Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts

on 17 August, 2012

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:


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.


151 Responses to “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts”

  1. […] favorite example, however, is from Miss Night Mutters. She posited a thought experiment that is always worth […]

  2. […] Too High a Price: Why I Don’t do Behaviour Charts – The scenario at the beginning of the article is a great look at some of the inherent problems with how we use behavior charts. I have been trying this in my class…I still go back and forth a little, but I have worked hard to build my class so it runs well without it. Some days it works, and some days, I struggle. […]

  3. […] Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts […]

  4. […] was a great post I saw a while back that explains why this is a silly and dangerous approach to controlling student […]

  5. Rashmi says:

    Hi, Came across your wonderful post about behavioral color chart system. My daughter who is in 1st grade had a wonderful kindergarten days as she was in different school with no such system. But 1st grade is being a nightmare as she is most of the times on yellows or orange for stuff that she does in school which are very small like whispering to her friend, she is free spirited, talkative girl. As soon she gets down from the school bus she becomes so sad if on bad colors. At first i didn’t know how to handle this and i was only talking to her on being on good colors, giving time outs, taking off her favorite things or T.V time but in the school she did what she wants to. More than her I look forward to holidays cauz there will be no school. But now reading your article has made me realize not to force things on her, take things in positive way and make her learn in a way that will not stress her.

  6. Christine says:

    My name is Christine. I came across your blog while doing research on classroom management. I read your posts on why you do not believe in the clip chart, and it makes total sense to me. This is going to be my first year teaching, and I will be teaching a combo class. The students have already started school, but they are just now going to open a new classroom, and pull kids from the other class. It will be a K/1 class. I am really concerned and overwhelmed with everything.
    My principal told me to focus on having good classroom management. He told me to check out other teachers classrooms to see what they do, and it turns out they all use clip charts. It’s something that I don’t entirely agree with. Which brings me to you…
    My master teacher I worked with used whole brain teaching strategies, and that is something that I’m thinking of doing with my kids once i have them. They don’t do a clip chart, but they do use a positive reinforcement chart. Where they get 10 stars. and every time you catch them doing something good, you color it in. Once, they fill up all 10 stars they get a certificate and move to the next level. I believe there are 10 levels. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think that is still damaging to a child’s self esteem? I would love to hear your input, Thank you so much!

  7. Diane Arnold says:

    Coming to this post much later (2015) but already frustrated by my grandson’s kindergarten teacher’s use of a behavior chart. My grandson is a a very active, talkative child who, according to the teacher, is NEVER disrespectful or rude in any way, nor does he do anything “bad”. However, he rarely brings home a “good” color and often brings home a RED – the “worst” color for simply being unfocused during the day! Yet this is a teacher who has used this system for 15 years and sees no reason why it does not work for my grandson. How to approach a teacher like this?

  8. LM says:

    Very intelligent article. I see teachers struggle with this concept often. The work related visualization was perfect!! Happy face sticker for you!!!

  9. Jill Tomscha says:

    I have just one thing to say, and I would say it loudly. “Amen!”

  10. […] Night does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: […]

  11. kspurlin23 says:

    I am a first grade teacher and am absolutely thrilled to not have a clip chart! Kids are not static, they are not all the same. They are individual, and the consequences or rewards should fit each student. It’s good to hear the parents explain what their kids are thinking and feeling. I hope my parents feel comfortable enough to tell me, the reason “Johnny” is acting out is because he is bored, he is sad, or his grandma or goldfish died. We as teachers need to know this, and kids don’t always say what is going on. Clip charts do not build teacher/student or student/student bonds, they tear them apart.

    • Debbi Bailey says:

      You are a great teacher with a wonderful respective, would love for my own child to be thought of as an individual like this!

  12. Zina says:

    I’m on my way to meet my kindergartener’s teacher, assistant principal, school counselor and school psychologist because my son has behavioral issues at school. We had him ‘tested’ for ADHD, Autism etc. His IQ is 115; so he doesn’t have a learning disability as we suspected, he’s just bored. So we are all meeting to have an intervention on how to get my 5 year old to stop being defiant at school (his attitude is a complete 180 at home). It’s been 3 months since school started and he is still acting up as if it were day 1. We may suggest the individual behaviour plan, but we are at our witts end on how to resolve our son’s defiant behaviour at school. Im not sure where else to get help, but mattbgomez.com has been very helpful. Thank you.

    • pcandd says:

      Hi Zina….
      Here’s my thought….
      He’s 5. Its December, he’s 5 and he’s in Kindergarten.
      ALL DAY Kindergarten, I suspect?
      The demands that are placed on our 5 year old children are astonishing!
      They’re expected to have hands folded, no talking, no acting out. They are expected to be able to handle their emotions and get along with everyone all the time. They’re expected to learn a tremendous amount….to even be reading at level D by the time June comes.
      Some can “do it all” and some just need more time to “get it”,

      My daughter is a first grader now, but her Kindergarten year was a Nightmare!
      First off, luck of the draw, she was placed in an Inclusion Class. She did not need to be, but she was. In total, there were 33 students in that class and 21 were special needs in one way or the other. 21!!! (Most of the 21 children had emotional/behavior issues.) One teacher, one assistant teacher and 2 Aids for one on one for 2 different children.
      Every single day, I got calls about “her behavior”. I literally got a call one day at work that her teachers we’re concerned that she was “isolating” herself from the class and she wasn’t making eye contact! Completely the opposite of the social butterfly personality my daughter possesses. When I questioned my daughter about it, she told me that she likes the swings and also stayed on the swings because the boys played rough in the schoolyard and she was safe there. Hmm, pretty good problem solving, to me! But no one asked HER why, they just labelled her!. The entire year was much the same. I wanted to switch her out but “No room in the other classes to move her”.
      My daughter’s personality is not meek or shy. She doesn’t let any grass grow under her feet. When another child acted out, she was on it. As an only child, she was not used to that behavior and I suspect she didn’t know what to do about it. Sometimes she just figured that was the way to act and joined in. Only to find out SHE would be the one “in trouble” because there was a much higher tolerance for behavior issues with a Special child but not for the “regulars”.
      It was one Hell of a year, but I can truly say, First Grade is such a breath of fresh air!!
      This teacher says, “She’s fine, she’s doing great.”

      The purpose of sharing all of this is to just let you know that it’s ok at 5 to not be able to behave in school ALL DAY. Sometimes there is very little tolerance for outbursts because there are so many little ones to handle. It depends on the teachers too and how they can or cannot handle their class.
      They are 5! They are babies!!!
      Think back when you were 5.
      You had half day Kindergarten.
      (Really about 2 hours a day!)
      You learned about your colors, sang songs, played together and learned how to get along with each other. Kindergarten then was what preschool is now! The demands placed on our children
      are tremendous! Yes, they are capable of learning so much more, but it is robbing them of their time to just be kids.
      I surely don’t know you or your child, but please go with your gut. If these behaviors are not the “norm” for your child. If he does not act that same way when he is home or on play dates,
      If you didn’t have these same issues in Preschool, please take some of what they’re telling you with a grain of salt.
      He just may need this year to work out all the kinks. And next year, when he’s another year older, he will “get it”.
      Good luck!

  13. Kelsey says:

    I walked into a classroom at my daughter’s school, saw the colour coded chart and thought to myself, “I am so glad she is not in this room.” Thank you for sharing I do believe more educators need to see the downside to this technique.

  14. Alyica says:

    Such a great post. We are now homeschooling our son after a difficult year of kindergarten. He has some special learning needs and the behavior chart at his school caused him major anxiety – he was rarely on green and although we didn’t push him to get there, the kids in his class made comments all the time and would tell us how he did each day – It was so bad that he made himself throw up one day so that he could come home. Now that we homeschool his behavior is so much better and our home is so much calmer! So, thank you for writing this.

