UPDATE, July 16, 2014: This post has morphed into a whole series of posts about how and why to manage your classroom using relationships instead of charts and systems. To read the whole series, please visit my Chuck the Chart page.
*Update Sept 9, 2012: In response to many requests in the comments of this post, I have written a companion piece, describing how I DO manage behaviour in my classroom: “Behaviour Management” not systems, but relationships. Please head on over and have a look!*
In my recent post on “In this classroom…” I mentioned that I don’t do behaviour charts. It’s true, I don’t. I have had some push-back on that, and it has made me think really deeply about how and why my stance on class-wide (or worse yet, school-wide) behaviour systems has developed. In the name of transparency, I will confess that in my early days of teaching, I had a colour-coded behaviour chart. It was effective, in a superficial way, and also a nightmare. I’ll share that story in another post. But today, inspired by my friend Matt Gomez’s Reward Free Year, here it is:
THE #1 REASON I DON’T DO BEHAVIOUR CHARTS
Before I say anything else, I want you to do a little imagining with me. As you read each paragraph, I want you to REALLY work to imagine yourself in this situation, really FEEL what it would be like. I’m sure you will catch on to my metaphor pretty quickly, but stay with me. I really couldn’t think of a better way to illustrate my point:
Imagine that you have a new job. You’re VERY excited about this new job, and a little bit nervous. You know there are parts of it that you will be very good at, but there are some things that you are still working on, or that you might need support from your boss to master. It’s okay, though, because you’re pretty sure that your boss is really nice, and will help you work on those things.
You arrive at work and start meeting your new co-workers, who are just as excited and nervous as you. You notice that some of them seem to be VERY good at nearly everything, and others seem to struggle with even more things than you, but altogether they are a nice enough group and you feel like you will be a good team. You start to make some work friends. It feels good.
Then, at some point – maybe right away, maybe after a few days or weeks or months, your boss sits you ALL down together and explains a new performance management system. On the wall of your communal work area, Boss has posted a list of all the employees, by name. Next to each name is a rainbow of colour-coded cards. Boss explains that every employee will start each day on the same colour, but depending on your performance, your name can be moved up the rainbow, or down the rainbow. People who move up the rainbow will get special extras: a small bonus, or an extra long lunch, or a half-day off. People who move down the rainbow will face consequences: a shorter break, a docked paycheck, a note in their file.
The next day starts out badly before you even get to work. Your alarm doesn’t go off, there’s no hot water left for your shower, you’re out of coffee, your cat has peed on your favourite shoes AND it’s raining. You get to work, and within an hour, your name has been moved down to yellow. You get a warning from your boss. Then, your favourite work friend doesn’t want to work next to you because you just got in trouble and she doesn’t want to get in trouble by association. Your hurt feelings make you distracted, and you make a few careless errors in your tasks. Your name gets moved to orange and now you only get 20 minutes for lunch, which is really upsetting because the sun is finally shining and you had been confident that a nice walk in the fresh air with your buddies would help turn your day around.
On your abbreviated lunch break, you try to get online to order some new shoes. Impatient and frustrated, you curse out loud when the site won’t load properly. In front of everyone, your boss moves your name to red. There goes 50 bucks off your pay. Apparently you won’t be buying new shoes, after all. You approach your boss privately, trying to explain and apologise. Boss tells you, kindly-but-firmly, that “No cussing” is an ironclad rule, and that because everyone heard you cuss, she has to give you the same consequence she would give anyone else. Later, you are short-tempered with a customer, and your name gets moved off the rainbow altogether. A note is placed in your file, documenting a reprimand for inappropriate language in the workplace.
The end of the day approaches. A few of your colleagues get to leave 30 minutes early because their names got moved “up” to blue. This leaves you with extra work that has to be done before you can leave. Among these colleagues, one of them had his name moved up to purple, so he is buying a round of drinks for everyone… Everyone who can leave early, that is. It’s always the same people who can leave early, and really, they’ve become quite clique-y. You convince yourself you wouldn’t really WANT to have drinks with them, anyway. You really fit in better with the red and orange card crowd.Photo by South Carolina’s Northern Kingdom licensed (cc) by Flickr How do you feel right now, as an employee? How do you feel about your boss, your colleagues, yourself? How do you feel about having to come back to the same place, the same people, the same chart, tomorrow? What are the chances you will turn things around tomorrow, or ever? What are the chances you will just figure out how to hang at “orange” and deal with the consequences and find ways to enjoy your 20 minute lunch with your orange friends? (I know you are smart enough to stay away from red, but orange is really not so bad, right…?)
If my boss were to hang a chart in the staff lounge, showing which teachers were doing an exceptional job each day, as well as those who were having exceptional-in-a-bad-way days, I would be furious. I would be raging about my privacy, my dignity, my right to be respected by my colleagues for the person I am, and to not be publicly labelled based on any given day. My personal growth is between me and my boss. It has no business being a public display. I don’t know any teacher who would disagree with this. My boss and I have private conversations, plans, and systems to foster my progress.
Parallel to this, I am not opposed to individualized behaviour plans and systems to support individual children. I have used them, and will continue to do so. (I am increasingly opposed to material rewards being part of such systems, but that is another post.) These systems are private. They are discreet. They are between me and that child and his or her parents. These systems are tailored specifically for that child’s needs and quirks and preferences. They allow me a lot of flexibility to accommodate the day that the child only got 5 hours of sleep, or scraped her knee on her way to school. They maintain that child’s dignity and support his or her relationships with peers.
There are many, many reasons not to use publicly-displayed, one-size-fits-all behaviour “systems” in a classroom: they encourage extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation; they undermine a sense of community; they prevent kids from generalizing good behaviours; but this is the biggest one, to me:
A child’s dignity, privacy, self-respect are no less real or important or valid, than mine. When I undermine a children’s privacy and dignity, I do damage to their relationships: with their peers, with me, and with themselves.
Yes, behaviour charts can create a classroom full of raised hands, quiet voices, walking feet, please-and-thank-yous.
But a child’s dignity is too high a price to pay for criss-cross-applesauce.