Miss Night's Marbles

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

“Behaviour management”: not systems, but relationships

on 9 September, 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.

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 especially to those who commented, saying it changed (or was going to change) your practice. I am honoured. In the comments on that post (as well as in a question submitted to Ask Miss Night), many of you asked how I DO manage behaviour in my classroom. At long last, here is the follow-up!

How do I manage behaviour in my classroom?

As silly as it sounds, this question caught me a little off-guard. How do I manage behaviour without charts or stickers or a treasure chest? I just DO.

That answer, of course, is woefully inadequate. Obviously, there are things I DO, guiding principles I follow. The challenge becomes putting those things into words. You all would not believe the number of showers and car rides I have spent trying to articulate exactly how and why and when and where I manage behaviour in my classoom. (Come on, admit it, you do your best thinking in the shower and the car, too…)

So, gallons of water and tanks of gas later, here are the points that kept floating to the surface. They are sort of in a logical order, but also all inter-related. They have come from so many places: the kind of parenting I received, the schools I attended, reading and research, experience  both broad (thousands of children, literally) and specific (singular moments that changed my practice forever). Before I begin, a sidebar: I am not in love with the terms “management” and “behaviour” in this context; both have connotations that make me uncomfortable. I use them here for the sake of clarity. The issue of vocabulary seems like another post, for another day.

  • Fact: I do not run a permissive classroom. I have heard parents say “there is no nonsense in Miss Night’s room,” and they are correct (note that, in spite of the lack of nonsense, my room is still full of laughter and smiles and hugs and songs and music and fun). I have high high expectations for my students, but those expectations are grounded in trust and faith that children, given the right support, and the right environment, can manage themselves very nicely. The children in my room get lots of freedom and lots of choice, but they also know that those freedoms and choices are privileges. That said, at first glance, my classroom might APPEAR permissive, because:
  • I have a very specific definition of  “problem behaviour.” A behaviour is ONLY a problem if it interferes with a child’s safety and learning or the safety and learning of others. Period. A behaviour that is annoying to me is not automatically a problem. Think on that for a minute. How often have you reprimanded or disciplined a child for doing something that was annoying you? I’m embarrassed to say how often I have done just that (let’s be clear – I am far from perfect in all this….) With this definition, a whole bunch of things STOP being problems — wiggling during circle; slouching in a chair; looking at the ceiling during a story, sitting on their knees instead of their bottoms; walking in a zig-zag instead of a straight line — unless and until it becomes obvious that these things are dangerous or detrimental to learning.
  •  Fair doesn’t mean same. Fair means everybody gets what they need. This is one of the first social lessons I teach, and we talk about this A LOT. The example I use is that, if fair means same, then EVERYONE should eat when *I* am hungry, because otherwise it’s not fair. On the other hand, if fair means everybody gets what they need, then everybody should get to eat when they are hungry. Five-year-olds have no problem grasping this, and we discuss it repeatedly throughout the year. Without teaching this lesson, I could not run my classroom the way I do. It lays the foundation for the next two points.
  • I manage children as individuals, not as a group. Johnny concentrates better sitting on a chair than on the floor; Johnny is allowed a chair at story time. Natasha has no problem on the floor. She does not get a chair. Natasha does, however, have trouble printing her name, so on her work, I write her name in highlighter for her to trace over for the first several weeks. Samantha has no problem with her name, but struggles to keep her hands to herself. She can choose a fidget toy during whole group instruction. Raymond is the only child who frequently falls asleep at rest time; he is the only one who is allowed to rest behind my desk so that he will not be disturbed when we start centres. When you really get to know your students, you know that EVERY child has “special needs.” When the children understand what “fair” means, you can meet those needs without worrying about accusations of favouritism. (Although, sometimes, you have to teach parents and colleagues what “fair” means, too.)
  • I normalize the tools that help children manage their own behaviour. Just as students ask for help with their school work, they need to know it is okay to ask for help with their behaviour. If a child asks for a break from the carpet, she can have it. If he knows he will do better in line by walking with me, he can. If she can’t stop chatting with her neighbour, I will help her find a place to work alone. Leaving the carpet, holding my hand, sitting alone, are NOT punishments: I don’t present them as punishments, and I work hard to change the kids’ perception of punishment. These are choices and tools that help children be their best selves. These are also choices that, as adults, we frequently have the freedom to make for ourselves. And, speaking of choices:
  • Choice is a privilege. My students get lots of choices. They choose their first activity upon arrival. They choose which “work” to do first. They choose where to lay at rest time. They choose their play centres. They choose when to have afternoon snack. Kids like having choices, having a voice in the path their day takes. But (and it’s a BIG “but”) if they are not managing those choices well, the privilege of choice is lost. A child who is wondering the classroom, harassing others and not settling into an activity, will be assigned an activity. A child who is kicking her neighbour at rest time will be assigned a spot with no neighbours. I rarely need any consequences other than “loss of choice.”
  • I look for patterns. If I am constantly correcting the same behaviour from the same child at the same time in the same spot every day: is there a way to break the pattern? If there is pushing in the lineup to wash hands EVERY DAY, how can I change the lineup routine? Can I give them more space? Send some to the bathroom? Make the lineup go faster? Give them something to do while they wait? Sometimes, changing the pattern means changing what I think I know about something. After months of intervening with little boys playing “too rough,” I did some research, talked to some people, and re-framed my understanding of  rough-and-tumble play. Looking for patterns with individual children works, too. If Peter lashes out and hits other kids in the crowded coatroom, maybe Peter would manage better if his cubby was not IN THE MIDDLE of the coatroom. Again, in an environment where “fair doesn’t mean same” and children are given choices and tools to meet their needs, Peter will likely accept an offer to move his cubby, and, because he CHOSE, it doesn’t feel like punishment.
  • I don’t have “systems.” I have relationships. As I re-read these now, it is that simple. I cannot think of a single system or routine in my classroom that is applied universally to every child at all times in all situations. What works for one does not work for another and makes things even worse for a third. I have had situations with specific children where the best way to communicate about behaviour was to have a private “chart” that went home every day. This is not my favourite strategy, but it was the best one for THAT child and THAT family in THAT situation. For other kids, it has been best to cue them in advance of any potentially challenging event. For still others, we have role-played and practiced the right words and actions.
I know there are naysayers out there, who will find this all too nebulous, too airy-fairy and hippie-dippie to be manageable. I don’t have an answer for those people. For me, these 8 truths simply work. I don’t know if they will work for you, too. I would, however, challenge you to try just one of them. Re-define problematic behaviour. Find and change a pattern. Focus on your relationship with a challenging child. And then, please, come back here and let me know how it went.
Need more detail? Unsure of how to apply this to a specific child or situation? Submit your question to Ask Miss Night!

