I’ve Had Enough – No More Public Behavior Management Systems

When I was a 5th grade teacher, my classroom was the very last one before the buses.  Every day, all of the school’s students would pass by and inevitably some of those students and I would strike up a conversation.  Day after day, a little kindergartener would tell me about his day, his shoes, his new fish, or whatever else popped into his mind.  One day, he saw me and beamed,”Guess what, Mrs. Ripp!”  “What?” I asked.  “Peter was on yellow today!”  He told this news as if it was the biggest gift, excitement spilling from his little body.  Momentarily confused, because wasn’t this child’s name distinctly not Peter, it finally dawned on me; he was talking about another student.  “Oh yeah?” I said.  “Yes, Mrs. Ripp, it’s exciting, he hasn’t been on yellow all year…”  It was November.  My heart dropped.

Here was a kindergarten student who every single day so far of the year had been on red. Who every day had their behavior dissected in front of the rest of the class.   Whose classroom identity was being distinctly shaped by poor decisions and whose biggest identifier was his behavior.  I can only imagine what my kindergarten friend would tell his parent every day about Peter.

And that is the thing.  As a parent, as another teacher, as someone who is outside of your classroom community, I should not be able to see which child is having a bad day.  I should not be able to walk into your room and see the aftermath of something that did not happen in front of me.  That is a personal matter between the child, the teacher, and that child’s parents.  Why do we seem to forget that every time we hang a behavior chart, display our cups, or even use Class Dojo publicly?

Why do we make our classrooms that are supposed to function on trust and support and turn them into halls of public shame for some kids?  Where is the outrage?  Or do parents not even know?

I get that there are kids that need behavior system, I have some of those kids too, but those behavior systems should center on privacy.  Should center on knowing the child.  Should center on the fact that we are dealing with another human being, that yes, may make poor decisions upon poor decisions, but they are still somebody’s child.  If we are looking for long-term change then that will never start with public shame, but it certainly ends there.

When we use public behavior management systems, we tell those children that school will never be a place where they will succeed.  We put them under an unattainable microscope and then wonder why they rebel.  We watch for the smallest infraction and then come down hard, making sure that they know who is in control, who holds the power, but did they really ever forget that?  And sure, for some kids it will make a change, for some kids it will take one down clip, one stick moved, one lost point and they will never do that behavior again because they have been embarrassed sufficiently.  Is that what we want to shape the behavior of our children?  But if we already know by the start of a day, which children will probably be on red or yellow, which child will already have a bad day, then why do we need to make it public?  Why make that a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Instead, we should be wondering how our school seems to not be working, and what do we need to change?

Today I was asked what I would use instead of a classroom behavior system or Class Dojo?  My answer; common sense and kindness.  Patience, communication, and yes, even private plans.  No child deserves to be publicly humiliated day upon day, they deserve better than this.  We can do better.

PS:  Here is a link to all of my posts talking about what you can do instead.

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41 thoughts on “I’ve Had Enough – No More Public Behavior Management Systems

  1. You read my mind. 🙂 Honestly, I really don’t know why public behavior management systems gained such widespread appeal. To me, it speaks of a lack of understanding of effective pedagogy – good teaching.

  2. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    I have always wondered what would happen if we used a behavior chart during faculty meetings. Can you imagine the outrage if this happened to a teacher in front of his/her colleagues? I say let’s live by The Golden Rule. ❤️

  3. “Common sense and kindness” perfectly sums up my philosophy of classroom management. Thank you for writing this!

  4. I have never used a PDA (Public Display of Admonishment) except the two years when it was required by my principal. Even then I rarely actually used it, preferring the private conversations and arrangements (made clear to parents, too). I agree that it lacks pedagogy as well as common sense. Whenever I am perplexed by a child’s behavior or stuck in a “what to do” situation I try to think of how I would like the moment to be addressed as an adult. To your point, teachers would be outraged if we applied the same system to their behavior at a staff meeting (and we all have colleagues who chat amongst themselves when others are speaking!). Why would we give less respect to children? Aren’t we modeling conflict management and positive actions? It is nearly impossible to create a private system without some students figuring it out anyway—they are clever like that and always observing. Nonetheless, it is important that we make public our trust that together we will manage each situation with respect and regard for one another–adults and students–and give each person the dignity and privacy they deserve when/if it is necessary.
    And just as an aside, I have never, in more than 25 years of teaching, felt that those systems were effective for any kids but those who typically “follow the rules” already but had a brief moment of poor decision making. For those kids who chronically struggle, the PDA just reinforces the problem.
    Thanks, Pernille, for your epiphany! So glad you are sharing it with others.

