grew up in. If you got in trouble, you just got in trouble. There was no “flip your card to warning!” There weren’t 3 or 4 chances before being sent to the office to contact the parents. But something happened in the 20 years since then to change the way we handle behavior issues in schools. I’m not saying it was better back in the day. But it certainly isn’t better with the fancy behavior charts either.

  28. Building relationships is the alternative…it is amazing what trust can do for a relationship. Shaming does not build trust. I use the philosophy behind capturing kids hearts…capture their heart you can capture their mind. Capture their mind and you can change their world! I do it with 4 and 5 year olds…it really does work!

  29. Are they given the opportunity to make the correct choice and then move there clips up. Mine are I try very hard too move the clips up and very hard not to move them down. If a child moves a clip dowm it’s not the end of the road and they know this and they try very hard to do the right thing so they may get to move it back up.

    1. I allow my students to work hard to move their clips back up. My parents like the clip method because they feel the child has more control over behaviors. A behavior may move a clip down, but the child has the power to reverse the behaviors and move the clip back up.

  30. You’re right, adults don’t move their clothespins down or write their names on the board. When they misbehave, we just read their names in the arrest record section of the newspaper. “I’m sorry Your Honor, the behavior chart made me do it!”

  31. As a parent, the “clothespin” charts have been hard on my son. He would come home in tears if he went down a color. He rarely pulled a clothespin, but when he did, he would label himself as a “bad kid.” It took some time to convince him that he was not a color on the clothespin chart, and his father and I love him the same if he is on purple or red. I know this is a trend in elementary schools now, but it seems like there should be a more positive way of managing a classroom…

  32. I have a pocket chart at the front. Each kid has a numbered pocket. All start with green sticks everyday. When a student is off task or breaks a rule, I place a yellow warning stck in that child’s pocket. When the behavior changes for the better, I remove the yellow stick. Very effective. I rarely need red sticks. And red can change to green as well.

  33. I saw this with my son in kindergarten who was so upset one day around spring break about “colors.” I had no idea what he was talking about and I told him not to worry since he knew all his colors for ages. Then he explained the board to me and the sad thing was he was never off green even once. So why was he so upset? “Mom, it’s just so hard trying to be on green all the time.” So here was a boy 2/3 of the way into the year and he was so stressed out about this chart because he didn’t want to get on yellow and it was so difficult for him. The next time I was in his room I noticed the chart on the wall and I immediately felt that it was public shaming.

    I do have to admit that I am not a teacher but respect and admire teachers and I have no idea how to manage individual behaviors when uou have 20-30 kids in a room.

  34. I have been on both sides of the coin. I have taught in elementary classrooms, am now an SLP and I am a parent of a child who struggles greatly with mood swings related to some health issues. Parenting a child who has explosive mood swings has been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. This is a very loved child who receives heavy support and it is difficult to see any logical reason for this behavior. This behavior was exhibited only at home until he had a horrible pre-school experience with ladies who spent the day pointing out the bad behaviors and not rewarding the good. With that experience he lost the ability to hold it together at school. The following kindergarten year was a nightmare. The behavior chart caused a melt down anytime it was used. The teacher was willing to try other re-directional strategies but he still came home with a color on his calendar so it didn’t really go away and the year was horrible. I moved him to a different school so he could go into a TK1 setting. This past year was a huge improvement. Not once did I hear mention of a behavior chart. I have worked with psychologists and behavioral analysts and the one thing that keeps being stated is earn earn earn. “Are you earning your treasure?” “Are you earning your sticker?” I know teaching is not an easy job. If you are relying on the students or parents to make your job easier you are in for a huge disappointment. I supported my son’s teachers in any way they needed but unless they used positive behavioral strategies in the classroom when he was under their supervision then my support didn’t matter. Behavioral issues aren’t going to go away so the sooner you educate yourself on strategies to deal with them, the easier your life will be. If you are not willing to do that, get out.

  35. I have never liked these charts. In my school district however, teachers are REQUIRED to have a behavior chart and follow a school determined set of colors and consequences. Teachers often do not have say in how they manage their classrooms. I don’t think the public realizes how much we are “micro managed” these days. So I have a chart (for show), but I rarely use it.

  36. I’m not a teacher so I would never tell a teacher what is best for their classroom. I am a mother of school aged twin girls who have had to move their clip a select few times (kindergarten & 1st grade). For them it worked, they learned the behaviors that were expected from them. I also am a mom who expects her girls to have respect for their teachers and their peers (within reason, I also teach them how others should respect them to). My girls also knew if they got in trouble in school they also got in trouble at home. My point I’m getting at is if all parents stepped up and parented their children, stayed involved in their children’s lives, taught their children how to respect others and just were gasp a parent maybe these behavior charts wouldn’t be an issue. Now I do understand some kids have other issues that require different discipline and learning techniques, I’m not talking about these children. I’ve seen the well known “bad” kids in my girls school and I’ve seen how their parents were with them and it answered all my questions to why they acted the way the did. These parents are more concerned with pleasing their child, keeping them happy and trying to be their bestfriend and not their parent. These parents are also the ones who are in yelling at the teacher when their precious child gets in trouble. Which in turn makes it hard for teachers because now instead of just teaching they are spending time trying to come up with proper discipline techniques.

