Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teacher Week: Taming the Wild (How & Why I Don't Use Behavior Charts)

Hello teacher friends!  I'm still waiting for the classroom fairy to come bail me out (hence why I haven't linked up for Classroom Digs or Organizing for Instruction)!  BUT I did want to take a moment to talk about classroom management.

One thing you won't see in my classroom is a behavior chart.

I'm imagining your ominous silence... But bear with me!  I've got some really good reasons.  I'm also going to preface this post and say that I have a pretty small class.  If you've got a big class, I hear you and I understand.  I've had 34 kids packed in a classroom too.  But I want you to read on anyway!

It all started when I graduated college and had no management skills except the behavior chart.  Unsurprisingly, I wasn't all that good with classroom management.  As a sub I picked up a lot of great tricks to get kids to behave for a day, but I still didn't know about establishing a community or how to positively reinforce kids without a reward system and praise.  All I cared about was getting the kids to listen and behave well- and when they didn't, I took it way too personally and felt like a failure, and that reaction made me less able to handle the situation.

So what changed?  I took a class on Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen and Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey through my church, and it CHANGED MY LIFE.  Seriously friends!  I was not paid to write this post.  I'm just letting you know that if you haven't heard of these resources, you need to check them out.

The biggest thing I had to do was change my mindset.  Conflict in the classroom does not mean I am a terrible teacher.  To some extent it's the natural result of little people being together who haven't yet learned important social skills!  I let go and learned to look at conflict as an opportunity to teach.  Because after all, that's what true discipline is all about- teaching.

The First Weeks of School
We all know the first weeks of school set the tone for the year.  This is one of the most exhausting and exciting times of the year for me.  I feel like I'm constantly on show- because I am!  The key is to model, model, model, and then positively reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.  And did I mention consistent, visual routines?

Establishing Routines
We all know that routines are important for kids.  Well, I can't emphasize enough their importance with the younger kiddos!  During the first weeks of school I try very hard to stick to our schedule.  And we always refer to our visual clip chart schedule, which you can see below.  Consistency is the key.

Role-Modelling & Practice

Another big realization I had after reading the resources mentioned above was that I needed to be a role model for the behaviors I was expecting.  Don't you think it's ironic that when kids are too loud, we sometimes yell to try and make them be quiet?  Notice the key word "make".  I have come to the realization that I cannot "make" kids do anything (unless if I'm one of those frightful drill sergeant teachers).  I can, however, lead by example.  I can be their role model, their guide and their inspiration!

We start off the year by reading David Goes to School by David Shannon, and discuss all the ideas we have for class rules.  Eventually I help the class condense these rules into three: Be Safe, Be Kind, and Be Respectful.  We make an anchor chart with all of the ideas of how we want these to look in the classroom, and then these hang in the front of the room all year long.

The first weeks of school we follow the gradual release of responsibility model with behavior: I Do, We Do, You Do.  I role model the expected behaviors.  We practice them together.  I let the kids practice on their own.  Then I positively reinforce.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Praise

It occurs to me that I should talk about the difference between positive reinforcement and praise.  I want to stress that I do not believe in positive reinforcement as I have seen it treated in many public schools lately- do a trick, get a treat.  I view positive reinforcement as a multifaceted approach.  Dr. Becky Bailey calls this "noticing."  Whereas praise is vague (e.g. "Good job!"), noticing is specific.  "I noticed you gave X a toy.  That was very kind of you to share."  When considering positive reinforcement, I also keep in mind the Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman.  Chapman says that everyone has a primary "love language," or a way in which they feel loved and valued.  I keep this in mind when reinforcing my students- some value a handwritten note more, others a high-five.

Games for Team-Building and Listening Skills

There are many games you can play to help build your classroom community and reinforce the kiddos' listening skills!  For example, take our Playground Tour.  Each day the first week of school I take the kiddos to the playground and we play Follow the Leader.  I stop at periodic points and talk about the playground.  We stop on the sidewalk and touch it, then discuss it.  "What does it feel like?  Hard?  I bet I wouldn't want to fall on it!  Do you think we should walk or run on the sidewalk?"

Simon Says and Mr. Shark are also fun games for building listening skills!  By the end of the first week your kiddos will be so used to listening to you they'll start doing it without thinking.  :)

When the Inevitable Happens

Conflicts do arise.  Billy and Larry want the same toy at the same time.  Voices get raised, tears get shed, and sometimes there are even pushes and pulls.  (And once I even had a biter/spitter... yikes!)  What to do?

Luckily, if you're doing everything mentioned above it shouldn't happen very often.  When it does I have found the strategies suggested in Conscious Discipline to be most helpful.  Here are some things I've found to be very useful:

  • Offer Choices
  • Acknowledge Children's Feelings
  • Natural Consequences

Nikki from Teaching in Progress also has a great post about the Safe Place, which you can check out by clicking on the picture below:

A Word About Boys

This summer I read a book for my new school all about boys called Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner's Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School, which I also highly recommend.  This book really reinforced many things I had discovered about boys in my classroom, but it also reinforced my decision to not use a behavior chart.

Boys, as you most likely well know, don't respond well to public critique- and isn't moving a name clip down just about the most public visual reminder you can imagine?  Boys also don't do well with time-outs.  They need public praise, private discipline and restorative justice- that is, the opportunity to fix the poor choice.

Do This, Not That

As I said, I know some of you have way too many students and a behavior chart feels like the only way to keep it all under control.  I don't have a problem with behavior charts in and of themselves, they're just terrible to be exclusively relied upon.  Does Conscious Discipline take longer?  Yes.  Is it totally worth it?  Yes!

If you are needing to use a behavior chart, then please do this...

(Read more about this system at A Cupcake for the Teacher by clicking here).

And not that...

...because there's nowhere to go but down.

Thanks for reading friends!  If you want more ideas make sure you check out the linky party at the top of the post, and you can also check out my Pinterest board devoted to Classroom Management by clicking on the picture below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. What a great post! I really liked hearing your ideas about classroom management. Now I am re-thinking what I am doing. I love your ideas!

    Mrs. Pauley’s Kindergarten

    1. Thanks Amanda! It's definitely hard. BUT the biggest message I took from my class was to try doing it 50% of the time. And then it gets more natural! :)

  2. This is an awesome post. I think I'm going to share this with our new teachers on K this year. Great ideas!

    Mrs. Thigpen's Kindergarten

  3. What about at home? I have a 5 year old little boy and I, as a parent am trying to work on my discipline skills so that they are effective. I want to use less raising of my voice and less angry time outs....ii was thinking behavior chart but now I'm not sure