  15. Ewhit says:

    Amen! My son, who is a relatively easy-going, rule-following kid, was so petrified by this rainbow chart last year in kindergarten that a day’s description was not about recess, his friends, or what he learned – but rather by where he ‘was placed’ on the rainbow. It overtook his mind each and every day for the entire year. And he, rarely, got ‘clipped down.’ I can only imagine the angst the children ‘clipped down’ daily felt. I could never understand how this could be a good thing for kindergarteners just starting elementary school. Perhaps it is easier for the teacher, but this is the end result for the child. I feel much better to know that a teacher agrees!

  16. Alice says:

    Thank you for posting this! I know it was posted a while ago, but it has struck a chord with me today. My first-grader’s teacher not only uses a stoplight chart system, but she carries over colors from day to day. Three times, in the month that he’s been in school, he has come home and told me that since he got on yellow after recess the day before, he had to start the morning on yellow, and, from his perspective at least, he’s not given a lot of opportunity to move up to green. So he ends up missing 5 minutes of recess on Wednesday afternoon for a behavior that occurred on Tuesday afternoon. There is SO much wrong with this! The public shaming, the taking away of much-needed outdoor, social time, the punishment for something that happened almost 24 hours ago. It’s just not developmentally appropriate AT ALL! He loved Kindergarten, and now he dreads going to school in first grade and is already asking me when he gets a break for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have a parent-teacher conference this week (these are school-wide. it’s not a conference I requested), and I don’t know how to bring this up with his teacher without seeming like I am telling her how to do her job.

    Another added element is that he’s advanced academically, and I think that maybe his boredom is causing him to have behavioral issues, so I don’t know what to say to her about that either. I know it’s hard to individualize to every student’s level, but his Kindergarten teacher did it, so I know it can be done.

  17. Jan says:

    Once upon a time my son had a teacher who used a ‘stick system’. At the beginning of the month each child got the same number of sticks (5), and then for each infraction of the ‘rules’ (which were never made quite clear, the given child would lose a stick. You could not earn sticks ever, only lose. At the end of the month, those who still had a stick, got a reward — extra recess. Those who didn’t have any left stayed in and did school work. About halfway through the year, it became such a demoralizing experience that my child, at the beginning of the month when the teacher handed out sticks, handed them right back to her and said, “Why don’t you just keep them and save the trouble of taking them away.” Not very effective to say the least.

  18. […] It would respect him and his interests.  It wouldn’t put his name on the board or give him red cards for “bad behavior,” but find out the reason for the behavior and work with that. […]

  19. […] Too high a price: why I don’t use behaviour charts […]

    • Kate says:

      I can understand your opinion, and to be honest, I agree that I wouldn’t want my behavior and personal growth displayed for all you see. What is your practical alternate solution for managing 20+ children, and how would you teach them about consequences?

      • Miss Night says:

        Hi Kate! Ithe post about how I DO manage my classroom can be found here: . I also encourage you to follow the Chuck the Chart series, which will address many of the most common questions teachers raise about life without a chart. The Chuck the Chart page is here:

  20. […] first post about why I don’t use behaviour charts set up a hypothetical situation where a publicly posted chart was used in an employment setting, […]

  21. […] little background: two years ago, I wrote a post about why I do not use behaviour charts in my classroom, and it went nearly-viral. To this day, it remains the most popular post on my blog, and it […]

  22. diane cattau says:

    ThankYou! Its What I’ve Always Felt But Thought I Had To Use The System That The ReSt Of The School Used. No More!!

  23. […] Welcome! That principal could use a dose of Miss Night. […]

  24. […] Why I Don’t Do Behavior Charts” by Miss Night (@happycampergirl) and can be found here.  She opened with a relatable example of why she does not agree with behavior charts.  I […]

  25. […] I got on twitter and started talking with other #kinderchat teachers. And read this blog post. And then I started being aware of how the behavior chart was affecting my […]

  26. Claudia says:

    Has anyone tried the Super Improvers Wall? I’m thinking of using that in my classroom this year.

  27. Kelley says:

    Yes! Yes! YES!!

  28. You’ve explained my thoughts better than I ever could. Often times when it comes to making classroom decisions, I find myself thinking what I as an adult would want if someone were making those choices for me. I’m not perfect at maintaining this perspective, but it has helped me many times. I’d sure love to hear what you do with behavior modification plans for individuals. Something in me really struggles with them, but I know that it’s something I have to try with certain kids. I’m currently using them with two of my boys and am very interested in how you don’t use material rewards.

  29. michele says:

    2nd day of school for my spirited kindergartener. He is in a team teaching class, which, i think he needs (28 kids and one teacher would not be a good place for him) the new teachers presented this ‘system'(green card, yellow card orange card or whatever) and i’m still feeling queasy. its not the way i parent and certainly not the way I want him to start out in school. private school is not feasible and if i could homeschool him i would but I can’t.
    HOw on earth do I even begin to broach this with this new school (a huge board of ed system with its’ feet firmly planted and ears covered)( without being labeled as “that” parent? thank you for sharing this.

  30. Jennifer Bradley says:

    This struck such a chord with me and several of my friends! What a great perspective and way to encourage adults ro tap into their empathy reserve when thinking about behavior charts and children. Thank you!

    I wrote a post questioning the use of stoplights in the classroom. The feedback I received led me to create a new website: http://www.beyondthestoplight The site offers resources, alternatives, quotes and more for both teachers and parents. I hope it’s helpful to someone here.

  31. Taryn says:

    Thank you very much for this post. My son just started first grade today. He came home with information regarding their new clip chart program. My anxiety level just hit the roof. My son was a preemie when he was born weighing only 2’12 pounds. He has a lot of learning disabilities because of it. His self esteem suffers because of it. Last year in Kindergarten he had a color coded program. He would cry a lot because his colors weren’t the best. It wasn’t because he was a bad boy, but he would get so frustrated because he couldn’t do the work that his classmates could do and then his behavior would suffer. I decided to call his teacher tonight and tell her I did not want him to have a clip chart program and the reasons why. She came back and said the whole first grade has decided this is what they were going to use. She assured me that she isn’t the type of teacher that is going to publicly humiliate a child. She said if a child has to clip down she will give them a chance four minutes later to clip back up. And she said they do it by numbers. I told her that kids can pretty fast figure out whose numbers are who. She said she knows about my sons issues and will be more sympathetic to them. This is her first year of teaching ad it is sad that she has to be subjected to this. I told her I would try it out for a couple of weeks, but if it isn’t working we are going to have to reevaluate. If it’s a school policy I am unsure how I would change it just for my child. My only option I think is to pull him out of the whole school system. I don’t have the patience to home school and have been looking into unschooling. The schools have just let me down when it comes to his needs.

  32. […] A discussion about behavior charts at Miss Night’s Marbles […]

  33. writersideup says:

    I am in 100,000 ZILLION % support of this approach. I am not a teacher, but a parent, and in a few years—a grandparent. When my son was young, I, too, thought a “chart” of stars would help motivate him to learn how to do chores, etc. regularly.

    What these charts, and “rewards” for doing a good job does, is basically set up a fertile playing field for competition (which is constant EVERYwhere) and that it raises people who won’t be motivated unless they get some “treat” for accomplishing it.

    You know what? You’re not going to get a new bike as a reward for good grades. You know what the reward is? The good grade! AND the pride a child should feel having accomplished it.

    Yay for the non-competitive and supportive way of doing things 🙂

  34. Lety says:

    This article makes interesting points, but fails to mention any alternative behavior systems that are more encouraging and nurturing for the students. I’m curious about any ideas anyone may have seen implemented effectively in the classroom.