  5. You can use class dojo privately and focus on individual behavior instead of showing it to your class. I don’t track behavior with it, as i dont believe in public behavior management systems. But I do track assignment completion with it. Parents and kids can view their own class dojo points by downloading the app or logging into a computer, or of course, by asking me. Systems are only as good as we make them.

      • I agree with this.. I actually started using Class Dojo because I was looking to NOT use the public behavior management. My school liked the clip chart and I found that it was not productive. I started using Class Dojo instead because I felt that displaying the students behavior on the clip chart was inappropriate. Class Dojo is on my phone or tablet where I can see it. The students can ask to see their report and on Friday the parents get it sent home. It is not at all public… I guess if you are displaying it on the board it is? I was surprised that Class Dojo was used as an example of a public behavior management system since the reason I started using it was because it wasn’t.

    • True. I do use Class Dojo to track behavior, but I don’t do it publicly. I don’t give the info to parents to access it, and I simply keep my iPad on my desk and click when kids gain or lose points. I do private consults with kids at point during the day to let them know where they are at. When kids hit a certain number of points they gain rewards, but their points are never posted. Honestly, when the class is acting up and they hear the lost point sound it brings them right back and often I will reward points shortly after for correcting their behavior. I think every tool has a place, it’s all in how you use it.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said about PDA. I teach first grade and I used this tool just once as I was at my wits end with a number of disruptive behaviors. I did not like the PDA and I did not manage it well at all! My goal was to acknowledge the positive behaviors but it quickly evolved into a focus on the negative! I threw the chart away. This past year I tried Class Dojo and loved it. Initially I put it on the smart board so students could see how it worked and I only recognized positive behaviors that we were wanting to see and reinforce in the classroom. (I was the model for the behaviors we do not want to see!). This quickly became a private tool for me, the child and the parents. I could track behavior frequency – both positive, negative and concerning (e.g. excessive use of the bathroom) which was useful for parent and student conferences and on the positive end, I could take a photo of a child helping another child and instantly share it with the parents and then they could comment back (which I would share with the students). I could also text all parents to ask them to remind their children that we are practicing using kind words etc. I found it a wonderfully positive tool if I made it into that. I will never try a PDA again.

  7. Thanks for the post. I’ve taken your same stance and wonder why teachers feel public shaming is appropriate. They would feel humiliated if principals treated them the way they treat some of their students. Could you imagine principals public shaming adults in front of other adults?

    We can do better for the students who need it the most. “Common sense & kindness.”

  8. Why isn’t anyone looking at how those charts motivate some children (even the ones that often have behavior issues)? When teachers ‘sell’ the chart properly and the kids ‘buy in’, these methods can be quite effective.

  9. I love how personal, honest and transparent all your posts are. This is such a powerful perspective; my heart breaks for Peter. Given all the research on social and emotional wellbeing and behavior it surprises me how conman this practice is. Imagine what could happen in Peter’s life if his teacher sought out and focused only on his positive attributes. He has them! These are always hard to find when we are scanning the classroom (a world) for negative behavior, but with a different set of lenses the whole conversation around Peter can change. Peter’s life can change. Dramatic maybe, but this dialog is shaping Peter’s story. I only hope that his next teacher can change the chapter and that this one doesn’t set the stage for years to come.

  10. I find it interesting that this post was sparked by one child being proud of another child and supportive of that child having a good day. For me this is one of the benefits of a public system. Children supporting one another in being successful. I will be the devil’s advocate because I have used a public system in my classroom. This is not about shaming it is about children knowing where they stand and what they can do to turn their day around. I suppose it depends on how the system is used in the classroom. My classroom is a community where we ALL help one another to reach goals. The focus is on moving clips up a chart rather than down and rarely are the same children’s clips moved down. My children learn that they can be successful and that they are in control of the choices they make. I have had children with significant behavior challenges climb to the top of my chart and they are extremely proud as are their classmates. Without this system and acknowledgement, their poor choices are the only thing that their classmates would remember. I will be honest that I have wrestled with the public nature of these types of charts in the past. What I have realized is that every child in that room knows exactly who is having a good day and who is having a rough day. They will come home and tell their parents whether there is a chart or not. Removing the chart does not provide any more “privacy”. For me it isn’t about shaming, it is about giving children the tools and support to “turn their day around” if it starts off on the wrong foot. Isn’t this what we want all kids to be able to do?