95 Responses to ““Behaviour management”: not systems, but relationships”

  1. Ms. Scott says:

    My 5 y.o. son just started Kindergarten and is struggling to listen and do his class assignments. He attended a high curriculum Pre-school and knows all of the work currently being taught but struggles to listen and frequently disrupts his class.

    I’m looking for suggestions to assist him in this transition.

  2. Ashley says:

    Thank you so much. I am about to go into school to do my first placement as a student teacher ( I am in Australia) and your principles really align well with my values. Will be interesting to see how it plays out though!!!!

  3. […] “Behaviour management”: not systems, but relationships– Relationships are key. […]

  4. […] many teachers have stopped using the charts, feeling that the price is too high and that other systems that focus on building the relationship between teacher and student are more effective and […]

  5. […] “Behaviour management”: not systems, but relationships […]

  6. Jenn says:

    Thank you!!!

    You just helped me make my choice about going with a behavior chart free classroom. I am going into my 4th year teaching and I do everything you are talking about here with my students, meeting their separate needs and building relationships. This year I am going with an alternative seating classroom and was debating on getting away from the behavior charts. It’s been an internal battle for a while, I only use them for positive reinforcement and never have kids move them down, I conference with them instead and help them change their behavior. But I still notice the clicks and groups they settle in based on the different areas. You have inspired me and helped me formulate a plan on how to explain this no chart system to parents and coworkers.

    Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration to not only your kids but other teachers.

    If you have a parent letter that you send home explaining this and are willing to share I would absolutely love to view it.

  7. […] do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: relationships not systems.”  The big “light bulb” moment for me was when I realized that most behavior management […]

  8. Nicola says:

    I love this post, and I would love to have you teach my children! Or teach the people who teach my children. We had to resort to behaviour charts primarily to manage the teacher. The teacher would constantly focus on the annoying behaviour rather than the problem behaviour. And then of course our son was constantly in trouble and constantly dejected and demoralised that he couldn’t get it right.

    When we agreed to the behaviour chart, the teacher then accepted that because he had achieved his five stars for the predetermined behaviour levels that were deemed star worthy, he must not be so bad after all.

    So in short, I now see behaviour charts as a tool to manage gratuitous authoritarian teaching styles, rather than to manage the behaviour of my children.

    It is worth noting that the behaviour chart did nothing to address the problem behaviour. The only thing that works on the problem behaviour is one to one attention and working through the root cause of the trigger and teaching ways to better cope with the overwhelming emotions that come right along with the trigger. Sadly, that isn’t in the conscious reach of the gratuitous authoritarian teacher who is dealing with 34 other children.

    Thank you for inspiring me. It is bolstering to read your approach!

  9. Beth says:

    I was very conflicted about behavior charts after I had bought into them. I also had a parent come in and tell me that her son was very frustrated that he kept ending up on the lower half after she had taken him off his medication for ADHD. Which had been done for health reasons. Then I stopped and thought. At no time during my elementary learning do I ever remember having a behavior chart. When I first started teaching, it was not yet popular, but then they were everywhere, and they were SO cute. So after I convinced another teacher to start hers, I stopped mine. I just didn’t use it this year and I finally tore it off the wall today.

