Rip those behavior charts off of the wall and burn them

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Behavior Chartsby Travis Tagart
They're not just all over pinterest. They're all over early childhood classrooms, and they are actively damaging children every day that they're in use.

Behavior charts are not a classroom management technique. They are a symptom of a teacher's devastating control issues.  A product of the need for more socio-emotional developmental education on the teacher's part or a teacher's misguided, willful decision to contribute to a system that works to crank out compliant, stifled children rather than confident, free-thinking children.

Check out my article about my journey as a teacher discovering my own control issues, and coming to terms with them.

When I travel to early childhood centers to help remedy their practices, I rip these suckers off of the wall in front of the teacher who probably spent two or three hours of prime "connecting with children" time cutting and laminating them so that they could bang the metaphorical gavel on these kids' heads whenever they "stepped out of line". And I do it with pride in my heart. I don't damage the thing, I don't burn it in front of them, but we take a look at something that has so much power and weight being lifted off of its throne and I say, "this should not be replacing your understanding and connection with these children." I then work with the teacher to address their concerns and needs and I help find a developmentally appropriate way to meet them so they can work in a stress-free environment that works to do best for the children in their care. The goal is to solve problems for the teacher so the teacher can go forth and solve problems rather than reducing them to a rainbow behavior chart on the wall.

If I were to make a job performance chart that rated every teacher's job performance on a scale of green to red and pinned that teacher's name for all of their students, peers, colleagues, administrators, and the students' parents to see--based solely off of my opinion of their job performance--these same teachers would be livid with me, right? Usually at that point, most teachers are on board.

The pushback when I wage war on public shaming--and that's what it is, no matter how "nice" you word the chart--is that there's no other way to manage behavior. But here's my ammo: if a teacher needs this at all, if they have this hanging on their wall, they're not managing behavior, they're threatening it by holding a child's reputation hostage. They're trying to make the negative behaviors go away because they're too routined with this lazy technique and too steadfast in their control to actually deal with them in a developmentally appropriate way. They're telling kids: the most important reason to meet my requirements of you is because you need to care about what the teacher and all of your friends think of you.

Positive peer pressure is still peer pressure, friends. It's still just as damaging and sets just as dangerous a precedent.

These charts effectively teach children that they should be compliant so that they can gain their dear leader's love. These teach children that they should be compliant so that they can be like the other kids who are "good".  These teach children that if they don't behave, it will be posted for everyone to see. These teach children that if they're not compliant at school, they will be ratted out. That is not acceptable. If you're dealing with behavioral problems through the transitive property, nothing is being solved. The child isn't benefiting, you are.

I visited a center a few months ago where a preschool teacher had given behavior charts up because one day, a child who was "on red" was spanked in front of her very eyes by his father because of that. It had visibly shaken her to the point where, even six months after the fact, it reduced her to tears. She, at that moment, realized why that child often acted out about the color chart. She decided that children feeling completely safe, secure, and open with her was more important than having control over them. I had a very similar experience to turn me off of these horrific tools, so this hit home with me as well.

Beyond the strong-willed kids, we have to think about those kids who always stay on the green. Think about how incredibly resented they become because their teacher is constantly looking at them and saying in the nicest, kindest way, "you're doing such a good job staying on green today!" because apparently ostracizing the bad from the good and ostracizing the good with the love of only the teacher is "behavior management". Me? I think it's abuse. Teachers that do this are not just cranking out compliant children. They're cranking out real, human persons with severe social deficits. But, like, in a totally cute, pinterest-worthy way.

Our job, as early childhood educators, is to build children up, regardless of their behavior. To teach children how to resolve conflict with words instead of threats and punishments. To model healthy power by not making them compete for our positive attention and affection. To be present and empathetic of every "behavior problem" rather than passive, disengaging, transitive, and brutal.

Our job, as early childhood educators, is to deal with conflict resolution by teaching the importance of talking it out, rather than making children feel ashamed that they had a conflict to begin with.

Our job, as early childhood educators, is to get over it when kids tell us "no", because we are not always right, and children have all of the same rights as any other human being. If you wouldn't be comfortable saying it or doing it to a stranger on the street, then you definitely shouldn't say it or do it to a child that trusts you.

If I asked for a discount at the store, and the clerk told me "no," I wouldn't tell them to go sit in a corner. If I asked for a raise, and my boss told me "no", I wouldn't tell them "I guess you're on red then today." If the table next to me at a restaurant was talking too loud, I wouldn't turn around and tell them to be silent or say "I shouldn't hear your voices!" You see, all of these things would be called "being a jerk".  So, let's stop being jerks to kids. Let's stop raising kids to be jerks, too, while we're at it.

There's just absolutely no way around it. If you have a behavior chart or any behavior scale located in your classroom, you are failing the children in your care. It's time to let them go.

No child should be having hyperventilations when their parents show up and they're "on red". Isolating children from their peers to reflect how isolated they are from your heart is only going to lead to more isolation. Stop pushing problems under a rug, and get a grip on them.  If you're strong enough to be a teacher and choose this profession, you're strong enough to be an introspective one.

Burn it, and release your control issues with it.

If you find yourself struggling with the information in this article, would like to explore alternatives to the behavior chart, or your counter-argument involves any sort of tone-policing, please refer to this follow-up article.

Also, Check out this article about my experience with control issues of my own.

Travis J. Tagart / Head of School / Vice President 
owner@foundationsnebraska.com / 402 - 853 - 3491
Foundations Progressive Learning Center, Inc. 
Office: 402 - 805 - 4886  N 14th St Suite 101 Lincoln, Nebraska  68521 
www.foundationsnebraska.comFoundations

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