Based upon our experiences, and the opinions and findings of others, our stand is that publicly tracking children’s behavior from a deficit orientation is ineffective, unethical, and indeed, harmful.
Public displays of children’s behaviors needs to stop!
In equal part, our stand is that educators and caregivers (e.g., teachers, specialists, assistants, administrators) work incredibly hard, day in and day out, and need more solutions, not more critics.
We’ve all seen them right? The stop lights, the rainbow tabs with clips and clothespins with each child’s name, the pockets with colored cards that are flipped from one color to another to represent a child’s “status,” and even the “Superpower” trackers…charts and cards used for monitoring and displaying children’s behavior.
Indeed, they seem to be everywhere these days…there are even apps for these group-oriented (and often very public) means of tracking children’s behavior.
Such methods, for “managing” children’s behavior, are so common, and have been used for so long, that it can be difficult to imagine how we could teach without them.
Publicly-displayed behavior management systems, such as these, may feel like a reliable tool, a handy device to keep the peace in the classroom…but to what end? Have we considered the collateral damage they cause? And why is our stand to stop using them?
To start, let’s address a few points regarding what we know about visual supports, and then about our concerns in terms of their manifestation into tracking and publicly displaying children’s behaviors.
We know that visual supports are critical for helping children:
- Make the unpredictable, predictable
- Solve problems, make plans, and organize thoughts
- Deal with strong emotions
We also know that children need multiple and varied reminders regarding classroom rules, pro-social responses, and culturally acceptable behaviors.
Thus, it seems logical that individuals, districts, and even companies, would harness the power of visual supports to accomplish laudable goals…goals such as giving children feedback, creating effective learning environments, and strengthening the home/school connection.
We have come to recognize, however, that public displays of an individual child’s behavior (e.g., clip charts) results in collateral damage.
Here are a few examples of what can happen when we publicly display a child’s behavior on charts or cards:
- Children may experience shame or humiliation
- Children may be confused by what caused a change in their status
- Children are often unsure what to do differently next time
- Children can be rejected by peers
- Children may be bullied by peers, and in some cases, incited to act out
Given such harmful outcomes, why are visual charts and cards so popular, and use so widespread?
The answer, at least in part, requires acknowledgement of a few realities:
- Kids are complicated, and teaching them to self-regulate isn’t for the faint of heart.
- One-size fits all strategies are appealing; however, they won’t fit all children we serve.
- Compliance reigns supreme, and often at the expense of good teaching practices.
- We try to do the right thing, but may not always know how to be developmentally relevant.
- Good classroom management strategies are highly sought after, and highly necessary.
So, what can be done? What are the “replacement behaviors” if we don’t want to use public displays of children’s behaviors? What if, until now, we didn’t even know they weren’t a “good choice” in terms of helping children succeed or we’ve been following a district policy?
Solutions (aka Replacement Behaviors)
In the remainder of this post, we offer several solutions (aka replacement behaviors for using behavioral charts and cards that are made visible to the public).
Please note, before trying out our solutions, you are advised to spend time reflecting on the list of prevention strategies listed below, and making sure you are in the correct mindset to fully implement these simple, yet, complex solutions. Basically, we encourage you to abide by Occam’s Razor, and understand that sometimes the simplest solution is actually the best option, and more importantly, simple or straightforward should NOT be confused for easy.
In essence, no solution we offer can be effective until…
- We are clear about what we are trying to accomplish.
- We are committed to doing what is right, despite political and societal pressure.
- We accept that the easy solution is likely a short-term solution,
- We are fully invested in building a citizen, not a compliant worker.
Once your mindset and values are in order, there are a number of things that can be done from a prevention standpoint. After all, we can only mange our own behaviors and shouldn’t be in the business of trying to manage others.
Here is a list of 10 prevention strategies (click here to download and share the list):
- Be reliable, be predictable, and be consistent
- Teach the rules and “reward” when rules are followed
- Let children have breaks and plenty of opportunities to move
- Give children opportunities to practice making plans and talk about feelings
- Create opportunities for children to develop attention skills and expand working memory
- Use self-correcting materials so you don’t always have to be the one teaching
- Create engaging learning environments – make learning enjoyable
- Check the environment is it too chaotic or permissive? Too rigid?
- Provide children with choices and let them help find solutions to problems
- Foster friendships between children
Looking for even more solutions (aka replacement behaviors for using public displays), particularly when you want to use visual supports to scaffold learning…but without the collateral damage?
After you’ve had a chance to read and process today’s post, we welcome your comments and questions regarding this very important topic. We also hope you’ll use the social media share icons, at the bottom of this post/e-mail, to tell others about the solutions we’ve provided.