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Lety – thanks so much for reading. The intro to this piece shares a link to my post describing how I DO manage my classroom. In general, any “system” that is universally applied to all children in the classroom, is going to be problematic. Children don’t need systems. They need supportive relationships with caring adults. As teachers, we need to take the time to figure out what works best to support each child’s behaviour and self regulation, just as we take the time to figure out how they will best learn to read or to count.

  35. kimber says:

    My child was a pleaser. A rule-follower. Still is. We laughed about it, but after reading you post, I’m not so sure the incident was funny.
    Went to pick up my child at the end of the school day.
    How was your day?
    Cue tears. Lots of them.
    What! What happened!?
    I had to sit on the wall at recess.
    You did?
    Yeah. Because we were talking.
    We? Who else was on the wall?
    The entire class…
    Oh, so everyone got punished?
    Yes… {more tears}.
    Did you have to stay there all recess?
    No, just for five minutes.

    The entire class. A five minute lesson on behaving. Miss Hughes was kind, quiet and sweet. We laughed over how my child was so worried about having been reprimanded. Rules… you know… are not to be ignored. Nary a card was turned that entire year… but I wonder how my child would have fared had rule-following not been part of her genetic makeup.

    • Miss Night says:

      Kimber, thank you for your beautiful and poetic reply. That’s the thing, isn’t it? These systems cause such anxiety for the kids who would follow rules anyway, and such distress for the kiddos who struggle to do so…

  36. Dawn says:

    This made me cry, reminding how my little boy came home in Kindergarten and told me he was a Bad boy. He is 21 now and still struggles with perfectionism to the point of anxiety. I wish more teachers would relize their impact on those little sponges the all want love and support!

    • Elaine says:

      Yes! We’re still mopping our child (who has motor planning issues) off the floor. Luckily she has a great OT who is trying to develop better writing experiences to replace the negative feelings that she developed about writing during her “clip down” year, but it isn’t easy. Sometimes I think a lot of artsy early ed teachers despise these messy, uncoordinated kids because they just can’t identify with them and simply don’t know how to help them. Clip down is the only thing they know to do. But it really does have lasting repercussions.

  37. […] Night does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: […]

  38. […] Miss Night at Miss Night’s Marbles […]

  39. […] does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior […]

  40. Johanna says:

    I totally follow and get what you say. I have been taking in/studying/observing children with behavioural issues (through lack of a better description) and their relationship with teachers and their peers ever since I started school myself – forever. My heart bleeds for these children, as all it takes more often then not, someone who can listen, understand and respect them, especially in the early years as this is their foundation of the rest of their years ahead.
    We all have our needs and different ways that we can cope, understand and communicate effectively with one another – that is ways of learning.
    Self esteem, depression, anxiety are very common (actually we all go thru at one time or another) there for it is the most important to with held every child’s dignity. We have to understand them, to give them hope/chance for their future selves.
    Everyone has their plus sides, that has to show through on those judgemental charts that teachers choose to use, is the least you can do.
    Thankyou Miss Night, truly love your work.

  41. […] Too high a price: why I don't do behaviour charts […]

  42. […] “Yes, behavior charts can create a classroom full of raised hands, quiet voices, walking feet, please-and-thank-you’s. But a child’s dignity is too high a price to pay for criss-cross-applesauce.” Thank you for the reminder, Amy! […]

  43. […] an amazing one that said 90% of what I wanted to say, so I’ll start with part of it. The entry is from Amy of Miss Night’s Marbles. I changed a few details, but she tells it so well so […]

  44. […] I got on twitter and started talking with other #kinderchat teachers. And read this blog post. And then I started being aware of how the behavior chart was affecting my […]

  45. […] Too High a Price: Why I Don’t Do Behavior Charts […]

  46. Anna says:

    I completely agree with you!! My little 5-year-old boy is suffering from such a color labeled behavior system at school now and he wanted me to transfer him to another school. He is a sensitive and shy boy, and even cannot tell or explain what was going wrong in the kindergarten for the yellow warning color. He tried to hide his bag to avoid us seeing his behavior color, and keep telling me that he wants to go to some other schools.

    I felt very upset and also angry about this system so that I checked online to see what is the opinion from other parents or teachers. I was so happy to find this article. As a mother of two boys, I understand that they sometimes behavior wildly. If Steve Jobs or John Gurdon (Nobel Prize in Medicine winner in 2012) were in this system, they will get warning colors in most days. I remembered that Steve Jobs’ father had been arguing with the school that it was the school’s problem since they did not do well to attract the kids or to let the kids follow their rules.

    For strong kids, they may just ignore the warning colors. For weak and sensitive kids, this may destroy all their dreams at school. If the schools keep the study score of each kid privately, why do they put the behavior color each day publicly (starting from Kindergarten)?

    If adults cannot accept such a public colored or scored behavior system, why do we give it to our kids – without thinking or asking how they think about it?

    • Eric says:

      Most behavior charts are that…..rate behavior…if your child is getting docked maybe you should have done a better job practicing and preparing your child at home…. Or you could just blame the teacher……. For your child disrupting the children whose parents did their job at home.

      • Miss Night says:

        Hi Eric
        I’m not sure what you are getting at..? Behaviour is a skill that must be taught and learned. Just like reading, some kids get lots of instruction at home, and others don’t. My point in this post has nothing to do with parenting, and everything to do with encouraging a more reflective, personalized approach to classroom management for teachers.

        • C. B says:

          Eric your comment makes me wonder if you have children at all. If you do, and have more than one, you would realize that yes children should be able to be quiet and listen. However, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade they are just learning about rules. Their entire lives up to that point are all about playing and being “me, me, me” mentality. I can understand a behavior color chart for those in 5 and 6th grade sure, because they are able to control themselves. But a 5yr old able to sit still and be quiet when the teacher is talking when things are new and exciting? Not so much. Additionally, when did we get back to children should be seen and not heard? My son is going into the second grade and was always on yellow, turns out he was finishing his work before everyone else and was trying to help those at his table so they could move on….so what should I have done as a parent? Instruct him to be quiet and do nothing while the slower kids finish their work? In my opinion the teacher should be the one to see this and give him more work, or harder things to challenge him. Instead of telling me there was nothing she could do…..

          • Sarah says:

            Sounds like your son would thrive in a Montessori based school. He is obviously intelligent and a leader and is being held back by idiotic rules that do nothing to foster actual learning.

  47. […] It means we make “rules” for and with the children we have in front of us. It means we can’t just hang up last year’s behaviour chart with this year’s names. In fact, it really means we can’t hang up a behaviour chart at all (and there are many other reasons to scrap the behaviour chart altogether, as I wrote about here.) […]

  48. I hope you don’t mind if I tell you that I think I love you. 🙂

  49. Mollie says:

    How awesome, thank you so much for taking the time to share this! Last year, at my son’s preschool, his teacher was wonderful! He was having a couple of behavior issues, and all she had to do was give him a little extra attention, and he was fine! He craved the one on one time to tell about his day, or weekend, and as a result of 2 extra minutes, his behavior was perfectly fine! Had she punished him every time, and stayed on his back, he likely would have been discouraged from trying! That’s why I avoided public school…in hopes of avoiding the inevitable labels!!!! You are a blessing, and obviously care a lot for the future of the kids in your care. Thank you!!!

  50. […] discussion, but… this article really changed the way I viewed whole class behavior systems. http://missnightmutters.com/2012/08/too-high-a-price.html# Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts « Miss Night’s Marbles Sher […]

  51. […] reading your “Why I don’t do behaviour charts” story, I forwarded the link to my grandchildren’s principal along with my opinion of […]

  52. Miss Night says:

    Thanks to everyone who requested a post describing how I DO manage behaviour in my room. The post has finally been written. You can check it out (and PLEASE comment!) here: http://missnightmutters.com/2012/09/behaviour-management-not-systems-but-relationships.html.

