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.