behavior, punishment, students

Before You Hang Up That Public Behavior Chart


I have written before about public behavior charts, how I feel about them, what they do to students in my opinion.  And while some seem to have found a way to make them work within their environments, I wonder; what if we assumed that all students would have a great day, a great year, and we started off our year without them?  No behavior chart prominently hanging greeting the students on the very first day of school?

I think of the message we send on the very first day of school and how it can frame the way a child sees us.  I used to go over my behavior chart as one of the very first things of the school year; how to act, what the expectations were and more importantly what the consequences would be.  I assumed that my students would need consequences.  I assumed they would need punishment.  I knew they needed a structure, all people do, but I framed that structure in a negative way hoping for a positive result  Why I didn’t see that oxymoron until a few years in, I am not sure.

I am not saying get rid of your behavior systems, not if you’re not ready, but perhaps re-think the assumption that they need to be present from the very first moment of the new year.  And while we are battling assumptions, maybe it is time to reconsider whether all children truly benefit from them.  Do we really need a behavior chart for every single student in our rooms?  I think of my own daughter who works so hard on being good every single day, proudly telling me whenever she gets a compliment from the teacher, and the devastating effect it would have on her if she had to be on “yellow” or “not so great” for the whole world to see.  She cares so much about others, sometimes to a fault, that it would wreck her if others thought she was “bad.” Some may say that that is exactly the intended response; for a child to be so mortified that they never do that behavior again.  Yet, I wonder if that mortification leads to a break down in relationship?

We all know that student behavior can get better if a child feels safe within our environment.  That means safe to learn, safe to try, and yes, safe to have a bad day.  When we publicly show the rest of the class that a child is having a bad day and then leave a reminder up, we limit the way a child can process through their actions.  Some students will obviously correct their behavior, whereas others will continue down the path of bad decisions since they have already been called out on it.  So instead of the public behavior chart, how about a private one?  That way a child can still know how they are doing, you can still have the conversations it may spur, but you cut out the public call out, the public humiliation.  And what if on the first day of school we didn’t speak of just our own rules, but had the students discuss their rules for the classroom?  How about instead of consequences, we spoke of the learning journey?

So before you hang up that public behavior chart, even though it may have room for both great behavior and bad, consider whether every child needs one?  Can we accomplish the same privately?  Can a compliment mean more to a child than moving their clip?  Can a hushed conversation be a better consequence for a child who is making bad choices?  Can the same benefits that some see in the charts be reached in a kinder, quieter way?  I don’t think it hurts to ask the question.

PS:  If you want to read more about what I do now in my classrooms, read here 

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, 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” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

13 thoughts on “Before You Hang Up That Public Behavior Chart”

  1. What a thoughtful piece. As a teacher myself I have also always wondered about the classroom systems I see in both of my daughters classrooms. I am a middle school special education teacher, I allow the class to tell me if one is needed but more then that prefer to work on behaviors individually with students. I love your insight and thoughts on this. They are smart and thought provoking. Hopefully a others will hear you, listen and at least think twice.

  2. Can’t believe there is such a thing! Even worse was an idea I saw being used in a school near mine. A series of public continuums with photos of all the class on it where they are at. Can you believe this???? I went ape! How does the kid who takes a bit longer to learn feel???? Well, we know how they feel already because children are NOT dumb and work it out no matter how we disguise it… Does NOT need to be graphically pinned up and shoved right in their face! And how does the parent of the child at ‘the bottom’ feel when they enter the room??? I can’t believe this is happening in this day and age. Now you have my rant. I will NEVER approve of this!!!! Joan

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Pernille,

    I believe that posting student data of any kind on public charts or boards available for other students, teachers and parents to see is a violation of federally protected pupil privacy rights. Period. The humiliation factor inherent in this practice no matter how nice the teacher or the intentions can’t be measured. As a dyslexic colleague reminds me 52 years after being in 1st grade that when his reading fish stayed at the bottom of the bulletin board fish tank month after month while others floated to the top, he remembers every day hoping his fish would disappear from the tank and him from the class.

    Let’s remember that building and sustaining community lies in all children seeing themselves as having value. The practice of displaying data public sorts children into those who are in and those who are out.

  4. This spoke to me in such a huge way. While talking my diploma at Grant MacEwan University. My professor, Bruce Uditsky, was instrumental in teaching our class positive reinforcement. He made a huge impact on how I behave proactively, and see all children in a positive light. Our mentors mean so much. I am proud to be a part of Edmonton public, who supports this philosophy so well.

    Thank you Heather,

  5. All elementary level teachers use somr sort of colored system. I do as well, but i always fight myself on using it, because it is public for students and patents walking into see. This year i did more of a color system about how you feel when walking into the room and when leaving. Sometimes students will enen go move their name or picture throughout the day saying how their feelings changed. I check it to see who is where and discuss with students why they are feeling a certain way. Then we talk about coming back to a calming happy emotion.

    1. I wouldn’t say all, many teachers in my school did not when I taught elementary. However, I do want to commend you on the significant change you have made in your way of using it. To have students be able to showcase how they feel and that not being a teacher decision – that is huge.

    2. I teach first grade and do not use a color system. My behavior plan in my classroom focuses on positive reinforcement. If a student needs additional support, he or she will receive a personal behavior plan. It works and creates a very positive environment.

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