  53. […] 2012 Preface: I continue to be overwhelmed, in the best possible way, at the response to Too High A Price: Why I Don’t Do Behavior Charts. It seems I really struck a chord with many readers. Thanks to all of you who shared that post, and […]

  54. Courtney says:

    What a powerful post! 2 years ago I implemented the famous clip chart. I was desperate and needed something to work. It did work – for the kids who were following the rules anyway. It was always the same kids going down on the chart, and rarely did they make it back up. If they did, it was because I felt bad and would ‘praise them’ for trivial things so they could end the day back on green (“You put your coat on the hook, great job..Go clip up!!”). This really didn’t teach them any lessons about behavior nor did it create intrinsic motivation.

    Last year my clip chart sat in my cupboard for the entire year. I looped and had the same group of kids and told myself they didn’t need it anymore – but what I noticed was that my classroom was calmer and much more community based. No longer were there competitions (“I made it to purple today, what did you make it to?”) or tears from my high fliers (“My mom wants to know why I don’t make it to the top EVERY day?”). I felt uneasy about the clipchart but couldn’t really explain why.

    In the end I stopped using the clip chart because it was very time consuming and took away from real learning. It created competition amongst all of my students, not just those who struggle. And most importantly – it did nothing to change the behavior of the most challenging students long-term. Your post and thoughts on dignity sealed the deal for me. I would be mortified to have my teaching performance tracked in public on the staff room wall. We ALL have bad days and need private conversations and support from those who can help us develop our skills on a daily basis.

    As an alternative this year I will be trying the “Plan B” Collaborative Problem Solving approach by Dr. Ross Greene – his book “Lost at School” changed my entire thinking on student behavior!

    So, thank you! ….on Monday morning, the clipchart will be taken out of the cupboard and proceed straight to the garbage can 🙂

    • sue says:

      This same thing goes on in my grandaughters class. I have hated it from day one! You have explained it so well here, that I have shared your thoughts with my daughter. She will be taking this to parent teacher conference next week. We have to sometimes put it out there for people to understand the situation.

  55. Thank you! You put words to what I’ve always thought about extrinsic reward systems, especially ones that are publicly displayed. We know from several studies that these things don’t work for children, or adults. I am sending your post to my daughter’s teacher and principal at Pease Elementary in Austin Texas. I think behavior issues in our public school are made worse by the humiliating and counter-productive behavior charts they use.

  56. Becky says:

    My sister sent this to me on Facebook because I used to be a teacher It is an interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of, but I still think it is appropriate and beneficial to have class-wide and school-wide behavior plans in place and to then give extra support to those who need it. I used almost the same system you described when I was a teacher and I never saw it as public humiliation. I did have student numbers posted instead of names; maybe that helped. The cards were a way of enforcing the consequences of breaking our rules. If a student was continuously on red, I came up with an individual plan for that child. I also had a lot of individual, group, and class positive reinforcement programs in place. I went to a lot of training on school-wide behavior plans in Utah that was based on 3 tiered instruction.(Here is a diagram: http://www.resa.net/downloads/positive_behavior/3_tiered_pbs.jpg) The school-wide, or class-wide, behavior plan works for most students. For those it doesn’t work for, you move on to the next tier/behavior plan, and for the small percentage who need even more help, you have a third tier/behavior plan for them. It is the same with instruction. The whole class instruction will be enough for most students, but there are those who need additional small group or individualized instruction. I have noticed that my son (who’s always had a similar system) does pay attention to the kids who are always on red. I guess that’s where the humiliation comes in. I always explained to my class that some kids need to work on math, some need to work on reading, and some need to work on behavior. I think the teacher’s personality/attitude/words are more important than the system she uses. And like I said, my students wouldn’t continuously be on red because that would be a signal for me that I needed to try something else for them. If I do teach again in the future and use this system, I will definitely pay attention to this issue; thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    • Christine says:

      Using students numbers?! Yikes! I think on the whole a chart like this simply removes the teacher of the need to develop relationships. If we as adults would not subject ourselves to, why do we think we should be doing that to children. I actually think it’s quite shameful and a lazy way of teaching.

    • mstigerteach4071 says:

      As an educator, I do believe students need accountability. I too use this behavior system and have done so the entire 15 years of my career. And I use student numbers to eliminate the embarrassment of names. The numbers correspond to many other things such as cubby numbers, book numbers etc. helping to keep a consistent record keeping system. The schools I’ve taught in required the system. As the educator above posted, the plan works for most students. However, for those with various issues a tiered behavior system is necessary especially when referrals need to be made for counseling, special services etc.

      The conversation seems to be around the embarrassment and humliation surrounding the display of student names and colors depicting student behavior. After reading the blog, I can understand how students might feel with this type of system. One remedy may be using individual charts or folders. Teachers have to monitor student behavior. Schools need school-wide discipline plans especially to use for those who experience high levels of misbehavior.

      Students who are consistently red on the behavior chart are red flags for teachers alerting them that more has to be done. Parent and grandparents should be upset if their child continually receives negative remarks in the daily planner. Yet, if this is a parent or grandparent’s dilemma; I ask how can you help the teacher help your child.

      • mstigerteach4071 says:

        The teacher’s response to this entire behavior chart situation determines student’s reaction to the process. I do have the chart up and it is in use however, I choose when to move the colors and typically I give many, many chances before the color is changed. I give non-verbal reminders, conference with students or make calls home as necessary. Partly, to avoid hurt feelings, crying, tantrums etc. I do agree with many comments regarding why the charts shouldn’t be used however, until there is some other alternative they will probably continue to be in use.

      • Miss Night says:

        I agree that students need accountability, and I assure that my students are held accountable for their behaviour and choices in my chart-free classroom. I also think that we can do better than assigning numbers to our students. Even kindergarten students can figure out which number is “the bad kid’s” in just a few days. While the public nature of such charts is a significant part of my concern, it is so much more than just that. This is about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, about children’s dignity, about what research tells us about motivation, and about putting relationships first in our classrooms. The fact that behaviour charts/systems are required in some districts or schools does not mean they are good practice.

        There ARE other alternatives, and many teachers ARE using them. The alternatives are messier, noisier, more labour-intensive, which is also true of a great many other best practices. Behaviour “systems” may work for teachers, but they don’t work for kids.

  57. […] Blog Post of the Week was: Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts – Miss Night http://missnightmutters.com/2012/08/too-high-a-price.html […]

  58. Mr.KSA-Teacher says:


  59. Sherene Strahan says:

    I have enjoyed reading both the original post and the responses. I have just graduated as a teacher (mature age) and I HAD to use such extrinsic motivators as charts during my final teaching prac because that was the system used by the school. I already have ideas on behavior strategies that dont involve such approaches but it would be most useful to read and hear about the practical measures that teachers take in order to encourage their students to learn and strive without the use of charts etc.

  60. Great post. I re-tweeted it for followers is the Netherlands. These kind of charts en reward programs are getting more popular in classrooms over here. (thanks to pinterest en blogging, we get new ideas. Good ideas, but not so good to)
    The mainstream schools are using these kind of rewards, mostly with ‘dikke duimenkaarten’ (thumbs up cards)
    Google the dutch words for an example.
    Tripple P is getting more influence for behavior management as well. More schools are using there methods to get children to behave nicely. They even have a parent-teacher night themed with this, so you can follow the same methods at home.

