Ditch the Clips – Why You Need To Stop Using Behavior Charts in the Classroom RIGHT NOW

I have a lot of discomfort with traditional systems of behavior management; especially the ones that hang at the front of the classroom for all to see. I take one look at these, and I cringe:

Why your classroom behavior charts make me cringe; Removing the Stumbling Block

Now here’s the thing: images like these are ALL OVER Pinterest. And who doesn’t love Pinterest? It’s a glorious treasure trove of inspiration and ideas for just about anything. It has the potential to be any classroom teacher’s happy place. But let’s be honest, when we see something that’s been endorsed (in this case re-pinned) thousands of times, it’s seems like an idea we must try. After all, if thousands of people like it, how can it be bad?

But here’s the problem with those fancy clip charts, even the ones decorated with butterflies and daisies and ladybugs that everyone is so quick to pin. Every one of these systems succeed in accomplishing one thing: SHAME.

That’s right. These clip systems, no matter how you dress them up or how pretty they may seem, publicly shame children.

Ditch the Clips - Why You Need to Stop Using Behavior Charts in the Classroom RIGHT NOW; Removing the Stumbling Block

Here’s the premise: every child starts the day on green, and the goal is to stay on green all day long. Seems lovely in theory, right? 

So let me ask you – do you spend all day every day on green? Do you go all day without needing a break or feeling frustrated or worse, losing your cool? Are you able to remain even-tempered and act positively in every single situation, all day long?

Now let me ask you something else – how would you feel if, when you lost your cool or found yourself struggling to remain even-tempered and positive, I pointed it out to your entire workplace by asking you to move your clip down to orange, or worse onto red.

Yeah, I thought so.

So why in the heck do we want to do this to children who haven’t yet mastered the skills of self-regulation and self-advocacy that most adults employ in challenging situations? I don’t have a clue either. 

All a clip system manages to accomplish is to point out when children are not meeting expectations. Publicly. In front of all their peers. There is no gentle reminder or warning before a child is asked to move his clip. And she isn’t offered any specific alternatives or support to learn the critical skills of self-regulation. There’s nothing wonderful about these clip systems. And certainly nothing inclusive.

So why do teachers love them so much?

Well, partly because they are at least a slight shift away from the even worse behavior systems that rely on tokens or tickets which are taken away from students when they misbehave. In these, students begin their day with a certain number of “chips” and lose them when they do anything that is “wrong”. Then they are rewarded for managing to retain a certain number of their chips each day. As if this isn’t painful enough and you need more of a reason to understand why we need to GIVE chips rather than take them, watch this:

Ok, so back to the pretty clip charts. Teachers like them because they think they are reinforcing positive behavior rather than punishing the negative. Nope. They think there is value in giving children a visual of where they stand at any moment in time. Again, no. All you are doing when you ask children to move their clips is SHAME them. Period.

So what are the alternatives?

There are many compassionate, positive ways to teach children how to engage in appropriate behavior. I am certainly in favor of strategies that are individualized and private. One such alternative is to develop a system of Celebrating Mistakes. Here, students come to learn that no one is perfect and understand that mistakes are a healthy, integral part of learning and growing. And no individual student can be identified by name, number or color. 

One of my favorite alternatives is the one Katie Texas uses. She quietly hands students a “ticket” that says “Please stop what you are doing and make a better choice”. I love this. Quiet, private and simple enough to manage without disrupting your own teaching. 

Another methodology is to teach children how to be reflective. Helping them to understand their behavior and make changes that are appropriate to them (again, individualized) is a compassionate and valuable system. Michelle Nelson uses a Behavior Notebook.

And finally, there is this concept based in the Responsive Classrooms approach as explained beautifully by Nikki Sabiston in her post WhyI Will Never Use a Behavior Chart Again.

No matter what system or strategies you choose to use, select something that fits your personal teaching style and the individual needs of your students. And whatever you do, ditch the clips!

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