Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Classroom Management and Behavior Charts

Students will learn more when they are invested in and contributors in their classroom community. Classroom management is one of the components of our State's observation protocol for teacher evaluations.  We have been in classrooms where the teacher planned a wonderful lesson that fell flat because students were not engaged or invested.  

As a classroom teacher, I tried so many different strategies to ensure that my students would "behave." I gave out tickets to students to trade in on Fridays; it was too much work, and the students and I grew tired of it.  I wrote names on the board of students who were misbehaving, and there was a series of "punishments" if they got so many checks.  The same kids always had their names on the board so I stopped that.  I flipped it and started writing names of "good" kids, those who were ready before everyone else, who helped out another child, or who did something positive.  That was better; at least I was rewarding students and not punishing them.  Then I tried giving points to teams; this lasted longer because peer pressure was somewhat effective for most students.  However, certain teams would rarely earn points because they were saddled with the kid who didn't care.  This often led to a feeling of frustration at having "that kid" on our team.  When I saw another teacher with a traffic light system, I tried that, too, with pretty good results.  My recollection is that only one student was placed on red light that whole year.  I think his mother was more devastated than he was.

After that, I went into administration, never discovering the "perfect" classroom and behavior management system.  As I visited classrooms and spoke with teachers, it was evident that there were many different systems in place, and some worked better than others.  But was it the system, or was it the teacher?  Last year, I made the decision that any behavior management system needed to include opportunities for students to be rewarded for positive behaviors and not just moving down for "negative" behaviors.  I was concerned that the first question I heard parents ask their kindergartener at the end of the school day was, "Were you on green today?" And it bothered me when parents requested a classroom change because "my child is on red every day." I really thought that if we started looking for opportunities to recognize positive behaviors in a child, the classroom climate would be so much more pleasant.  Was it successful?  For some teachers, it was, but for others, it didn't really matter if there were 3 colors or 5.  There were students who still got on red more often than not.

Last week, one of our teachers sent me this blog, "So What's My Problem with Public Behavior Charts?" and it was so timely.  As a principal, I want to see well-managed classrooms where students are happy and meaningfully engaged and empowered through challenging activities.  I have been in classrooms where the teacher never raises her voice, where students help each other, and a compliment by someone else - a visitor, another teacher, a parent, the principal - means a marble added to the class jar which, when filled, means a special prize for the whole class. There is no "individual" chart where students are supposed to feel badly about being called out for an inappropriate behavior.

Often, an individualized behavior chart can have the opposite effect of what is expected, creating an "I don't care" attitude which can lead to a butting of heads between the teacher and that student.  This student then is labeled as "challenging" and may be recommended for counseling services or is referred to the office to speak with an administrator.

Changing teachers' mindsets about behavior management can be difficult, but I realize that is part of my responsibilities as an administrator.  We need a discussion about the best way to get students to want to be a positive contributor to their classroom.  It starts with being included as an integral part of their classroom community and knowing our students so we can fully engage them as learners.  In other words, we need to build positive relationships with all of our students if we want them to gain the most benefit from the time they spend in our classroom.

P.S. - For more thoughts on this topic, read No Punishment/No Rewards.  Thank you, Pernille Ripp, for sharing your thoughts so clearly.

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