  37. I feel we should do what works best for each of us. That may be a clip chart or maybe not. We are professionals who do what we think is best. In my case, I use a clip chart. I feel misbehaviors should be addressed immediately, especially if they interfere with the learning of others or the individual. For students who disrupt constantly, habits must be changed. I think the five minutes for five days is a great idea. It would probably work great for some, but I work in a rough area and would probably need 35 minutes a day. That’s not doable. I agree with those who consider the real world. If we misbehave and speed, a cop pulls us over and everyone gets to see. He or she does not wait for a private moment. If we are arrested, it is published in the newspaper, maybe even a mugshot! If I was being inconsiderate during an important meeting, my principal should call me out.If I call a child out in front of everyone, it doesn’t mean I’m shaming them. I’m trying to help that child and those surrounding. A child is aware of this and chooses his or her behavior knowing there’s a consequence. Parents like it, too. They set goals with it.
    We should support each other in a time where we have very little support from outsiders and decision makers. We are all in different situations. There’s no one size fits all and every educator hopefully is aware of this. I’m fine with a clip chart or no clip chart with my own children and their teachers. Either way, it won’t be a problem because I do my job at home with them. What I’m not fine with is forcing a whole building or corporation of teachers to use it or to not use it. We should make decisions for our class.
    I support and respect you with or without a clip chart! Continue being underpaid, multi-tasking (we fill so many roles),miracle working professionals whose jobs go home with them every night and every vacation!

  38. Wow! The statements of educators whom are offended by this post amaze me.

    20+ years in education, never used a behavior chart, never had “bad” kids (what the heck is THAT about?)!!!, never cease to deeply acknowledge my commitment to children as PEOPLE. And have never regretted any of it.

    All the talk about how the adults feel, are offended, don’t know a better way, won’t the children be out of control?, how will I ever have a good day?, etc. is a gigantic part of the reason we are not doing better things for children! IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

    Get rid of the stupid charts, folders, etc.
    Figure out a way to build a mutually respectful community in YOUR classroom.
    Treat children as whole people.
    Respecting a child doesn’t equate to chaos, disrespect from them, or lack of self-control in any way.

    YOU ARE THE GROWN-UP!! I highly doubt anyone forced you into this profession…Suck. It. Up!

    Stop whining about how hard your job is, start seeing children a whole people, and stop putting your feelings ahead of your responsibility to teach WHOLE children… as far as I can tell nurturing hearts & valuing human feelings is the biggest missing element in the whole big mess which we call education. Learning and emotional security are mutually dependent on one another so, yes, it matters that you don’t humiliate children… because they are people.

    This topic is a waste of breath at this point! JUST STOP IT & move on towards figuring out a better way. Spend the energy you invest in having your feelings hurt on learning more about human development and the importance of emotional security for overall well-being.

    For goodness sake…be the problem solver you expect children to be.

  39. I have to say, I do have worries about demoralizing my students publicly with a clip chart (which I’ll get to in a second), but your opening example actually made me think the opposite of what I’m sure you were intending. In staff meetings, I think it is really poor manners and very disrepectful when people ignore whomever is speaking and have sidebar conversations (not to mention unprofessional). That great idea you wanted to share with your colleague? It totally could have waited 30 minutes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed something in a meeting because someone next to me was chatting away – talk about a lack of mutual respect! Being a good listener and being respectful to others as they take their turn speaking is a huge important life skill we all must model and ingrain in our students. Sadly, as newer teachers come in, I have seen this skill go by the wayside. And I’ve been only teaching ten years! With patience, everyone will get a turn to have their say.

    Back to flip charts — I have had many internal dilemmas about this issue. After weighing the pros and cons, I have decided to continue to use them. My biggest concern was obviously the children’s self-esteem, but I have come to learn that children are much more resilient than we give them credit for. It is a great lesson that one slip during the day doesn’t mean the world is ending and you might as well throw in the towel – I work hard to teach my children that their first move down the chart is a just a warning and is a friendly reminder of the rules. At that point, they’re not in “trouble” but have a choice of how to determine the rest of their day goes. Empowering children and letting them know they are in charge of their actions is very important. As far as the “public” portion of the clip chatt, I have had some concerns about this too. However, a visual reminder of how one’s behavior stacks up to the rest of the class’s can be very motivating. My class is a family, and just like my real family we stick together through the thick and thin. I saw my siblings get in trouble as a kid and they certainly saw me. My parents did not do this in private. If you do enough community building at the beginning of the school year, children will not judge each other for slips in behavior (again, just like a real family – it is important to learn that people mess up and it’s okay to still like them when they do). Personally, I think the determining factor in whether or not the clip chart works is if the teacher has taken the time to foster caring relationships with the children in the class and their families. If you have their trust, most behavior systems will be effective because they know you care about them in the end.