  10. […] of the day. And a behavior chart doesn’t help a child develop the ability to make better choices. Here is a good blog post describing what one teacher does in her classroom instead of using a behavior […]

  11. Brandi says:

    I’m no longer teaching elementary school, but a few years ago I had a somewhat unusual situation and I was wondering how you would handle it. How do you respond when negative behaviors at school are rewarded and encouraged at home? Again, I understand how unusual this is. Parents want what’s best for their children, and typically they understand that getting a good education is an important part of that. A few years ago, though, I had a highly intelligent fourth grader with whom I had a lot of trouble. He had a difficult home life where he spent the vast majority of his time with his older brother, a high school dropout who took every opportunity to tell my student that school was a waste of time and that behaving badly in class made him cool. His parents were very uninvolved, to the extent that I was rarely able to even contact them, and if I spoke with his brother, the child was often rewarded at home. Once he called 911 from my classroom phone during standardized testing (granted, I should not have put him near the phone, but my classroom was a strange, concave octagon and I was trying to find a place where he wouldn’t be distracted) and he was rewarded with ice cream and a movie when I sent a note home (I wasn’t able to contact anyone any other way.)

    Again, I realize this is an extreme situation, but it was my first year as a teacher, and I went into it with a philosophy much like yours. By the end of the year he was causing so much chaos that I ended up implementing a class wide behavior system. I hated it, but it at least reduced the number of children following his lead.

  12. Susan says:

    I wish you were my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. It makes me so sad to send her each day to a classroom with behavior charts, “fun Friday treats” where only the children who received the correct number of stamps can pick out a present; parties for children who received a specific score on a quiz while the other children look on . . . How can I broach a different way of doing things for this teacher and this school? I was so taken aback when, during orientation night, the principal said they were moving away from play-based instruction — as though it were something to be proud of.

  13. We certainly do seem to be on the same wavelength. I teach primarily Positve Discipline (Jane Nelsen) and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (Faber & Mazlish) and am constantly teaching parents about no rewards or punishments. Also as a teacher, RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING! Once again, research is supporting what teachers have long known. Thank you so much for your blog.

  14. Amanda says:

    I have found that systems that only reward and do not punish work quite well, particularly those that focus on the class as a whole instead of each kid individually. That means no one is singled out and bad behavior has no effect on the particular reward, so no one gets scapegoated. Last year I had a “kindness jar”, which I put a marble into each time a kid does something especially kind or helpful. When it got filled up, we had a movie and snack party or a picnic outside. Once marbles were inside, I would never take them out as a punishment. The only natural consequence associated with this specific system was that if kids were rarely kind or helpful, the jar would take longer to fill up.

  15. Krista says:

    I stumbled upon your site this evening and this is the only article I’ve read, but I will keep perusing! This is exactly the method that I’ve used for years in preK, but couldn’t articulate. I find that by keeping simple, specific, high expectations and paying very close attention to each student as an individual there’s rarely a need to “manage” my classroom. It really is all about relationship. I also find that this works even on the first day of class. Children respond to love & I can love them the first time I meet them.

  16. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this! About 5 years ago, I ditched the charts because I felt like it wasn’t working – for me OR my students. Then I had an observation and my admin “suggested” I start using it again….so I put it up, but still didn’t really “use” it….and in ANOTHER observation I got marked down for, essentially, not using my level chart when I addressed a student (i.e. admin thought if I had to address the student privately, it required a move on the level chart). Beyond frustrating and disheartening. It has been up year after year in my classroom, for the sake of having it up, but I never really use it because, well, I DON’T LIKE IT! As I gear up to go back tomorrow, you have refreshed this idea and it will be down before the students come in. I think just having it posted gives the impression that I somehow expect there to be behavior problems.

  17. sarah says:

    Bless you!!!!! I have always felt this way and needed validated. I am moving to 1st from 5th grade and have struggled with how to “manage” my classroom. You hit it spot on. THANK YOU!!!!

  18. Janet says:

    I really want to start this year with behavior charts. I agree with everything but I do have some questions. If a student loses a choice due to not following the rules but refuses to comply, what then? I am referring to those who will pout and throw tantrums and refuse to move. I taught Pre-K last year and am moving to Kinder this year. Thank you for your post.

  19. Nicole says:

    This series has been really interesting and I would like to try and implement a lot of this during the upcoming school year. I haven’t figured out how you get your kids to meet those high expectations when they first come in. I can understand talking with them and restructuring things once they get the routine but what do you do during the first couple weeks? How do they learn you have no tolerance for nonsense?

    My principal wants a publicly accountable system and I want to move away from that. I need solid answers for what I can do when a kid is not meeting the expectations. If a kid is refusing to do their work, what do you do? I can understand accommodating them if it is an off day but there are those kids who would try and take advantage of that and not do their work daily.

    Thanks for explaining what you do! I really want to try this so I need a good foundation. 🙂

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Nicole

      Thanks so much for commenting, and good for you for being reflective about your teaching practice. There will be a post in the series about what to do with really tough kids when you don’t use a chart, but the short answer is: I tailor the consequences to the needs and patterns of the particular child and her/his particular areas of challenge. It’s also really important to figure out the reasons for any given behaviour: is a child refusing to work because the work is too difficult? Because it is too easy? Because some part of the task (cutting, printing, drawing) is particularly problematic for him or her? Does the child need a new PLACE to work? Can the task be adapted in some way? Eventually, if all of these have been addressed, and the kiddo is still just flat refusing to complete the task, the logical consequence is easy: if you don’t do it now, you will do it later, and miss out on some other part of the day (NEVER recess, but that is a whole other story…) There is always a REASON for a child’s behaviour. If we can figure out the reason, we can usually resolve (or at least improve) the problem.