    I worked in a different kind of school (we have freedom of school-choice in Holland. That means that there are many, publicly funded, different schooltypes like Montessori, Waldorf, Dalton, ect. They are called traditional reform schools, because they are funded in the beliefs of traditional education reformers like Maria Montessori)
    Most of these schools work without these kind of carts. So I’m lucky to have little experience with them.

    Once we had a teacher training, teaching us to use the ‘naughty chair’ and the tumbs-up cards. I failed miserably ;-).
    When i put i child on the naughty chair, i tended to forget them. The pour child would spend up to half an our there, until i asked “why are you sitting down instead of playing?” Not remembering at all why i sent him there. So i stopped using it.
    The same way it went with the tumbs up cards. Kids would end up having to ask for the stamp on the card, never getting to a full card (and thus getting no reward). I would ask them: “why do you think you should get a stamp” And the would respond: “because a didn’t walk from my desk without asking’ (or any other behavior, we had agreed to work on)
    And we would have a conversation on the topic (called ‘ervaringsgerichte dialoog’ – experience based dialogue) to find out what he had learned from his experience. (like: “I got my work done, because i didn’t let anyone distract me by walking to their table.”) And i would forget the card again.
    Needless to say: the training we had wasn’t a success. And all teachers stopped using this method all together.

    In my third to fifth grade class (6 to 9 year olds – as we start counting classes at kindergarten) we had a way of sending compliments to each other. The children would write little notes to a classmate for something he/she had done. Like: “I like the way you helped me with tying my shoelaces”, or “You helped Mark by taking his backpack for gym when he forgot to take it”
    The notes were put in a little box and handed out at circle time at the end of the day. I would make sure every child would get one, every day! Because there is always anything that you do great!
    I still wonder weather this was a good way of doing this. I think it is the intention that makes a difference. I didn’t want to manage their behavior. I wanted them to learn that is is nice to show someone your appreciation.
    The side effect was that they wanted to write the notes, (more than they wanted to get one). To show they noticed somebody being nice.

    Just a short reaction after your question on Twitter. 🙂

    • Miss Night says:

      Anita, thanks so much for sharing the trends you are seeing in Holland. As you say, the reality of social media is that both good and bad things get shared. I do like the idea of the kids recognizing each other – this is way more “up my alley” as it also builds community amongst the children (as long as there is a system to ensure children don’t get left out, and it sounds like you had that.)

  61. Julie says:

    Classroom group behavior management plans, where all children are held accountable and punished/rewarded for the misbehavior of a few, are just as harmful and anxiety producing for many kids as are the individual behavior charts.

    For example, in my daughter’s fourth grade classroom, an elaborate points plan was instituted where everyone in the class earned or lost points daily based on whether or not everyone was quiet at the appropriate times, walked in straight lines, had a quiet lunch table, stayed on task, etc. Rewards included extra recess minutes, free reading, ice cream party, or no homework for a night. Punishments included no recess, extra homework, silent lunch table, no water bottles, etc.

    This resulted in great anxiety for my daughter as she feared making a mistake and causing the class to lose points and incurring the anger and disgust of her classmates. She also felt unjustly punished when she followed all the rules, but lost recess anyway because other students had made mistakes themselves. It was a no win situation for her and caused the classroom to feel like a war-zone — kids vs kids — kids vs teacher. The entire year was chaotic for her with entirely too much time and effort spent on tallying points, worrying about points, being mad at someone or having someone being mad at her!

    She finally just gave up, withdrew, and stopped participating in the classroom all together. It was a matter of survival. Her teacher believed my daughter was “too sensitive” and that we “babied” her at home. She said my daughter needed to get used to the competition of the real world and that she needed to toughen up and develop thicker skin.

    If adults were subjected to this kind of group behavior plan in the workplace, there would be mass walk-outs and outrage. Yet, somehow, many classrooms institute group behavior plans every day without once considering how it must feel to the children.

  62. maura says:

    I completely agree with this, but can everyone suggest alternatives to help with behaviour? Thanks!

    • Carey says:

      Last year, my grandson’s first grade teacher would use an individual, daily, behaviour chart that only the teahcer, my grandson and myself saw. It was a short chart just targeting a few behaviours that are especially challenging for him. She would put a star next to the one(s) he mastered that day and leave blank the ones that he did not. At the bottom she would write any comments or specific details regarding incidents. My grandson and I would sign it for him to return the next day. Although this is not perfect, it kept me informed and it was not something the whole class saw. I could address the behaviour with him at home and call the teacher for more detail if necessary.

  63. I teach in a children’s inpatient psychiatric unit where too many students that come to me are subjected to behaviour charts and token economies. School for too many of my student is a coercive place where they actively choose to manipulate or be manipulated. These systems are at best unhelpful and at worst harmful towards our long term goals for our children.

    It is true that through carrot and stick tracking systems we can gain short-term compliance, but like you so aptly put it, this obedience comes at an alarming cost.

    I see it this way: The children who are the hardest to like and educate are the ones who need our relationship the most. Rewards and punishments rupture relationships; therefore, we can least afford to use rewards and punishments on the children who often are prescribed them the most.

    Thank you for this powerful post.


    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks so much, Joe. There is definitely a theme here that the kids who MOST need to feel connected and successful at school are the ones who are most likely to be subjected to these kinds of systems. The kids who are the hardest to love are the ones most in need of love. Behaviour charts do not communicate love.

  64. Kris G. says:

    What a fresh, critical thinking review of such a common “wisdom”. Thank you for your reasoned and respectful view of children. As a therapist I see adult clients all the time who are still struggling with the aftereffects of childhood shame. Of course, behavioral management experiences are not something we tend to put alot of thought into when healing the shames experienced in childhood but I think this review speaks to a cultural approach to parenting and to children that needs to be rethought.

    • Miss Night says:

      Kris, I think that for teachers, there is a piece too about managing children in GROUPS rather than as INDIVIDUALS. We make a plan that will help us “control the group” but we forget that the group is composed of individual children with individual needs… I’m just chewing on this now, but there is a link, I think… thoughts?

  65. Jen says:

    I love this post! Do you have any suggestions for helping students who are in a classroom using a chart like this, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon because it’s school-wide (possibly districy-wide) policy? I agree with your points and would love to help my daughters feel less stressed about the system, as well as continue to develop their internal motivation.

  66. Julie says:

    Thank you for making an absolutely brilliant point about human (adult or child) respect! As the parent of a highly sensitive child, I know too well the devastating effects behavior charts and public humiliation have on children. She developed a very real anxiety disorder and school phobia – to the point where medication and counseling was needed – in response to a school environment that promoted the use of writing the names of “bad” kids on the blackboard, making children sit alone at the naughty table in the lunchroom, making students write their mistakes in a class notebook where every transgression counted against them to attend the class party (those who were “good” were allowed to party in the classroom next door while those who had recorded too many “bad” behaviors where left out — but they could hear the fun going on next door!

    Even worse were the academic superstar charts posted in the classrooms — all of the student names were listed on a chart and those who had memorized their math facts had a star beside their name. Those who did not, were left blank. Other charts showed the “best “(reads aloud the most words per minute) readers, those students who could write the fastest paragraph, and those students who always remembered their homework vs those who did not.

    Everything was a competition and a comparison amongst students. Every single mistake or misbehavior was recorded for posterity and used as a record for punishment and taking away recess, parties and other fun activities.
    My daughter learned to fear school and hate learning. Schools and classrooms so often forget the golden rule when it comes to children and their feelings. Thank you so much for making this important point.

    • Miss Night says:

      Oh, Julie, your story breaks my heart. I wish more parents would share these stories publicly – more teachers need to hear the stories of the kids who end up “victims” of well-intentioned behaviour systems. I hope your daughter found a better fit in a school and classroom environment.

