A few days ago one of my colleagues, (who is a great teacher, wonderful mom, and all around awesome person) sat down at our team meeting and said, "I want you to know that I am never using a behavior color chart again!"
I stopped using those charts years ago and I couldn't have been happier to hear her say that! And, it seems, her reason for saying it was not that different from my reason for letting those charts go. Her own sweet first grader had come home from school the day before, completely crushed after being put on "red"on the color chart. A sweet boy who wants nothing more than to please his teacher and do the right thing at school. I'm sure he did something he shouldn't have or tried his teacher's patience one too many times, but that child will not walk into that classroom with his head held high tomorrow.
I remembered my own son coming home from Kindergarten, day after day, in tears because he just couldn't seem to stay on 'green'. He wanted so badly to behave. He wanted to please his teachers. He wanted mom and dad to be proud of him. But his impulsivity did not allow him to keep himself in check for the whole school day. Every time she moved that clip, he was being reminded that he wasn't good enough for his teacher. That kindergarten year was one of the hardest years our family has endured. It is utterly heartbreaking to hear your child say things like, "I hate myself. Why can't I be good? My teacher hates me. I'm not good enough." Tears are dropping on the keyboard as I remember those moments.
Now that he is being treated for ADHD, he is much happier at school and doing well, but that color chart just about destroyed my son.
I began to look at my students through different eyes and imagine what they must be feeling.
Some are ADHD like my little guy and are battling their own bodies for control each day, some are coming from homes so broken and troubled it's just astounding, and many are simply neglected and left to be raised by siblings or television. I really had to stop and realize that my wishes for their classroom behavior were superceded by their own complicated lives.
This realization led me to discover a few things about color charts, both from using them and seeing them used in my own children's classrooms.
- They track behavior, but they do not change it.
- For kids who are not able to adhere to the cultural expectations of school, the chart can be absolutely demoralizing. And this seems to be mostly boys - hmmm.
- The chart makes the assumption, before the kid ever crosses the threshold of the classroom door, that he is going to misbehave. Ouch.
- As much as we try to make that chart seem like a 'reminder' and not a negative thing, it is still embarrassing to many children.
- Even kids who always stay on 'green', often feel stress and worry as they watch some of their classmates repeatedly move on the color chart.
I hear and understand all of these beliefs - some of them are very valid. I held them, too.
But, I just ask you to place yourself in that little person's shoes, looking up at the teacher they want to impress (yes, even the disobedient, defiant, disrespectful ones:) and imagine how they see themselves. How they feel. What will they take away from the experience?
I just have to say that after using the charts, then letting them go and doing something different, I can't buy into my old color chart anymore. Kids do need reminders to stay on track. They do need consequences for negative behavior, and we should reward positive behavior. But not by causing stress, worry, and shame. I had to become a mommy and feel my own child's pain to see that.
So, the next logical question is "If I don't use a clip chart, what do I do?" The very same question I asked myself (many times!) The answer is actually a long one and is really a journey rather than an answer, but I would encourage you to look into some new ideas, see what else is out there, and give it a try:) While it was oh-so difficult for me, I am so glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone!
A few years ago, my school decided to use the Responsive Classroom approach which changed my thinking completely about classroom discipline. (I am not really touting RC as the best around, because it's just one of several great approaches out there to building a positive classroom community. There are other similar programs with similar tenets. This is just the one with which I am most familiar.) The way that RC builds community, helps children internalize social skills, and responds to behavior is so powerful.
I will leave you with one idea that could possibly take the place of a clip chart move. My school uses a "Take a Break" space. This is not a traditional "Time Out". This is a place in the classroom where children can take a moment to decompress, take a breather, or think about making different choices. The students often go there on their own, but sometimes are asked to go there by the teacher. The student will only stay there for about 1 or 2 minutes and I use an egg timer so kids don't stay too long.
Here is a post with a more detailed description for setting up a Take A Break space:
Here's aother post you may find helpful. It gives ideas for what to do with chronic behavior issues that are not appropriate for the Take A Break space.
UPDATE: If you would like the directions and printables to set up a Take A Break station in your classroom or home, you can purchase the file HERE on TPT.