  20. […] “Behaviour Management” : Not systems, but relationships […]

  21. Julie says:

    How old are the kids you teach?

    Because rather a lot if school involves, frankly, submitting to authority and doing what you are told — whether you “feel” like doing math from 10:30-12:00 every Tuesday and Thursday.

    • Miss Night says:

      Julie, I have taught kindergarten, first and second grades, all using a similar model of classroom management. I’ve also worked with older kids (14-18 year olds) in a residential setting, using a similar philosophy, adapted to their ages and our program structure. You’ll note that I never said my students can do whatever they feel like doing, whenever they feel like doing it – I have routines, structure, and expectations – but in WHATEVER we do, there are opportunities for them to make choices. Choice is good for kids for so many reasons. The world doesn’t need more compliant people, it needs people who can think for themselves, determine priorities, and make the best use of their own strengths. Providing more choice in the classroom helps foster all of these skills.

  22. Tracee says:

    Its interesting to see that many of the choices that you give your students I do as well. Honestly I took me 4 years to get here which seemed like an eternity. And I can honestly say I agree to it. My students this school year seemed very happy with the way things were handled. I worked hard to meet my students needs. I personally do not enjoy sitting on the carpet, my legs cramp up and go numb so I empathize will all of my students who are table sitters. I do although have to work on not punishing or correcting behavior that is only annoying to me… I do a lot of that. While I enjoy the treasure box, it will be nice to slowly see it disappear because students can eventually regulate their behavior and make appropriate choices. I will most likely refer to this blog often to get a refresher. Thank you for your insight and allowing me to see that my “hippie dippie” ways are supported and used in many classrooms as well.

  23. You have just explained my “classroom management” strategy. I totally agree and support your suggestions. I know they work for me and for my students! Students are empowered when given the opportunity to make their own choices. We provide the menu of choices of course, but they rarely comment on that part. I don’t dish out punishments, just consequences based on the student’s choice. Thank you for this article….I live it!

  24. beth korda says:

    Thank you for putting your style into words. At my old school, we managed behaviors similar to your style. I miss it. I tried the behavior chart at my new school because that is what most teachers use. I’m done with it. I am going back to just managing my class and giving each child what they need. Thank you for posting this.

  25. Bridget J. says:

    Thank you so much for this! My classroom management is practically identical to yours and it makes me feel good to know this is o.k. I agree that this works but I struggle with some things.
    I have had a hard time clearly “defining” to others how I manage my students. It has been said that young children need clear rules and consistent follow-through. I would say this varies with me depending on the individual child and how I handle them. One of my rules is “respect others” which includes no hitting , kicking etc. others and this type of behavior would require an immediate consequence.
    I had a bad experience the past 2 years with another teacher who serviced some of my students in my room. She was very critical of the way I addressed my students behaviors indicating that it needs to be the same for all students, across the board. Black or white. I consider this system “a grey area” but in a good way. Specifically when it came to addressing things like wiggly bodies, sitting on knees instead of bottoms etc.. My students are 3,4 and 5. As a parent I know that you have to pick your battles and this holds true in my classroom. It bothered me because she shared her opinions with other teachers in the building who don’t know me well and I felt like they were viewing me in a bad light.

    I have aides who have worked with me that have supported and agreed with my system and not to mention ZERO parent complaints as far as feeling their child was constantly ” in trouble”. Let’s just say my method was not appreciated by her and no matter how I explained it to her, she didn’t think it was a good method.

    I finally realized that not everyone will appreciate my methods and I should feel confident in how I run my room.

    Have you had any experiences like this?

  26. I am ready to ditch the behavior chart this coming school year! What I am struggling with is how to generate the citizenship grade for each student. (Required by the district.) With the color system, we assign grades based on how many times a student was moved to yellow or red that week. Any ideas?

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Kirsten! I’ve had several teachers in the last few days ask me that exact question, and I’m thinking I need to write a post to address it. Stay tuned!

    • Michelle says:

      If I may make a suggestion – you could try creating a rubric, based on what citizenship skills would look like at each level. The kids might even enjoy helping you create it – to have input as to what kinds of things would indicate each grade level. As a class project, that would be a really interesting way to explore which relationship/citizenship skills are the most valued by the kids, and what respect and caring looks like to them.

  27. Nicole says:

    I love this post. I think you did a beautiful job articulating this approach to building a community of learners! It explains the thought put into it so clearly and eloquently.

  28. Jennifer says:

    This is so similar to how I try to manage my Montessori preschool/kindergarten class. I use many of the same strategies and often find myself stepping back and re-examining what works with different children. It’s nice to see it written down this way. It helps me remember where to start.

  29. I love these ideas but I worry about how these kids will adapt to the future classrooms they will encounter.

  30. Miss Night,
    Thanks for giving me something to chew on. Right now I’m a freshman Physics Teaching major at BYU, so actual classroom time is a few years in my future. I want to get a sense of how these “teacher-y” things work before I graduate and stumble wide-eyed into my first classroom. Thanks for these suggestions on behavior management– I don’t plan on teaching kindergarten, but the principles are great.