  67. […] Interesting perspective.  I don't think public humiliation is the route to take either.  BUT……..I think you do whatever works for the KID!  The progress monitoring piece is that part people neglect!   […]

  68. Katie says:

    Alfie Kohn just linked to you on twitter. He has a whole book about this. :>

    • Miss Night says:

      Thank you, Katie! I just saw that! What an amazing thing to wake up to. Am so humbled by the attention this post has received, from people I consider heroes in our field.

  69. MCP says:

    I am a high school teacher and didn’t even know what a behavioral chart was before reading your post. Nonetheless, it came at just the right time. Just today, I was searching for an app for my phone to help document student behaviors, successes, completed homework, etc, when I came across this app for the computer called Class Dojo. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – that teachers would do this in such a public way. I didn’t articulate my thoughts very well – it was just a gut reaction, but reading your analogy has certainly reinforced and clarified my own thinking. Thank you.

  70. I can still remember in middle school when the school moved to a merit/demerit system. We had to keep a piece of paper with us at all times and any infraction of the rules got us a demerit. Any positive action that was above and beyond got us merits.
    I was an all A student. For me merits came as easy as showing up and acing my tests. On the other hand my father was going through a dangerous messy divorce.
    One day I missed finishing all my homework. In front of the whole class I was given a demerit and the teacher even commented out loud how after months of this program I was the only student he had seen with no demerits. I was quite the laugh that day.
    I don’t mind that I got called on the carpet for not completing my work. What did devast me was having it done so openly and mockingly (whether that teacher meant it that way or not).
    I appreciate your teacher to student, quieter approach to encourage good behavior.
    God bless
    Heather L

  71. […] popular request, in response to my post about behaviour charts: a description of how I manage behaviour in my room, and how I build a climate where kids […]

  72. Karen K. says:

    In 4th grade, my teacher had a chart for math progress. One day I got one too many mistakes. She took me to the 1st grade and in front of all of those students, told them that I was doing 1st grade work in math. It was humiliating. The year was 1969 or ’70. I ended up not doing math since that grade. I went to a free school where we had choices. I could do math, but would not do it. I got my M.ed in Elementary Ed. and Literacy Specialist. When I took the requisite math class, I got an A. I also taught math and did well. When I had my students for reading, I let them run around and get their energy out before we started work. One of my students was a step dancer and I watched her routines before we settled down. She ended up asking me for books at the end of the year. I applaud your approach. Everyone is different. I particularly like your last sentence. Not everyone can perform the same. In regards to the workplace, I was just thinking today that it is unfair that even though I do a lot of work, and show up for work when my co-workers are frequently absent, I get treated the same. I have to give myself the praise and satisfaction for the hard work that I do.

  73. Carey says:

    This has got to be one of the most inspiring stories I have read in awhile. I am going to print this and bring it to my grandchildren’s school principal. You definitely put this in an easy to understand format and I did FEEL everything in your story. My grandchildren struggle everyday with their behavior and although it may not be a chart, it is colored sticks in the classroom and everyone knows if you have to pull a stick or turn a card over.

  74. Tracey says:

    I love your post and the thoughts of so many others.. I have felt this way for a very long time!!
    I do want to read how you approach these issues in your classroom! ALSO, I am a substitute teacher( love it) I do work everyday and I would like your input( any anyone else who cares to share) of how i can handle these issues in a classroom.. Thanks!!

  75. Sarah says:

    i love this post..I found it ion the responsive Classroom space. I teach first grade not K but it is the same principle.

  76. Megan says:

    I was one of those highly motivated kids who needed no reminders about having good behavior or a strong work ethic. In 5th grade, when I had a teacher who used the illustrious color charts, I has little trouble going up to purple nearly every day, and could count on one hand the number of times I colored down to Green for genuine mistakes that I felt horrible enough about on my own. The shame I felt over these few honest mistakes I made led to the most stressful school year I’d ever experienced before college/grad school. I came home in tears frequently because I was terrified of being colored down. I continue to struggle with an intense need for perfection in my professional life, and often have panicked breakdowns when I feel like one project element is out of place. Now obviously there are a lot of factors contributing to this reaction I have to feeling like I’m not doing well or constantly getting public praise for how well I’m doing, but the 5th grade color chart is certainly where I remember these reactions first showing their ugly stressed-out little heads. My point is: behavior charts aren’t always great for the kids in the purple zone either.

    • Miss Night says:

      Megan, I had a very similar experience to this with a highly anxious child in my classroom the one year I did have a colour chart. The day he “lost a card” for the first time was awful, for both of us. He had an anxiety attack at school, and kept his parents up half that night worrying about whether it would happen again the next day. It embarrasses me now that I used a system that resulted in a child not feeling emotionally safe in my classroom.

  77. Chrys says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I finally gave up on color changes about 3 years ago, and I never looked back! I changed because I realized that I was giving so much time and attention to misbehaviors, and the kids who were almost always on the right track were being ignored. I’ve found that acknowledging positive behaviors goes a long way to encouraging expected school behavior, and just makes my class a better place to be. I hadn’t really thought about how color changes impact a child’s dignity. Thanks for sharing your perspective. (I found this through Responsive Classroom on FB.)

  78. I stopped using behavior charts years ago. You explained the reasons perfectly. I plan to share a link as well.

  79. Brenda says:

    AMEN! As someone who works with children with special needs or extra support needs (undiagnosed and may never get a diagnoses) and their peers within inclusive classrooms, these systems are awful! Truly my motto is “Children will always do the best they can.” Now I know that varies in different environments/situations and with different people. But I do truly believe that ALL kids want to do well! I’d love to be able to use this for some of the teachers I consult to. Would you give me permission if I quote you directly?

    • Miss Night says:

      Brenda, I would be delighted if you shared it and included a link to my site. I’m just thrilled to have such an amazing response to something I was just “getting off my chest!”

  80. Sharon says:

    I love this post. This puts the behavior charts into perspective and I think every teacher- no matter what grade they teach should read it!

  81. Heather says:

    Amazing to find so many like-minded teachers….unfortunately, it feels like we are in the minority. It makes me so sad to see these management systems so prevalent in the classrooms I visit. I have just returned to the classroom after 4 1/2 years in more of an admin. position and I have been talking to the kids so much about how much I trust them and I believe in them and that I know they will be responsible for themselves, and you know what? It works! So many parents have commented on how their child has told them that I trust them and that that makes them trust me. I love my 5th graders! Thank you for writing this. I’m going to share it on Facebook, too. I hope the right people take notice!

  82. It seems like there are a few assumptions here about how such a chart system might be used that are (at least for me) inaccurate:

    First of all, there absolutely IS the opportunity for children to “move up” the chart by changing their behavior. I understand that you’re proposing that by moving down in the first place children lose motivation to move back up, or are so flustered by the move down that they have no way to recover, but I disagree; The chart acts as a physical visual reminder of where their behavior is taking them, and where it should be. Moving between colors on the chart should not be punitive, but a matter of fact reminder. I ask a student to take a break to regain control, and think about what behavior needs to change. While they are there, they can look at a few visual examples of desired behaviors, and select the right choice for them. That’s why on my chart “Yellow” says “Change Behavior.” If the behavior is changed, a student would immediately move back up to green.

    “Orange” says “loss of privilege,” which might be as small as losing the privilege to sit with the group for 10 minutes if a student has repeatedly shown they can’t control their voice or body during group time. “Loss of Privilege” is intentionally vague, because it gives the teacher and student power to decide what is an appropriate “logical consequence” for their disruptive behavior. I envision classroom rules as being more all encompassing as well, rather than pointed like “no cussing is an iron-clad rule,” that locks a teacher into a specific response.

