I began teaching in 2003. I was 21 years old and knew I didn’t know enough about the profession, but I wanted to know it all. I spent hours at school planning for lessons and units, gathering books and materials, grading papers (it’s so SLOW in the beginning, right?), signing up for PD courses my county offered and reading professional books housed in the ES teacher library.
I did my best, I really did.
Through my professional development, I learned that whole-class basal reader and novel instruction wasn’t meeting all my students’ needs, so I changed it and started book clubs and reading groups. I discovered that kids need to be heard and make connections, so a simple addition to our daily schedule, Morning Meeting, was installed to build and maintain our class community. I picked up that parents wanted to be involved in their child’s education and regular communication actually saved me time, so I started sending home student work and newsletters more often.
Okay, a lot was digested that first year.
However, there is something that took over a decade for me to realize and finally change: my behavior management plan.
It’s shameful, but I did this
I don’t even know where I came up with the idea that all students in my class needed me to manage their behavior. I, the grand, all-knowing teacher, had the power to decide when a student was not behaving well and could publicly shame him or her. No, I didn’t put a cone on their head and make them sit in a corner, but honestly, it wasn’t far off.
At the front of the classroom was a massive chart with each child’s name and 5 colorful cards inside it. Each color represented behavior compliancy (green) or varying degrees of misbehavior/ insubordination/ naughtiness/ mischief (yellow, orange, purple, and RED). A student that I decided wasn’t paying attention to me or my super cool and fun and interesting lesson would be asked to go up to the chart and “change their card.” Everyone could see them walk up, everyone could see where they were on the “How am I doing?” spectrum, and their parents would know that afternoon what color they earned for the entire day.
Oh. My. God.
What was I thinking? How was this okay? Why didn’t any parents challenge this craziness? I wouldn’t like my principal to have a chart for everyone to see that I’m at “yellow” because I forgot to send my attendance in on time (again). I also would not want to know that Mr. Grey has had a tough week with the administration (he’s been on orange or purple every day). It’d really piss me off that Ms. Jones is always on green, even though we all know she misses her duties every week. In fact, I’d feel like Big Brother was everywhere, I’d be afraid to take risks, and I’d start to compare myself to my colleagues. I am SURE that’s what I did to my poor students…for years.
I progressed, a little
I found out there was a way to do this entire behavior management program (can I call it a plan? or is it a strategy? or is it a teacher ego builder?) but now change it from my archaic poster board and laminated color cards to … an APP! ClassDojo allowed me to still be in control, track students behavior (positively and negatively), and share the information with parents immediately. I loved the fact I could include pictures of what was going on in the classroom and write private messages to parents so easily.
In the beginning, kids loved it. The students who had the most points at the end of the week got to eat lunch in the high school cafeteria (like, woah). Soon, though, they realized that it sucked. At the end of both years that I used ClassDojo, the majority of students said they hated ClassDojo. “It’s stupid.”
Of course, it WAS stupid! Why was I still the one deciding if their behavior was good or not? Who made me the master of regulating their choices?
The major progress was that I didn’t project everyone’s stats on the big screen, so public shaming was now a thing of the past. Students also chose what behaviors earned or lost points, so at least now there was some student-voice. In the end, though, I was still the ultimate decider of who earned, who lost, and who won the weekly prize.
Now, it’s up to the students
It took two years of feedback, but I finally decided that what I was doing was bologna (nice word for what I really think about it). I removed any behavior tracking from my classroom. Together as a class, we decided what behaviors were expected in our room at the start of the year, we modeled and practiced them, and reflect on how we are all doing regularly. We revisit these expected behaviors when things are going a little whacky (think of supermoon school days-you know what I’m talking about).
Most importantly, the students are regulating themselves! When someone needs some extra support, and we all need to be told we’re out of line at times, I chat with them individually. “Hey, I’m noticing this… Is there anything going on? Do you notice it too? What can I do to help you get back on track?” The kids slowly realize that I’m on their side, that I truly am there to support them, and that I respect their ability to be in charge of themselves.
Just yesterday, as I was reviewing student reflections for the week, many students mentioned that they either worked on choices that affect their learning or probably should do that next week. Isn’t that what we’re here for – to give them the space to learn who they are as learners, what they need, and empower them to make the right choices for themselves?!
I apologize to all my former students that had to use the color-card system. I am genuinely sorry. 😦