  31. I just discovered your blog and this post today and I’m so impressed. I’m going to share it with the teachers that I work with. Some months ago I wrote this blog entry http://investigatingchoicetime.com/2013/07/hurt-no-living-thing/ which you might find interesting.
    All my best,

  32. eric says:

    You sound like an excellent teacher. I am a brand new TEFL teacher, teaching 4 classes of 16 year olds for 2 x 1 hour lessons a week. I need to better control my classroom so that the students will take it seriously. The only way I can think to do this is with Class Dojo. I do not have the skill as a teacher or the time with my students that you have being their sole teacher day in day out to do what you do, imho. If you have any advice on either using Class Dojo purely positively, or otherwise advice for a new teacher seeking to have a class pay more attention and involve themselves more in activities (they are Thai, due to their education system of everyone passing it can be difficult to encourage participation, the ONLY thing that motivates them is points – I tried a lot of stuff in the last 5 months, so now – class dojo).

    So yeah, any advice welcome, I already know which students will be getting negative scores if I proceed with class dojo unthinkingly.

  33. Mary says:

    Great insights. The article reminded me of this image: http://themetapicture.com/equality-vs-justice/

  34. veroniva says:

    I love…. love this true every child is differant & has their own special needs. Life is of choices & getting them to make right choices now will be the best we as parents & teachers to give our children in life it takes alot of love,patience & dedication to teach & help correct a child

  35. kimberly says:

    I love that you have articulated your method of Behavior “Guidance”. I have worked in Early Childhood for many years and have found that the use of external behavior management really does not fulfill what our children today need to learn. I have been given much grief for not using stickers and rewards for things like bathroom learning to misguided behaviors. I really believe that our children are not born knowing how the mangage their behaivors and it is up to us to teach them to be able to manage their own behavior internally rather than relying on rewards/punishment to make appropriate choices. Thank you for your efforts to educate us all on how effective this method is to meet those needs of our children.

  36. Jessica says:

    I love this method. For me it just makes more sense for the children to learn to manage their own selves. I think children from preschool to school age are told what and how to do every thing they dont get chance to learn the why. Plus this means that since im not running circles managing the kids my time gets to be spent on individuals and relationships, just as you stated. Great read!!

  37. Kelley says:

    I haven’t used behavior charts in 4 years. I think one of the biggest benefits is that my kids don’t label each other as often now. There is no “she’s perfect, she always gets green” or “she’s bad, she never gets green”. Loved this post!

  38. Brilliant model and thanks for sharing the secrets of student success. Character building, good choices, self and awareness of others and all under the umbrella of authentic learning. M.S. and junior learners respond with pride as they develop social conscious and character and problem solving critical thinking. Equity does not mean everyone is treated the SAME. http://www.consciousteaching.com/ Check out Rick Smith’s book and website for more ideas and strategies to support this responsive teaching and learning model. Peel DSB Teacher Librarian retired 2013

  39. I am joing this conversation a little late and not sure how I missed this! I blogged about this topic awhile ago and I am still class system free! I do however have one student who is challenging my “assume positive intentions lens.” So tomorrow with this post in my mind and my heart (#heartprint) I will work harder to get to know this student and discover what I can do to get him/her to a place where behavior supports the learning in our community.

    Thanks for sharing your “nebulous, too airy-fairy and hippie-dippie” thoughts and thinking~ It just what KIDS need!

  40. […] Ideas for managing a classroom without charts at Miss Night’s Marbles […]

  41. Lety says:

    This is great! I read your previous post about behavior charts and was wondering what I could do differently. These basic guiding principles make complete sense. I am looking forward to trying them!

  42. Alison Roberts says:

    I have recently decided to try the “no behavior management system” in my room. And the free choice has worked great as a reward. But what exactly do you do to those students who have harmful behaviors? Throwing rocks, hitting a student on the head with a book, and scraping a student with a fork definitely needs to be dealt with differently than a student who simply talks while the teacher is teaching. If there is no “color” to be changed, do you simply just take away all free choice and that be the end of the discipline? Also, how do you go about notifying parents of a students behavior without having to call or write a lengthy note home describing the intensity of the behaviors that day? Do you inform them each day about even a few small behaviors the child made? Or only contact the parent depending on the specific type of behavior?

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Allison
      Thanks for your question, and bravo for going system-free! I wish there was a simple, one-sized fits all answer to your questions, but (of course!) there isn’t. For those children with really disruptive/dangerous behaviours, I do individualized consequences and plans, depending on the child, the family, the situation. The choice model holds true even for severe behaviours – hurting friends is a bad choice, and tells me that the child is not capable of making good choices for herself. That said, it is critical to figure out the reasons for the behaviour, and address those reasons. Depending on the reasons, I may need to created some additional structures to support that child. A child absolutely does not have the right to negatively impact the learning, safety, and school experience of another child. I have used a calm-down table/corner, have had those kiddos sit in a specific spot or area, have changed how I deliver instruction… Again, it all depends on the child, the behaviours, the reasons for those behaviours.

      As for the parent communication piece – again, it depends on the child and the family. Most parents do not need or want daily reports of their child’s every “infraction”. Things like interrupting the teacher are, to me, just a normal daily part of a kindergarten classroom, and do not require follow-up with parents. If a child’s behaviour is regularly disrupting his own learning, or the learning of others, I do get parents involved. This does often require phone calls, meetings, or e-mails (some of which are long and detailed), and then follow-up on a regular basis. The nature of the follow up depends on the family – some prefer daily e-mails or a communication notebook, others like a weekly phone call or a quick verbal update every few days. Just like children, parents are all different, and prefer different models of communication.