    That brings me to my next point, which is that a teacher should use the chart strategically, not in a vacuum without regard for the teacher’s (probably) extensive knowledge of the individual student’s needs; For example, because classroom expectations are clear, but the rules are all-encompassing, you can strategically move students up the chart by pinpointing any small desired behavior in order to have the opposite effect described in your negative scenario. If you have a student who you know often struggles, or who you see is starting out the day rough, you might give them a confidence boost by strategically “noticing” something positive they’ve done before you “notice” a problem. In this manner, you don’t have the same students always climbing the ladder every day, because movement up or down is entirely at the teacher’s discretion (as opposed to, “oh, look, _____ fulfilled expectation “a” AGAIN, therefor they must move up!)

    Some other suggestions are to “award” the students who make it to the top with something that they can be proud of, rather than a “prize.” Examples might include wearing their paperclip around for the day, posting their name somewhere, or writing a positive note home to a parent (if you want to avoid public displays). Another way to keep this system less public would be using numbers rather than names on their cards or clips, or whatever you use. If your intent was to keep a plan between a teacher and student private, you can certainly come up with work-arounds within the chart system. Maybe use a silent signal with that student that lets them know to wait a minute and then go move their clip without all eyes on them. I really appreciated your implication that students’ sense of confidence and self-worth is fragile, and if used in the way you described, I see that a behavior chart COULD be damaging in some way. I just disagree with the premise that a teacher cannot be creative, respectful, and mindful of individual needs WITHIN a system like this.

    The final premise I take issue with is the comparison of all kids to a conscientious adult who wants to succeed but, due to circumstances beyond their control, gets a bad rap, and suffers because of it. The truth is there are many students who do NOT care in the same way the conscientious adult described in your scenario does. People are different. We are not all naturally hard workers who with a deeply ingrained desire to succeed in an academic setting or please our superiors. That part of the whole purpose of a chart system, is to possibly create an external motivator that students will eventually internalize. Of course some kids never need it, because LIKE the person described in your scenario, they already care. For those who don’t, this system COULD provide a nudge in the right direction, depending, obviously, on how the teacher uses it. 🙂

    P.S. One more MAJOR distinction between one of your scenarios (teachers’ performance in the class being on display) and the ACTUAL use of a chart system, is that the system is in no way based on your academic merit; it is completely based on behavior and participation. In that sense, it actually gives some students an opportunity to act as role-models who wouldn’t always get the attention, because even if they aren’t strong academically, they can still show other students they should aspire for: treating others with respect, helping out the whole group, focusing on their job, giving their best effort, etc. Some of your “highest” performing students could very well be the same students that need the nudge where their behavior and participation is concerned. So, I think the comparison of the chart system, to posting teachers’ performance records in the staff lounge is an unfair one. The public acknowledgement is about how a student is ACTING, not about their academic performance, or their merit as a human being. Furthermore, a classroom is a community of about 25-30 people, so the moment a student chooses a certain behavior (especially if it’s disruptive), they chose to make a public acknowledgment of their actions themselves. Dealing with these actions in a public way is a necessity at times, until you can find a private moment to conference.

    • Miss Night says:

      Caitlin, while I absolutely agree that extremely mindful, careful use of such a chart can minimize the potential damage to a child’s dignity, I just feel like there are so many other, better, more human and humane ways of supporting children in class. That said, I completely disagree with your point about the kids who “don”t care.” A student who already doesn’t care about a chart system (or a colour, card, or clip system) is not going to create internal motivation. I was a student like that – although I was a strong pupil, a rule-follower, and generally well-behaved, I was completely NOT motivated by these sorts of systems.

      Additionally, the idea of a behaviour being “bad” vs a PERSON being “bad” is still pretty fuzzy to young children. A public record of undesirable behaviour is humiliating, period, and undermines children’s respect for one another. All of your points about developing leadership, recognizing great role models, and creating motivation, can be met in other, kinder, ways.

      • Admittedly, although I disagree with some of your basic premises, I can’t ignore the comments of so many people who either know a student personally, or who THEMSELVES had adverse social/emotional reactions to the color system… SO, I have been thinking about it quite a bit and asking around among other colleagues. First and foremost I want kids in my class to feel safe, and valued. Now I have something NEW to obsess about as I get ready for school! >: [

        • Miss Night says:

          Caitlin, thank you so much for coming back and sharing your ongoing reflection. I appreciate your bravery. Soon, I promise: a sort-of funny post about my own experience with a public classroom management system when I was in first grade, as well as the story of the one year I DID use a colour-coded chart as a teacher.

          • So, the compromise I decided to try this year (since I’m not ready to let go altogether 🙂 ) Is only using the big public display color clip-chart for whole class behavior (with one giant super-fat clothes-pin). For individuals I have made a miniature version that will be on each student’s desk. They can slide a paper-clip up and down one side, marking where they’re at, so they still get the visual reminder, but it’s more private, I will develop silent (sign) cues with students to let them know if they need to “clip down.” I will still use “take a break” which is a place in the room students can go to stop and think, then make a better choice. I have laminated pictures of some common choices students might decide on (thinking, raising hand, zipping lips, sharing with others, etc. [no words, I intentionally leave them open-ended so students can use their discretion about what positive choice that picture represents to them]) They can choose their more positive behavior card, and insert it into the paper-clip- OVER their individual desk chart if they wish; another opportunity to provide some further privacy if they don’t want other classmates looking at their behavior progress. I still intend to have students “clip up” publicly some of time, in order to reinforce positive behaviors, and remind the class what those behaviors look like.

            We’ll see how this goes… I don’t know why I’m so hooked on this color idea (probably cuz I just love rainbows) 🙂 but I hope this new plan allows me to keep the elements about the chart that work, but tones down any anxiety students may feel about the public aspect.

  83. Anne Carey says:

    Thank you for your wonderful post! I agree whole-heartedly with your reasons for not using public, one-size fits all behavior plans. I’ll add another reason of my own. I would be terrified that the chart and plan would “work”. What if, under our guidance, children actually came to believe that doing well, behaving well, being “good”, was to be equated with just following a set of directions and that the purpose of doing well was merely to accumulate rewards. I would feel like a failure as a teacher if my children did not have a bigger sense of doing well that included being kind for the sake of kindness, taking risks and being creative, developing into their own unique selves.

    At a school where I worked, we used to have a token economy. The children would earn school money for behaving well and would pay fines for not meeting their responsibilities or for small misbehaviors. They could then buy cheap little toys and treats with their money at the end of the week. Those who regularly had very little or no money at the end of the week opted out of the system and refused to try to earn money. But worse than that, many of the others would do just the right thing – walk quietly in the hall, help a friend who was stuck on a difficult problem, tidy their desk without a remind, and then would turn to the teacher and ask, “How much do I get for that?” So what did we end up teaching them?

    • Miss Night says:

      Oh, the token economies kills me, especially when they are school-wide. They create compliance, but not self-regulation – BIG difference. The systems we use speak to our values. A system based on material goods sends a message that it is material rewards that matter. That is an unacceptable message to send, in my opinion.

  84. T says:

    Personally, I’d actually have worked so damn hard to make sure I got purple the next day – and I’d have been chuffed with everyone knowing I got purple. And I probably wouldn’t have bothered trying so hard otherwise.

    • Miss Night says:

      Yes, T, there are students like you – I have a streak of that, myself. But there are so many other students who are completely demoralized by systems like these, and they are often the very children who most need to feel successful.

  85. Sheila says:

    I was just having a discussion today at school with my team on why I am not going to use my clip chart from last year. They think I’m crazy. Last year it was always the same kiddos on red. And it took away from my reaching time to mark the behavior calendar for 22 kinders. Keeping it all straight was a nightmare. I am also very interested in reading what you do instead. Can’t wait!!!