    • I loved your post. I thought the same thing…that child is happy for his classmate! How awesome! What a great opportunity to learn that there’s is enough joy for everyone. Nicely stated!

      • I think you are confused. My understanding is that this child was elated that a “good” kid had gotten in trouble.
        I also think it would benefit you to understand that for many many kids, poor behavior is not always about poor choices, it is about under developed skills. As with academic skills, it is most effective to identify the weaknesses, and then TEACH the skills.
        I am not denying that some of your kids have made behavioral improvements, but I would like to challenge you to consider that it may have not been the charts that caused the growth….
        It may have just been growth.
        As a former teacher who used to have a card chart, and as the mama of two behaviorally challenged former foster kiddos, I encourage you to do some research on the effects of trauma on the brain…and to learn how human connection above all else will be bring behavioral healing

      • I agree. If you use the clip chart in a positive way, it is a win-win. For those kids who clip down often, they need a different system. I give them a behavior chart. And yes, the kids know who is not behaving without any public display. If you have to redirect a kid 10 times in an hour, they are going to know it. You have to be vigilant about clipping up. When I had kids in the negative areas, I would make a point of watching for them to do a positive thing and clip them up. That being said, I am seriously thinking about doing something different this year. I am looking into DOJO, as well as other plans. I think the best part of the clip chart is the daily update to parents and hearing the kids cheer each other when clipping up.

    • Sadly, I think public systems often reinforce the very behaviors teachers want to extinguish. I taught high school students many years ago and did not have to have a public system although our school definitely had a very detailed discipline management system. Years later, I volunteered in elementary school classrooms. Due to my teaching background, I served more as an assistant than as a volunteer. I noticed children making fun of the kids who were on “orange” or “yellow” for the day. I saw little progress in behavior. Most of the teachers were very loving and caring, but did not seem to know how to encourage as much as they knew to point out negatives. I saw behaviors that resulted in “color changes” that could have been addressed with a simple reminder instead of a form act of discipline. I would love to have seen a system that rewarded good behavior or acts of good citizenship instead of simply concentrating on misbehavior.

      I am in my mid 50s and remember my first grade teachers. She was a very classy lady. I was in first grade in 1966 in a poor school. Our class had a large poster with all of our names. Next to our names were stars for each day of the year. At the end of the day, our teacher added a star: gold, silver, blue, green, or red. I got in trouble one day due to intense boredom. I knew what the teacher was going to say before she said it and mocked her words. It was the only day I the entire year below a gold star. I also had to stand in the hall a few minutes. That one day without a gold star has stuck with me for 50 years. It makes me wonder about the lasting impact on students who frequently have the lowest level on the public systems?

      My heart goes out to all of you who are currently teaching. I am not sure I would make it in the current atmosphere surrounding education. I wish you all the very best!

  11. I’d like to thank all the folks who disagreed with my opinion as it helps me see the whole concept through a different lens. While that doesn’t always change my mind about something, I deeply appreciate the open dialog, the opportunity to be heard (and listen) here, and the chance to reframe my thinking–or be even more convinced of my own idea. All good.

  12. Pingback: Just Say NO to Public Behavior Management Systems!

  13. I also do not use a chart with my Pre-kindergarten class, mostly because it becomes a crutch that is relied on. Instead, punishments, when necessary, fit the offense. The child who refused to do his work during class learning time completes it during a fun time. A child who is unkind to others repeatedly will eat his lunch away from the group. When one is caught speeding, one is given a fine and points against their license, not put in a poster for “Speeders of the Month” in a public place. Children practice what you praise. Use balance, flexibility, and common sense.

  14. Totally agree. I’ve been fighting public shaming in our schools since my eighth grade teacher assigned seating based in GPA. We all stood in a circle around the room while she called out names, starting with the highest GPA. That person got to sit closest to the door. Just imagine what it was like being the last two! Further imagine what it was like being a sensitive kid watching the shame of the other kids sitting down after you. My oldest son, now a PhD candidate, refused to participate in the very public, color-coded math facts chart and Accelerate Reader points chart in first grade. Why don’t we get this?