      I hope this is helpful – please let me know if anything needs more clarification. I hope your school year is off to a good start!

  43. I am a homeschooling mom of 4 kids (7, 9, 11, 14) and I just love how you so wonderfully and simply put into words what we strive for in our home. These principles grow mature people. Thank you for posting.

  44. I love love love this! I plan on doing this in the up-coming year. I would like to know what you send home in writing at the beginning of the year for your classroom management. I am trying to put it into parent-friendly terms and am having some difficulty.


    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Dana

      I honestly have never had to explain my “management plan” to parents at the start of the year – I have never felt that they expect an “explanation” in advance. I have occasionally had to help them understand the “fair doesn’t mean same” conversation, and I explain it just that way – that “fair” means that everyone gets what they need to learn and grow. I have never had any parent disagree with me when it is articulated that way! I think that, if you share up-front that your philosophy includes treating children as individuals and not as a group, that is more than enough information for parents to understand your approach. Please feel free to share a link to this post if it helps, too!

  45. Emily says:

    I’m getting ready to start my first year of teaching. I have been searching for a behavior management plan that fits with my personal philosophies. A good friend of mine directed me to your blog and this post has rang so true with me. It will be hard to go against the status quo, especially as a new and inexperienced teacher. I hope that I can convert some colleagues and that my students come out better for having had a break from the traditional “management plans”. Thank you!

  46. […] his post, as he spoke of relationship building, Gomez linked to Miss Night’s blog post where she talks in more depth and detail about building relationships as a better form of […]

  47. […] behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: relationships not systems.”  The big “light bulb” moment for me was when I realized that most behavior […]

  48. Heather says:

    I am the music teacher and I see all 275-300 kids in our building. I like to think that I build relationships with students, but I also know that I don’t get to know them like their home room teachers do. What are some suggestions to help with classroom management when I have 16 separate and very different classes to manage?

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Heather
      I think that the answer to this is similar to the question of how to manage individual children – each class may need a slightly different approach, depending on their age, and the personalities involved. I know this is not a super-helpful answer, but I think it is about getting to know the chemistry of each group, and figuring out what their needs are, and what will work for them.

  49. Carol says:

    So exactly HOW do you manage the snacks? Are they in individual baggies or otherwise distributed? Our students bring boxes or bags of snacks that are shared with everyone and stored until we need them.

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Carol
      At my school, the kids provide their own snacks from home, so when they are hungry, they get their snack, bring it to the snack table, eat, and then clean up after themselves. If snack is provided in your classroom, you could always set out a big bowl/dish of the day’s snack, along with some kind of cup/bowl of an appropriate serving size for each kiddo. Would that work?

      • Darlene says:

        What is your schedule that students can eat whenever they want. I would have some students grazing all day and missing out in instruction/activities.
        I adjust my teaching often to meet my students individual needs but the students also have to learn patience and that they can’t always do what they want when they want. Life doesn’t work that way. Students in 2013 seem to be in charge of their parents and don’t know how to manage themselves and respect elder. It is my goal to teach them the tools to do that for themselves. If a sticker motivates/encourages them once they met their goal,I don’t see a problem. Teachers’ don’t work solely for incentives ie paycheck…but it does mimic society work-pay-goals-save-manage funds-follow procedures/laws: society.
        In sharing this balance is key and individualizing to meet students’ needs is what the focus of early childhood education should be

        • Miss Night says:

          Hi Darlene
          The question of snack probably deserves a post of its own, but the short answer is that: in the afternoon, I set up a snack center, where kids can go eat when (or if) they are hungry. There are many other things going on in the classroom at the same time, so it is very rare for them to hang out at snack centre all afternoon. My friend Mrs Silky Cactus does a free-flow snack where kids can truly eat any time they want. You can read about it on her blog: http://mrssilkycactus.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/snacks-on-snacks-on-snacks-we-dont-do-snack-time/.

          As for the question of rewards: we need to be careful not to confuse compensation (a paycheque) with a reward (a sticker on a chart). Research shows that very few adults are actually motivated by compensation (rather we are motivated by recognition, respect, increased responsibility, satisfaction, etc.). Research also shows that for children, the motivational effects of a reward are short-lived and that the expectation of reward undermines the development of intrinsic motivation. We can do better by our kids than offering them stickers or stars or trinkets. A good starting point in understanding this is the book “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn.

          Finally, I want to be clear that, in my classroom, kids can’t do “what they want when they want.” As I mentioned, I have high expectations for my students, and I don’t tolerate a lot of nonsense. That said, I work VERY hard to ensure that children CAN do what they NEED when they NEED it.

  50. Sara says:

    What’s kind of funny about the annoying behavior is that you can usually stop it pretty quickly by telling the child that what they are doing is annoying you! This of course depends on your overall relationship with the child. Some children might find it a challenge and up the ante, but I found that it usually worked beautifully to simply give them a straight message. You could even say something like, “I know you are enjoying walking in a zig-zag, but it’s really bothering me. Perhaps you could do that at recess.” You can’t overuse this and thinking about why something is bothering you is the right place to start, but we all have our buttons.