  86. Excellent! You’ve completely validated the changes I’m making this year. I cannot wait to put some new practices in place for a loving, caring, fun, and learning kindergarten environment!

  87. I love this post!!!! This is exactly why I don’t do behavior charts! I use to be that kid sitting at the back of the class with her name on the board all the time, and I remember how it felt, how I didn’t try because no one helped me to learn…I WILL NOT do that to a child.

  88. Anita Perry says:

    I’ve been a teacher for over 21 years. You just validated my approach to constructive behavior management. I’ve always hated those class behavior charts and also hated that I was told to use them. I’m not a fan of the personal oes either but that’s another story. Bravo for you!

  89. Bee Isme says:

    Yes!! Love it! I have been seeing those color coded behavior charts popping up all over the teacher blogging world and I refuse to jump on the bandwagon for the exact reasons you gave. I have to admit that I used a more public approach to disciple and I am eager to change it this year. I have just stumbled upon your site and I’d love to hear what you do for your individualized management. I’ll see if you have posted it elsewhere, but if not, consider it for a future post?

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Miss Night says:

      Wow, thanks to everyone for the supportive comments. I am honoured to have struck such a chord with so many. I am even more honoured to hear that some of you are changing your practices after reading… I’m overwhelmed – in a good way!

      I absolutely will do a post about how I manage behavior with individual children, and how I create a classroom climate where the kids understand that not everybody needs the same systems. Please keep checking back, I promise it will be up soon!

      I also have to ask: how did you all FIND me? I know most of you came through Facebook, but who posted the link you followed? There have been more hits today than the day I oroginally posted this – I feel like I owe someone a thank you!

      Happy back to school to everyone!

      • Rebecca says:

        I found it on a Responsive Classroom post via Facebook. Great read thanks for sharing I look forward to seeing more.

      • Nancy Gregg says:

        I love your analogy. I’ve been pondering how to handle discipline this year. Looking forward to your post. Also, followed a link from Responsive Classroom on Facebook. 🙂

      • Renee says:

        I found your post on facebook – posted by The Sanford Harmony Program via Responsive Classroom. (And I’m not a teacher. Just a mom of a preschooler and an infant who is trying to figure out a better way with Positive Discipline and trying to figure out this whole parenting gig.)

  90. marcelle soto says:

    Wow! Here’s a person who used this type of system. You’ve totally changed my perspective. I’m glad I read this prior to getting my new kids! Thank you!

  91. Great post! I also never liked behavior charts, because what do they really do? They don’t really teach kids anything. Usually all they do is upset the child. True, the child may not repeat the problem action, but it won’t be because of new-found respect for the teacher/students/classroom etc.–it will be because they don’t want a bad mark again. It’s just teaching them to fear punishment rather than really want to change.

    I was a pretty goody-goody kid in school, but I had ONE time I had to flip my green card to red. I can’t even remember exactly what the reason was, (something involving a verbal argument with another student). When we were asked to flip our cards, I remember thinking it was stupid, but I marched right over and flipped it while the other student sat and argued (which got her in more trouble…and that’s precisely why I flipped mine without arguing!) All day long I would feel a prickle of annoyance every time I looked over and saw that red card. But my thoughts weren’t “Oh, I behaved badly and I’m so ashamed.” They were more along the lines of, “That card is stupid and doesn’t define me. My parents will be mad I got in trouble, but tomorrow the card will be gone and that’s that.” It taught me nothing.

    • Sarah says:

      Along that same logic, I don’t follow traffic laws because I respect them, I follow traffic laws because i’m scared of paying a ticket. I work in a school that got rid of all assertive discipline and we have had more problems these last two years than in the previous five.

  92. Lauren says:

    So heartfelt… Love. Could you share what individualized charts you did and tell us what happens when this child does or does not make their goal???

  93. Fantastic blog post! As we become more and more concerned with scores for both teachers and students, using a behavior chart seems so much easier than really teaching on the surface. However, we all know that a true test of our character is doing what is right even when no one is looking or evaluating it! The right thing to do is to support students as they develop social-emotionally. In fact, nothing matters more and few academic goals will be accomplished if this is not.

  94. Erin says:

    Love it Amy! You were able to put into words how I feel about Behavior charts. Thanks!

  95. Susan says:

    Excellent! I am not a teacher but have children and have been a manager – I think you are spot on. This is a great blog that teachers as well as managers should read!

  96. Silvia Ferreira says:

    I completely see eye to eye with you. Fortunately, I had the chance to work with it and learn that’s a fantastic way to develop not only anxious but also frustrated kids in the classroom. I’ve always believed, at that time, that there were so many other ways to keep discipline in class such as affection and a very well prepared lesson plan. The more I live with my kids and the more I teach, the more I see it should be the # 1 item of the ” What not to do in a classroom” chart.

  97. Tim says:

    I actually had a boss that did that. And we ALL got paid on commission, so there wasn’t much math to figure out exactly how much everyone was getting paid. And the group got bonuses based on averages, so you not only knew who wasn’t doing well personally, you also knew who caused you to miss out on a few thousand extra.

  98. TK says:

    Your post nearly brought me to tears. Imagine how a child who is living within this system must feel.

  99. Winnie says:

    This was EXCELLENT! I agree wholeheartedly. I see them as stressful to the kids and some kids are worriers (as are some adults) and it makes the problems worse in some cases.

  100. Matt says:

    Brilliantly stated. I’ve shared his in my Facebook page too.

  101. Kara says:

    Also children should WANT to learn, do the right things and behave properly…because it is the right thing to do. It should never be because someone is watching or because I will get something for doing it.

    • Sarah says:

      So as an adult you should WANT to go to work every day, you should follow speeding laws and pay your taxes because it’s the right thing to do!

      • Miss Night says:

        Actually, Sarah, yes. I want my students to develop the moral conscience and self-regulatory skills necessary to do the right/kind/ethical/safe thing, just because it is right/kind/ethical/safe, even (and maybe especially) when the right/kind/ethical/safe thing to do is NOT what they WANT to do. I want them to hold doors, say please and thank you, turn in lost property, pick up litter, give to charity, drive safely, and yes, pay taxes because these are things that serve the highest good.

        I know this is a very very lofty goal, but if I don’t even TRY, they will never get there, or even get partway there.

  102. Sandi says:

    Hear! Hear! I want children in my classroom to know what is right and wrong, and to choose appropriate behaviour, not to follow a list of rules so that they can move to blue and then purple and get a trip to the treasure box on Friday. I want thinkers, not followers and responders, empathy rather than actions designed to move one closer to the treasure box. As Barbara Coloroso said – we do good because it is good to do good. And my responsibility as a teacher to support all my students to be able to do “good”.
    Found 2 great Canadian blogs in one night – wooot!


  103. Mme Jones says:

    What a fantastically thought provoking post. I truly had never quiet thought of public behaviour systems quite like this. It certainly has me rethinking some of my classroom strategies. Thanks!

  104. Tasha Cowdy says:

    Great post, Amy. This is a message that should shouted out from mountain tops! Looking forward to the follow-up post.

  105. Melva says:

    Beautifully written! I really felt like hanging with you in the yellow and orange crowd. That so clearly shows the damage these systems do. Years ago I remember a teacher complaining that she couldn’t figure out why “little Johnny” didn’t smarten up after being moved to red before 9 a.m. I told her i thought it was he didn’t give a sweet tweet about her chart since he was already at the bottom and had no hope of moving up. These charts really put a wedge into classroom cohesiveness and collaboration.

    • Miss Night says:

      Oh, Melva, you are so right. I am already thinking of a follow-up post about how these systems undermine the community of a classroom, and create chasms of misunderstandings between children. Thanks for reading – I love getting your comments!

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