  15. A parent once demanded that the behavior chart in her son’s kindergarten class be moved so it was not in public view. The staff thought she was meddling and bossy. I am a middle school teacher in this K-8 school, and would never use such a chart -I go to great pains to handle behavior privately with students-so I thought the parent was right on and argued the case for her. I got a lot of backlash from the K-2 teachers. They had no good reasons for perpetuating the system because it benefited the students; their reasons were based on how it was easier for them to track behavior. It is an idea that needs rethinking, because students deserve better and teachers know better. If they don’t, it is time for re-education.

  16. The only time I write a child’s name on the board is when he/she learns to tie his/her shoes! I was asked 4 days ago to describe my system of behavior management and it comes down to ‘Catch them doing the right thing’. Praise those who are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and once you start dishing out compliments, those who are not on task/sitting with the group/standing in line/listening etc… will quickly fall in line. Thanks the stragglers for doing the right thing, and move on. When I took over my class, 3 days before school started, there was a red/yellow/green chart on the wall with everyone’s names in each color. I HATED using that system, and got rid of it by November. I have not had any major behavioral issues because I set CLEAR expectations, model appropriate behavior, and am consistent. Common sense and kindness are so underused. I think teachers are afraid that unless they have a “system” in place, they will lose control of their students. Same goes for parents. Hopefully more people, teachers and parents alike, will read your post and take its musings to heart. They are spot on!!

  17. Try working in today’s call center/ customer service centers & you will receive the same “corrective” treatment – it isn’t only an in school attitude. It is a way to control. However work ethic & moral accountability does need to be taught. I don’t believe one size fits all for any way of life! Some kids require smaller classrooms to thrive:)

    • You’ve really hit the nail on the head with your comment. Adults in many workplaces have some kind of behaviour shaming method or another by their employers. My husband’s work is terrible. Resilience is key in the end. Kids shouldn’t have to be shamed. Neither should adults, but it’s a sad fact of life so I guess it helps to get used to it early on. I use Class Dojo, and have it displayed on the board all day. I could count on one hand the negatives I give each week, because students should always be given a second chance before a negative is given. They know the notification goes straight to their parent, so most of the time they improve their behaviour. If only it worked that way in the workplace too.
      To those who’ve pondered about the use of shaming in staff meetings, it happens, but in a way nastier way with off hand comments ‘just’ loud enough for everyone to hear, or outright loudly by power hungry executive staff.

  18. I have used ClassDojo for several years without having any of these negative ramifications. After 22 years in the classroom and many many behavior systems, one thing that I know to be of ABSOLUTE TRUTH is that the teacher sets the tone of the classroom- not a behavior tracking program. If a child has a problem with a behavior system, the root of the problem more than likely can be found in adult attitudes. Anything–clip charts, prize boxes,online tracking systems, even flat out bribery can be punitive if the focus in the classroom is on what is “wrong” with children instead of what they do right. One teacher I knew, gave prizes to the “good” kids in her class in front of a child with behavior issues and allowed them time to enjoy the prizes while he watched – prize box gone wrong!

    I display my ClassDojo all day-every day. My students can see their “Green-Ups” and their “Bloopers”. I spend more time explaining to parents that all kids have “Bloopers”. The Bloopers are where we learn. If your child never has a “blooper”, then we are either being unrealistic, or this kid is not taking any risks in his life. When students get a “Blooper” I always look for an opportunity to acknowledge that they “turned it around” by giving “Green Up points”. If I ever look at my day and see the positives are lower than 95%, I can usually tell that I was either in a bad mood or not feeling very well.

    I am fortunate enough to have been allowed to throw out the clip chart because THAT was a one-way street to negativity! I hated watching kids make the “walk of shame” to that thing. Now, my students love to show their points to any visitor who enters my room. We have beat the teacher competitions and there are privileges for reaching various point values. My class averaged 97% positive points for the entire school year this past year!

    I say all of this to say.. Don’t throw out perfectly good approaches because of the misguided use of a few. Programs like clip charts and online tracking systems can be wonderful and positive if used with a loving attitude and a growth mindset.