Author Note: We included links to a variety of sites even though some include fee-based resources, which can feel a bit overwhelming because they offer a comprehensive curriculum. We included them, not to endorse or promote any single resource, but in an effort to unite our voice, with your voice, and with their voices on this important issue.
Beyond Treats & Timeouts: Humanistic Behavioral Supports in Inclusive Classrooms [pdf]
Behaviour Management Systems – More Harm than Good? [link]
MindUP™: Geared toward individual classes and/or school-wide implementation, the focus is on teaching students how to identify, manage, and regulate their emotions and varying levels of life stressors. By combining research on neuroscience, mindful awareness, positive psychology, and social-emotional learning, the program provides a comprehensive training program for educators and children. Developed by the Goldie Hawn Foundation and a team of researchers, the program is currently serving children and schools across five continents and gaining international attention for its benefits and results, including: children with a more positive outlook, desire to help others, and greater emotional control.
Conscious Discipline: An evidence-based classroom management program that covers all domains of learning (social, emotional, physical, cultural and cognitive). The program teaches self-regulation skills so that educators and students have the practical skills to manage their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. With built-in assessment measures, it can detect social-emotional changes in children and adults and changes to the larger school atmosphere. Educators will learn how to manage their classroom without the use of external rewards and punishment tactics and improve the overall academic success of their students. Check out their featured products, workshops, resources (including printable posters, tools and activities), video tutorials, and vast research base.
Responsive Classroom: The Responsive Classroom has over 30 years of experience in empowering and enabling educators to be successful communicators, team members, innovators and problem-solvers in the classroom. Sessions focus on four main objectives: developing an environment conducive to learning, creating engaging lesson plans, nurturing a supportive classroom community, and maintaining a calm focused learning atmosphere. Their services include workshops (one day or multi-day), consulting services, and/or materials (i.e., books, DVD’s, professional development kits, and resources). Their site also includes free articles and blog posts by experienced teachers on various topics. Also of note are video clips of teachers using some of the Responsive Classroom strategies in their own classrooms.
Beyond the Stoplight: This blog was created in September of 2013 as a space to share resources among educators who are dedicated to facilitating a caring classroom environment. You can peruse by reading the most recent posts, searching by topic or month/year and/or digging deeper into some of the resources highlighted. This community of experienced teachers gives real-life examples and stories of how some tried-and-true classroom management systems/strategies can be ineffective and counterproductive. They offer alternative strategies to shaming children into behaving that better support a positive learning atmosphere.
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence: This site explores the mission of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence to conduct research and teach people of all ages how to develop their emotional intelligence. Their vision is to help schools integrate emotional intelligence into the everyday curriculum for all students. They hold the belief that higher emotional awareness in a student leads to greater academic focus because the child can recognize the source of his or her distraction, anger, or anxiety and develop a strategy or plan to help him or her be more successful in the classroom. Emotional awareness is a skill that must be taught, and they have developed several tools (i.e., the RULER approach, the Blueprint, and the Meta-Moment process) to help students recognize and communicate their feelings and reduce aggressive or anxious behaviors. Recent research drives Yale’s Center to continue to develop innovative new programs that make emotional intelligence a foundational learning component in the classroom.
Tools of the Mind: This site describes the Tools of the Mind preschool/kindergarten program. Based heavily on Vygotsky’s theories of development and current neuropsychological research, children in these classrooms develop cognitive, self-regulation, and social emotional “tools” through playful learning and make-believe play. Through scaffolded interactions, children learn to internally master their own behavior and are less dependent on class-wide behavior management strategies such as rewards or punishments. The curriculum covers all developmental domains and has been aligned with Head Start Outcomes, The Common Core, and the GOLD objectives but emphasizes underlying skills including but not limited to paying attention, reasoning, symbolic representation, and remembering on purpose. Tools of the Mind classrooms can be successful in a wide range of settings from large urban school districts to rural Head Start programs. You can search program locations by state and learn more about curriculum implementation by visiting the Frequently Asked Questions page, Professional Development page, and Conferences and Workshops page. To read more about their research base, check out the three summaries of published efficacy studies and check back, as research is ongoing and continues to be collected and posted as it becomes available.
The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations: “The goals of the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) are to assist states and programs in their implementation of sustainable systems for the implementation of the Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children (Pyramid Model) within early intervention and early education programs with a focus on promoting the social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of young children birth to five, reducing the use of inappropriate discipline practices, promoting family engagement, using data for decision-making, integrating early childhood and infant mental health consultation and fostering inclusion.” This site offers a wide range of materials to support young children’s social-emotional intelligence and regulation, from printables and social stories to PowerPoints and research briefs and syntheses. Whether you are a state administrator, trainer or coach, a teacher, or a parent, this site has a wealth of resources to peruse and use at no cost.