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Sara
      While I don’t disagree with you that being straight with kids is often very effective, I think it is important to put our own “annoyance” in perspective. As the adult in the room, I should be able to manage my own response to a child’s behaviour; even if that behaviour is spectacularly irritating to me, it may be useful, productive, or adaptive for that child, and my annoyance is not reason enough to stop it.

  51. Pattie M. says:

    Miss Night,

    I have been teaching Kindergarten for 30 years.. In my first years I had no behavior plans. I simply corrected problems as the day went on, usually one-on-one, when needed asked for the parents help.

    For the past 15 years I have done all types of behavior (bribing) programs. I have come to dislike these programs more each year. Some children have little or no problems of acting out, are socially adjusted and love to please. I have seen over my years many children are coming to school with more “problems” then their little lives can handle. Rewarding and penalizing hurt children more then helps children.

    Thank you for this article. It gives me the freedom to stand firm and help me in explaining to parents the reason I am not having a “Behavior Chart”.

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Pattie
      Thanks so much for coming by, and I am so glad this post resonated with you. Feel free to share it with your admins and parents if it will help you stand by what you know to be true about helping children learn to manage themselves. I know there is much pressure out there to have a “system” to manage our classrooms, but the fact is: we are not running an assembly line, we are dealing with small people and their individual needs and quirks, which vary from day to day and child to child.

  52. Nicole Dein says:

    Thank you for opening my eyes!

  53. Johanna says:

    Love your post, and totally agree and see how it works. Others are amazed to see at how well young children do tasks for me, and it is all due to respect , I believe, that is I respect them as individuals and know them individually- their ways/needs etc,
    Just wondering about the child that is wondering around – I feel that sometimes (again I guess depends on the child and or the mannerism of the moment) is not such a bad thing. Are they curious?, is this what they need for the moment,? are they a bit lost? What is it they are looking for? Do they require some personal attention?
    Is it appropriate to give them an activity they don;t want to do??
    Maybe I am jumping the gun a bit in my over protectiveness, as I am sure you way all this up yourself before giving them an activity and that you would know or ask to guide them in the right direction??

    • Miss Night says:

      Hi Johanna
      Yes, you are of course correct that the wandering is often a sign of an unmet need, or a child who needs support “settling.” Thank you for the reminder that all behaviours happen in a context, and that we must at least attempt to understand the REASON for a behaviour before we start doling out consequences!

  54. Becky Marie Vodek says:

    Thank you for causing me to think. I am going into my 7th year of teaching and struggle every year to find a behavior plan that works. I’ll keep one for a month or so then it is retired and a “new” idea is tried for a month or so and this continues throughout the year and I end the year as it started, having no idea what the behavior plan is, was or could be. I found mattBgomez’s blog this morning as well, so it has been an eye-opening morning! I am thankful it is still July and I have time to process all of my new learning.

  55. This post is exactly what I needed to read. I do not like treasure box or physical “rewards” for good behavior. Last year, I began with no real “rewards” except a compliment jar. I love this concept of teaching what is fair and making choices the reward. The part that really resonated within me was the section about correcting annoying behavior. I will have to admit that i have done this. Sad, but true. Thanks for presenting the 8 truths in a straightforward, easy to apply way!

  56. Kate says:

    Wonderful post. I just returned from a three-day conference with Ross Greene who wrote Lost at School and developed a model called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions for dealing with kids who present challenging behaviors. Sounds like you could have written the book! The book and conference are worth the time to consider the implementation of non-punitive interventions for our neediest students school-wide.

  57. […] RT @Matt_Gomez: Perfection! RT @happycampergirl: Behavior Management: Not Systems, but RELATIONSHIPS: http://t.co/mX3ZcdNX #kinderchat …  […]

  58. Laurie says:

    I LOVE this…you have so eloquently written what I jumble up when I try to express these thoughts. Your class must be a special place full of fortunate kids. I have SO many students it is difficult to build the relationship so necessary for caring and differentiated levels of support. Well said!

  59. I love the way that you explain your way of “managing” the classroom WITH the children. I do this with my PreK students. This is the style of teaching and relationship-building that is encouraged by the HighScope curriculum. I had to turn in a “Behavior Management” plan to my principal this year. I was not very comfortable doing so, but now I will be better prepared when she asks for one next year. Thank you.

  60. Kate says:

    I just saw this post (after someone linked your non-charts post) on fb. I wanted to give you a high five. I am a high school teacher and I use this method as well. Relationships. That is it.

    I am also a mom to two little guys…one who is 3 and will be in preschool next fall. I have actually been dreading the use of behavior charts. he doesn’t respond well to shaming and his very relationship-driven. He needs to feel part of a team and feel that he has choice or he shuts down.

    Anyway, I wanted to tell you how great your posts are.