    Toni Malone
    @mzzteacha

    • I still have to disagree with this; as a parent, I would feel my child’s privacy was violated by an open display of how their day was going. That only concerns the child, myself, and the teacher, not everyone else. I have no problem with methods being used to see whether classroom behavior is going well or not, it is the public display that really is upsetting. As a fellow educator, I cannot imaging that much time on logging good and poor behavior, I feel there are more important things to do that log all of that for all children, and this goes both for when I was an elementary teacher with one classroom and as a middle school teachers now. But in the end, that is just my opinion, my rule has been for a long time; ask the kids and ask the parents, see how they feel about it and then go from there.

  19. Years ago, there was a principal who banned this practice the day before school, insisting any color charts be removed. The dictatorial leadership was met with quiet fuming. Had she simply used it in the faculty meeting, the point would have been made immediately. (I still like to use it in a positive light to acknowledge when someone goes above and beyond in effort, shows consistency, or exemplary thinking. They get the illustrious Orange card.)

  20. I wholeheartedly agree. I hate the clip / card systems. I use the Super Improvers system as explained in the whole brain teaching movement. It’s a positive goal-setting program where every child has a personal goal and only they and I know what that goal is. It might be raising their hand instead of shouting out, neater handwriting, bringing their backpack every day, etc. if they master one goal, they get a new one. We review class rules constantly so students know how to act. It works so much better than the old card system I used eons ago.

  21. Our school uses a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support–www.pbis.org). I use my ClassDojo to record the positive actions! No points are ever deducted. If I have a challenge with repeated negative behavior, I use the NOTES feature to record the behavior and my action. This helps me to analyze the behavior and look for patterns. In addition, I am able to contact parents about concerns.

  22. I don’t use a behavior plan where students are rewarded for good behavior or punished for bad. I am required too so I give “points” for clean desks, 100% tests, etc. With behavior, I simply promote intrinsic behavior all year. Students learn what it is, they get a feel of it, and they enjoy it. Isn’t that what it’s all about.

  23. Pernille, I totally agree with your post and admire you for speaking your mind. Obviously, there are many teachers who see things differently. It’s sad that many don’t realize that being “rewarded” with points or clips can be negative and only works in the short term. Everyone, PLEASE, for the sake of your students, go on YouTube and watch Daniel Pink talk about Intrinsic Motivation OR watch Alfie Kohn talk about “Punished By Rewards” OR visit Marvin Marshall’s website and read about the Raise Responsibility System. We need to empower our students to be good problem-solvers, NOT overpower them with punishment or rewards.

  24. Thanks for such an important and powerful posts. A few thoughts on Class Dojo and other software based systems. I don’t understand how anyone can claim Class Dojo is every private. Even if you don’t display it in front of the class, you are storing a kid’s name along with positives/”bloopers” with an external company. All sorts of people have access to this beside the teacher/student/parent without any permission of the student. Second for those people who claim they only use it positively. I get how it may be reassuring to only give positive points, but by not giving positive points to other students it in effect makes a negative.

  25. If you feel that a clip chart is a negative aspects in you classroom and if you feel like you are just putting children down. You probably are so then don’t use it.

    However consider this, “clipping down” is a teachable moment. Yes, it may be a public consequence and others may see. But that is life. People have seen every speeding ticket you’ve received. You were pulled over in front of everyone on the street. Yes you were embarrassed. Yes, you were unhappy. But You made a mistake and got caught. The officers weren’t trying to personally embarrassed you. It was your public mistakes and they pulled you over for it (I’m not trying to get into a police debate this is just a general example that many have experienced). You were speeding and breaking an expectation. Here’s the teachable moment. Life is lived publicly and we will make mistakes in front of other people. Some mistakes will be worse than others. But it’s your mindset that will make the difference. Will you learn from it or continue to make the same mistake.

    This is what I teach my students. A mistake is a moment of learning and sometimes consequence. If you crumple and fall with every mistake you will get no where in life. If you look at that moment with a “I can fix it” attitude you will learn more and become a better person. We also talk about learning from others and if you look and listen to the mistakes of others then you are also able to grow and learn. I approach my clip chart with a growth mindset and a fix it attitude. I also let my students know that mistakes and consequences go hand in hand often. I also teach that in our classroom it is my job to show them their mistakes and to help them grow as a student. Then because we are a class, a “family”, we will also learn and grow together when we make mistakes.

    If you use the clip chart as just a way to call kids out and to be negative then no don’t use it. However, it can be a great tool of learning, motivation, and success in a classroom. Use the chart to teach not to demean students. This is how I use it. It works for me. It works for my students. I’ll be keeping this teaching tool in my classroom.

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