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The Honest Truth about Behavior Charts

behavior charts in preschool

Behavior charts in schools are a hot topic. Many preschool teachers use them. But, are they harmful to young children? Here is my take…

This is a story all about how my mindset got flipped-turned upside down! (Thank ya Mr. Will Smith)

So.. About 12 years ago I was fresh out of college. I was getting my first teaching job as a first grade teacher and I was full of zest, enthusiasm and excitement and I was a whole lot skinnier….as if that really matters.

Anyhow, I was young and excited. I’m sure you remember your first couple years of how you just wanted to go in and change the world. Well again, I was teaching first grade and I went to this like three day training on our district’s behavior program. And to be honest, it was long. It was a little bit boring, but it has some good parts. So back to my classroom and I started to implement it and for the most part, with most of the kids it worked.

But before too long, it kinda seemed like all the other teachers, who were also trained, started taking bits and pieces of the program and implementing them in different ways. So, basically we used what what worked for us from the program and then we supplemented what we needed classroom management wise in the classroom. And really, that’s kind of what we always do with programs and curriculums that are forced upon us, right? So, I really needed more ideas because the behavior system provided by our district wasn’t working 100%.

Sooo…What do you do when you need ideas in teaching? Well, you go to Pinterest…. Except for Pinterest wasn’t a thing then. I know I sound like a dinosaur actually saying that, but this was actually pre-Pinterest age *gasp*.

We searched the internet friends and the search algorithms, I have to tell you we’re not that great back then. Now Google can read my mind. It knows exactly what I want when I just type in like two letters. It’s amazing. But back then..not so much. And so we spent a lot of time searching different phrases and scrolling and clicking and reading and scrolling and clicking and reading. It was a big process.

But there were some good ideas out there (or so I thought). There were some things that really could help. One of the most popular classroom management ideas at that time was clip charts .

You know, the charts where it starts with green, and it goes all the way down to however many colors you want to add until you get to red… Mine I think had like five different levels and everyone starts at green and if they make a bad choice, they move their clip down down, down. That was a really common behavior modification strategy that was used widely in classrooms at the time. And like any newbie, I jumped right on the bandwagon with everyone else!

I used to think how amazing I was….As a first year teacher, I used to tell people all the time, “Don’t underestimate a first year teacher. We are amazing!” And while I still believe that I do look back 12 years later, and I think, well I really wasn’t that great in the classroom management arena because if I would have actually taken some thought and consideration into what I was doing, I would have seen that this maybe wasn’t the best thing for the students in my class and for our class community as a whole. But unfortunately, these were fads everywhere in education. It’s just kind of what we did at the time. And since lately I’ve really wanted to be very purposeful in what I do. I am now looking at things that I’ve done in the past differently.

So fast forward about 10 years later and I’m in the early learning field, have been for a while and I start teaching three and four year olds. I mean three-year-olds, okay, if you’ve had one, you know that they arguably are the most irrational humans on this earth…So, I got to have a plan right? Since our preschool did not have a behavior management plan (and now I’m glad they don’t), I started thinking back on what I’d done before and that is exactly when the mind shift came in. I started thinking back on what I did before with a fresh lens and lots more experience and I’m thinking about these behavior systems in the terms of these little tiny three and four year olds. And it just didn’t make sense.

When I thought back on the classroom management strategies I had used in the past, I really had a sense of remorse because they weren’t what’s best. Like, take the clip charts for example. And honestly, I’m not proud of using this type of behavior charts- I’m going to be honest with you. And if you still use one… I get, I was you. But, it just hadn’t worked. The kiddos who had to move to red constantly- they didn’t change their behavior after being on red day after day. Really. Why would they? Why would they even try anymore? Everyone’s already seen that they were this red kid – self esteem just tanked. Sadly and regrettably these kiddos were the ones that needed me the most. They were the ones crying out for me to help them. And instead I used a clip chart and just moved their clip every day and basically knocked down their self esteem everyday. I’m not perfect. And I will admit to you that I definitely have some remorse in that area because I did not help those kiddos. So it just reminded me that this is not at all what I want to do going forward.

Okay- so no behavior charts for me… now what?

Well, I really had to stop and think because my youngest child was four at the time that I was teaching these three year olds. So, I just went through this three year old stage. I thought about him and I thought about when he went to preschool… What did I want from his preschool teacher? What did I want for him? Well, first I’d want him to love her. I wanted him to love her and to love school. That was my number one. I didn’t want to have to fight with him to go to school. I didn’t want him to dread going to school. I just wanted him to love it.

And then I thought, well, what would I want her to do if my son misbehaved or if he did something he wasn’t supposed to. Well, I knew, I certainly did not want her to yell at him because he’s kind of a sensitive kid anyway. I’d just rather her show him how to do it and not get frustrated with him when he needed help. I just wanted her to help him. I just wanted her to teach him how to do the right thing.

And we were super blessed. That’s exactly what we got in pre K – exactly. She taught him, she taught everyone.

And that’s when it hit me – Shouldn’t I just do that?

Sounds too simple right? I’m here to tell you – it’s not.

You don’t need a fancy clip chart. You don’t need a fancy behavior modification sheet for preschoolers. You just don’t.

What you need is simple…. relationships, a little detective work & teaching

Read on here to learn how I built strong student relationships (it’s easier than you might think)!

Then, read to learn about how I analyzed the WHY in my student’s behavior (channel your inner Scooby Doo!)

Finally, read about how I took on teaching my students missing social emotional skills, rather than using punishments/reward systems.

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