  61. […] It means we rely on relationships, not on systems. […]

  62. […] RT @Matt_Gomez: Perfection! RT @happycampergirl: Behavior Management: Not Systems, but RELATIONSHIPS: http://t.co/mX3ZcdNX #kinderchat …  […]

  63. Dear Amy: Well said, and it appears your great respect for the children is returned to you, and you have many excellent points. Children are individuals, not just a group, and we have to stop and think about why we are doing what we do as teachers. Thank you for putting all this in words. This is just excellent! Carolyn

  64. katie says:

    Excellent post, Amy. I also struggle with defining my “behavior system” when asked by parents, colleagues, etc. – which isn’t a system at all. It’s community, relationships and trust – and knowing each child. It’s built on talk, problem solving and encouraging others. I love how you put it into words. Beautiful.

  65. […] RT @Matt_Gomez: Perfection! RT @happycampergirl: Behavior Management: Not Systems, but RELATIONSHIPS: http://t.co/mX3ZcdNX #kinderchat …  […]

  66. Have you read ‘Learning to Trust’ by Marilyn Watson? Talk about building relationships!

  67. I love that you started this post with “I just do” but then were able to perfectly articulate just what you “do” even though it is not a system but rather a very respectful approach. I have been saying for years that the most effective management strategy a teacher has is the relationship he/she has with each student. You just flushed this out and described it wonderfully. Thank you for taking the time to share this. This should go in every new teacher handbook and it is a lovely refresher for everyone.

  68. Melva says:

    Beautiful! You have hit the nail on the head as far as true discipline is concerned. I was having trouble with noise in my classroom during guided reading last year. It was normal kindergarten center noise (split k/1 class) but I couldn’t hear the readers at the reading table I had strategically placed so that I could see all the centers. Of course that meant that I could also HEAR all the centers. After several disruptive on my part, requests for quiet, with my voice getting louder, and the children matching my louder voice I sent the readers back early one day. I observed the children. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were working and learning and interacting at centers. I got rid of my reading table and now teach guided reading from the floor where the grade one desks provide a sound buffer. I can focus on the readers and the children at centers can focus on their learning. You are so right that not everything that irritates us is misbehaviour.

  69. Totally agree with what you say. In everyday life we take the cues from our relationships. I don’t have a list of rules to read as you enter my house! Behaviour is about relationships, consistency and expectation. It is not always easy, we take years teaching reading, writing, maths and just think children ‘should’ behave. Personally I’ve adopted the Australian behaviourist Bill Rogers approach for the last twenty years and it helps with staff and parents too. Show respect and learn how to listen.
    It sounds to me that you have a class run on love, warmth and intelligence … oh yes … hard work as well. You are a great example to us all.

    Mr E
    Hawes (Eng).

  70. Nicole says:

    This is a fabulous post! One that I think I’ll reread many times this year. Thank you Amy! It reminds me of a time a teacher I volunteered with (prior to my BEd) pulled me aside at the classroom doorway. We watched the children in their free time centres – it was NOISEY! – and she shared a piece of advice another teacher had given her. She said that we each need to stop and look at the children to see if things are actually out of control, or just feel that way because it is loud and busy. I think of her often and do a self check when I *perceive* that the classroom is getting chaotic. This year I was subbing in a K class and it was busy, bumbling and there was some serious Lego and dinosaur play going on when the School District’s Director of Instruction (the woman who had interviewed me a few months earlier) walked it the room. Butterflies flew in my stomach but I just smiled and said, “Welcome to Kindergarten – it’s a little loud today but we’re having fun!” Thankfully she answered, “As I would expect it to be.”

  71. Kathleen says:

    I think it’s great you explain to the students that fair means everyone gets what they need. I also find children understand this concept very well but have never explained it that way. I will definitely keep it in mind! It’s usually, “Why does JESSICA get that fun, colourful, soft thing to put on HER pencil?” I always say “Because she needs it and it helps her learn better.”
    I also find choice very powerful. Letting my students choose when they eat snack has been the biggest time saver for me and has kept disruptions and discipline issues to a minimum.
    At the beginning of the year, I also introduce the 1-2-3 time out chair system in my classroom…but I RARELY need to use it. Maybe once a year at most. Having more choice in the classroom has made the timeout chair virtually extinct.
    Great post Amy!

  72. Mardelle says:

    When you take the time to build relationships with children, you build a culture of trust. And a child’s trust is a powerful thing.

  73. Erin says:

    Great articulation of how to create positive and nurturing learning spaces! Even though sticker charts are ‘easy’ the time and energy required to build relationships with students is so worth it in the long run. I am amazed each year that I rarely have “behavior” issues in my classroom…thanks for so eloquently putting it in words how it all works!

    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks, Erin. It really took some stewing to articulate it all. Made me reflect on the appeal of sticker charts – so much easier to follow steps 1-2-3 to create a system. I think that is what makes young teachers so vulnerable to charts and rewards…

  74. Patty says:

    Thank you Amy! I love this post! I do a lot of similar things in my room. I love that it’s about relationships and providing children with choices and the opportunity to be independent. I cannot recommend your blog enough.

  75. […] 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 […]

    • Mubina says:

      I LOVED your post! It resonated strongly with me; with 30 kids in the classroom, what works for one doesn’t for the other and THAT’S OKAY! I am (well, was, as I am changing daily due to social media advice:) guilty of attempting to correct behaviours I find annoying, like not sitting on the carpet during a read aloud. Your point about connecting with everyone as individuals is so valid and I plan to do exactly this during the upcoming year: customize the learning environment for each child to feel successful. I’m going to print and post this in class to remind myself continually:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.