Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What if you were treated like this at your workplace?

I have so many objections to this kind of classroom management that I have a hard time figuring out where to start but here goes:
  • Children succeed if they can. When a situation demands a child's lagging skills, we get unsolved problems. Because I know that misbehaviour is a symptom of much more complex and interesting problems, I see these unsolved problems as teachable moments. This behaviour chart reduces children to punitive measures where the misbehaviour is seen as nothing more than an inconvenience to the teacher that needs to be snuffed out. This chart belongs in a prison not a classroom.
  • Even if this was a good way of managing a classroom, and it's not, the public nature of this chart is extremely inappropriate. Making this kind of information for all to see is nothing more than a way of publicly naming and shaming children. I know very few adults who would put up with this kind of treatment at their workplace, so then why would we ever subject children to this? It's also unprofessional and malpractice. A doctor would never post their patients' health records publicly, and an accountant would not post their clients' tax records publicly. A lawyer would not post their clients' billing information publicly, nor would a teacher post their students' Individual Program Plans for all to see. So why would a teacher ever think that it would be appropriate to post this behaviour chart publicly?
  • People who ask, "do you want me to treat you like a child?" and post behaviour charts in their classrooms, tell us more about their dark view of children than they tell us about the kinds of kids they work with.
  • Recess is the long lost fourth R (reading, riting, rithmetic and recess) and is a critical part of every child's healthy development. The only reason adults use it as a carrot or a stick is because most kids like recess. Using learning as a reward or a punishment is manipulative and ultimately malpractice.
  • This chart can only ever be experienced as a reward or a punishment. Like Alfie Kohn says, rewards and punishments are not opposites -- rather they are two sides of the same coin, and they don't buy us very much other than short-term compliance. This chart is by definition a way to do things to kids when we should be working with them.
  • School already places a premium on blind obedience and mindless compliance, and placing a behaviour chart that implicitly and explicitly makes following the rules the primary goal of school prepares children to be ruled by others. When we allow operant conditioning to infect the classroom, we see children less as active, free thinkers and more as passive, conditional objects. Under these conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is less likely to be a problem than Compliant Acquiescent Disorder (CAD). It's important to remember that mindless compliance is responsible for far more of the atrocities against human kind than needless disobedience.
  • We need to seriously rethink the archaic strategy that says that when children do something bad, something bad must be done to them. After all, when we punish children we teach them a very important lesson: You can get your way with people who are weaker than you are by hurting them.
For more on why behaviour charts should be thrown out, take a look at this post by a kindergarten teacher who explains why behaviour charts are simply not worth it.


  1. My son was telling me all about his school's process like this yesterday (kindergarten, age 5). He's proud because he's one of the "good" kids and is usually in the not punished group, but what is being taught here???

  2. When I taught the "Intermediate Behaviour Contact Class" - basically the students no-one wanted - I used a chart that lead to 15 minutes of "free time". This was a contained classroom in middle school and these kids were always being punished - usually verbally - on an ongoing basis. They could never behave long enough to get a reward so they didn't even try. The way I used the chart was to move their pin down as they did positive, everyday classroom behaviours (and moved it up if they didn't). Rarely did students not get some time every day - being mostly boys in the group I think they liked the challenge. Here's why I used a behaviour chart: these kids came to me feeling hated and unwanted in anyone's classroom (and in many cases they were). They were used to arguing or swearing loudly (and throwing things) when punished. This just became a matter of fact way to help them monitor their behaviour. Overtime I used this system less and less as the students got to know and trust me. But, it gave us a starting point and a way to react positively to their behaviour. Was it controlled - yes but it helped establish the rules in the class (when these students were sullen, wary and ready to fight) so that we could get on to the important things like learning (or for some kids just coping with life). That being said this chart is all negative - it makes kids winners and losers. It takes away what we know kids need - movement - not only for healthy but for learning. Finally, it shows one of the biggest mistakes teachers make - giving their "power" away to the Principal. Sending a 5 year old to the office tells them you don't know what to do, you can't cope with them and don't want to.

  3. Hi Joe
    Thanks so much for the link to my post. I've been amazed at the response it received (and continues to receive). I do think we need to be careful about not shaming the teachers who use (or have used) these systems. When I was a brand new teacher with a tough class, I had a "colour card" system, out of sheer desperation. I think we need to make sure we are supporting teachers in finding more appropriate techniques, not just criticizing the tools they use. I encourage your readers to check out my followup post on how I DO manage behaviour: http://missnightmutters.com/2012/09/behaviour-management-not-systems-but-relationships.html. Change starts with baby steps.

  4. Miss Night,

    I agree that we need to be careful about shaming and I can agree that parts of my post are aggressive.

    I can remember being a first year teacher and looking back, I see many many things that I did then that I no longer do. My teaching has changed a lot since then because of two things: (1) after four years I wanted to change and (2) I read books and research that caused uncomfortable and inconvenient cognitive dissonance.

    I realize my post is walking a fine line between cajoling cognitive dissonance and simply pissing people off.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Kendra, thanks for sharing that comment

  6. CRS, you raise an important point: such charts and systems encourage the children to label each other as good and bad or winners it losers. Such systems actually perpetuate social hierarchies.

    1. I'm glad you mentioned social hierarchies. Many teachers are fond of using group classroom management systems where all students in the class earn or lose points for something -- recess, an ice cream party, no homework -- depending upon the behavior of everyone. When the class does not earn the party or everyone has to stay in from recess because a few students caused the loss of points, the rest of the class learns to dislike (hate is probably too strong) those kids.

      Voila! The teacher has just created a classroom where some students are publicly labeled bad and he/she has just given tacit permission for the other students to bully, tease or disrespect certain classmates.

      Rather than help the students that need the help, the teacher disregards her/his responsibilities as the adult and simply promotes peer pressure as the solution. Group punishment is a pathetic way to manage a classroom and a horrible way to treat children.

  7. I am allergic to rewards and punishments.According to some the mistake teachers/ make in using incentive systems is to make kids loose points when they misbehave. Instead a 20 second time out to reflect on what they did and then move on.

    If we want to help kids motivate themselves we can do well to support theirneeds for autonomy, competence and relateness. It is much better that the teacher spends her time on this , than on running incentive systems.

  8. Totally agree with you, Joe. And, what needs to be remembered is, if the children are adequately engaged, there won't be any significant behaviour problems anyway. The creation of a chart like the one in the picture tells me (and the kids in that classroom) that this is a teacher who EXPECTS and INVITES misbehaviour....and therefore, that is what she or he will get.


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