Please Stop Using Behavior Charts

ADHD, blog, Classroom management, Parenting an exceptional child , , , ,

Oh behavior charts!

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How I despise thee!


Bad feelings


Nothing good comes from you!

Can we please stop??!?


Behavior charts are humiliating! Why do some people feel that it is okay to openly embarrass young children that are trying their best to learn how to navigate their world?  They are at a very vulnerable stage of life.   Expectations are high.  Children are often stressed.  Kids do the best that they are capable of doing.  Sometimes kids struggle to meet expectations of the classroom.  When has being called out in public for making a mistake helped anyone do better?  Studies show that public shaming does not help children do better.  Studies also suggest that frequent feelings of shame predict adverse developmental changes – like a less mature pattern of brain growth, and decreases in kind, helpful, “prosocial” behavior over time (Whittle et al 2016; Roos et al 2014).

When children make mistakes, privately talking with them is much more effective than calling them out in public.  Children that are privately told that they have lost a game or didn’t attain a goal,  are much less likely to act out aggressively.  When children repeat mistakes or struggle with the same thing repeatedly, you as their teacher/care giver have a great opportunity to collaborate with them to find out how to change the outcome.  Connecting with the child and helping them feel that you are on their side will bring you to a positive outcome much faster than punishments and shame.

Put yourself in their shoes

Let’s use this same scenario in a workplace.  Maybe one day you are stuck in traffic behind an accident and you arrive late to work.  Your boss puts your name up on the bulletin board under the heading “NEEDS IMPROVEMENT”.  You would probably try to explain your situation to your co workers, or maybe just simply hide in shame that day.  Let’s say a parent calls the principal to complain about you, as a teacher, then your name goes up in the staff room under “NEEDS TO TRY HARDER”.  Would you really feel motivated to do better? Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates does not believe in this type of management, “we would never have thought about using employee evaluations to embarrass people…” And yet this is precisely what’s happening to many children in school.  Children do not need to be called out and punished.  They need compassion and understanding. We need to treat children at least as good as we expect to be treated.

Connection before correction

Everyday when a child arrive to school, they hope to not get into trouble, to be able to meet expectations.  They want to feel valued and worthy.  When they do not feel with way, they are much more likely to “act out”.  They are not trying to give you a hard time, they are having a hard time and do no have the skills to manage or cope.  If they feel connected to you, as their teacher, they are more likely to come to you for help instead of lashing out at you.  If you feel connected to them you will be better able to see past their behavior and understand that their “undesired behavior” is just a cry for help.

Some kids will be able to meet your expectations without much assistance from you.  Some will meet expectations almost all the time.  Some will struggle with what may seem like “easy” expectations.  These are the kiddos that feel defeated as soon as behavior charts and rewards are introduced.  They often know that they do not have the skills it takes to meet all the expectations. Especially if they have prior experience with failing at behavior chart systems.  These kids are not motivated by the chart.

Behavior Charts, Do they ever “work”?

I know some of you may say “Some kids only need to move their clip down once and they never misbehaved again!” Chances are those kids wouldn’t “misbehave” again regardless of the chart.  It might seem like it “works” for some kids, but you are not seeing the damage that moving a clip or putting a child on red does inside.  They are not learning to make better choices, they are telling themselves “I’m not good enough for my teacher to like me”. You might not see that child get shunned that day at recess or notice that they sit by themselves at lunch because their hearts hurt too much to be with friends.  So once in a while you might think it “worked”, but the damage caused by it is not an outcome anyone should want.

What should you do?

My best advice is to check out Lives in the Balance this site has free resources on how to collaborate and problem solve issues with the children in your classroom.  But it seems time consuming. While initially it might be, it will save you so much time in the future.  As you get more accustomed to using this method you will not need to spend as much on it.  There will be children that you will need to spend more time with, and hopefully parents and support staff at school are already involved with helping this child so you will have more help in solving the problems that arise in the classroom.

The basic premise of the model is that you observe predictable “problems”. You meet with the child to discuss the issue and use reflective listening to get to the concerns of the child.  “I notice it’s hard to walk quietly down the hall, what’s up?”  then you listen to the child’s concerns and together you come up with solutions.  Maybe the child says that they are bored walking down the hall way.  Together you can come up with acceptable ways to get down the hallway that are not “boring”.  Maybe next time the whole class is allowed to walk on tiptoes, or walk like a robot, etc.  The point is, you work together to  come up with mutually acceptable solutions.

So when you feel like you need to chart everyone’s behavior, put yourself in the shoes of a kid that is always on red, or always moves their clip down, remember how bad that feels and try something else.

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