  40. A note to the teachers who claim their students were not shamed or demotivated by ‘clipping down’: I have two elementary school children in public schools, both have had behavior charts in their classroom, and the two kids respond completely differently.

    My 7 year old daughter is a rule follower, she rarely clips down, normally has outstanding days. She is somewhat fixated on the chart and even on good days it causes her some anxiety. On the rare day she does clip down (yesterday was one of those days), she is crushed, it defines her day. She was in tears at pick up and reportedly was too upset to eat lunch. (she wasn’t even at the ‘bottom’ of the chart, she was ‘yellow’- she hadn’t even lost a privilege!!) Did she improve her behavior? Totally. Did she learn anything else after the ‘clip down’? Probably not. Then our evening was tainted, as well, she ended up acting out at home and going to bed early because she could not ‘shake’ the ‘bad day’. So, bravo summer program teacher, your chart controlled her behavior, you get a sticker -she gets to feel like crap.

    My 9 year old son has special needs, I won’t get into the alphabet of acronyms that make up all his diagnosis, the bottom line is : he struggles to self regulate, is easily frustrated and to top it off has a learning disability. He is frequently at the bottom where is says ‘parent contact’ and “lose a field trip”…. it just reinforces his low self esteem- he’s a ‘bad kid’, he ‘can’t do it’… he gives up. And when he does have a ‘good’ day he shrugs “just lucky, I guess”…. too many bad days in a row, he doesn’t trust a good day.

    I do appreciate the teacher who tries to make sure everyone is in green by the end of the day, I think if more teachers used charts like this they might not have the negative effects that I’ve seen in my kids.

    Another thing worth mentioning, is that both my children are black. While I believe that most of their teachers are diligent, dedicated and excellent educators, we are lucky. I know that the numbers tell another story when it comes to classroom discipline for black children. A recent study from the American Psychology Association found that black children are perceived to be less innocent & more culpable for their actions as same aged peers of other races, the gap gets wider and the kids get older. When unevenly distributed discipline is done publicly in front of children, I think there can be unintentional consequences of enforcing bias and nurturing a pipeline to prison.

    1. Hi wingsnroots – thank you for sharing your insights. I have an observation though – is it not important for your daughter to learn (and be taught) that one mistake in a day does not define her? This will be of huge importance as she makes her way in the world! It seems to me that this is an optimal moment to stress the importance that making mistakes and learning from them is how people excel.

      As far as your son goes, I totally agree. In our school, children with special needs are on separate and individualized behavior plans and do not use the chart system at all.

      1. Hi Jill, I agree and she and I did have that discussion, however, for a 7 year old, having the discussion at 6pm when the incident happened at 10am is not as effective as you might hope. The ‘teaching moment’ happened at 10am, and again at lunch when it was clear she was still upset. Sadly, I think the summer program staff might not have the skill to prompt her to ‘turn it around’ so she might have to learn this lesson without that help. When we walked in this morning the assistant (who is a college student) said something like “Still pouting?” I chatted in the hallway with the teacher about not ‘feeding fires’ and assisting her in moving on, and maybe not addressing her so much like a high school Frenemy.

  41. Pernille, thank you for putting your ideas, experiences, and beliefs out there. The number of responses makes it really clear that this issue needed to be aired. Hopefully you’ve given a lot of educators something to consider, and in doing so have shortened the learning curve for those looking for a classroom management plan! 🙂

  42. I am an educator of 21 years. I have watched as education trends have changed and spiraled back around throughout the years. There are so many layers to this topic. First, the community a teacher builds is of the utmost importance. Continuing on this foundation, it is hopefully with love and true teaching that the ‘clip chart’ or chosen ‘behavior management system’ is then implemented. I truly believe children need to be made aware that one choice does not define them, or their entire day. It’s about being able to turn it around, try a different approach, make a better choice. I believe the focus should be – Come to my class “Ready to Learn!” That’s the expectation, chart or no chart. As a student, if you go above and beyond, I’ll be sure to let you know. If on the other hand you need to be redirected, I’ll let you know as well. Both of these can be accomplished in a way that maintains dignity for both the child and the teacher.

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