I made a post the other day that started a really wild debate about what kind of discipline is and is not acceptable for children. What I got in return were 450,000 views from people who are hotly passionate about the issue, and rightly so. I also got a lot of push back--the exact style of pushback I referred to in the article. Everyone who is part of this profession in any way wants what's best for children, but if the few negative responses from dedicated teachers were any indicator, not everyone is in agreement as to what that is.
Almost all of the negative reactions to my article focused on a few topics:
Behavior Charts are Required By My District
Now, with this one, I was taken aback. I know that elementary schools often implement these charts. However, in my post, I was exclusively referring to early childhood education, i.e. age groups that range from zero to eight. This does not mean that I think behavior charts are acceptable for older ages, though.
I understand, and empathize in my last post, that public and private K-12 teachers are under a LOT of pressure. I understand that K-12 teachers have to focus on what is most cost-effective when it comes to time. These behavior charts are effective at gaining compliance from children. I don't think anyone can deny that. But "effective" for the teacher and "appropriate" for children are two very different things.
For instance, hitting children is an "effective" way to keep them compliant. It's also not appropriate, because we know now that hitting children rarely teaches any sort of lesson other than "I have to behave when this scary adult is around". It does not teach children "why" something was unacceptable, it does not give children the skills to control themselves when they're taking risks, and it sends mixed messages about what is socially acceptable ("why is this adult allowed to hit, but I'm not supposed to hit my classmates?")
I empathize with K-12 teachers who have to use these charts because their work climate has made it to where there is no way for them to properly discipline children and get all of the teaching they need to get done accomplished by the end of the day. It's just a terrible place to be in, and my heart really, truly goes out to the teachers who have to use it but know that it's not doing anything positive for the children.
Behavior Charts "Work for my Class"
I don't empathize with the teachers who say it's the "only way" to discipline children in this day and age. I can come up with hundreds of proper consequences for unacceptable behavior for each specific scenario. There will never be a "one size fits all" or "one stop shop" for discipline. No rewards bucket, sticker chart, behavior scale, pom-pom jar, or point system is going to actually help children develop socio-emotionally. The teacher has to create discipline by facilitating proper positive and/or natural consequences rather than punishments and rewards. This is because human behavior cannot be contained into the confines of a rainbow chart. This is because putting a child on red doesn't teach them why it's not okay to throw paper balls at another child's head. This is because putting a child on red doesn't teach them why it's impolite to disrupt the learning environment.
So, when I would challenge teachers to tell me why these charts were necessary, I would get "because they work." That's not an answer to the question. I ask "Why are these charts necessary?"
"Because I need to control my classroom."
"Okay, so what do the charts do?"
"They help me control the children so I can teach."
"So who exactly is the chart for?"
When the answers include, "I, my, me, I, and me," the practice does not work for your class, it works for you.
The Author is Publicly Shaming Teachers
This one was actually very confusing to read. I mulled over and over again how on earth a teacher can honestly, fully, and completely believe that the act of me pulling something off of the wall in their classroom is harsh and an example of public shaming. That right there is a symptom of the control issue I mention in the post--"challenging my control needs is harsh and bullying" is just illogical and irrational.
When I pull these behavior charts off of the wall, I explain to the teacher that the charts are unhealthy. I explain to the teacher that, yes, I used to use these charts. I explain to the teacher that the charts are sort of like a pain drug--it stops the symptoms, but the problems remain there. The problems just go home and fester there, return to school and, despite compliance, become a serious, horrific deficit in socio-emotional behavior. I explain to the teacher that I am there to help them find away to let go of the stress and embrace D.A.P. through coaching.
The assumption that I rip the chart off of the wall and that's all I do just kind of goes to show that the more controlling teachers are so extrinsically motivated that a single challenge to their belief system sends all ability to reason out of the window. I used to be that way, too. My heart is right there with you. It hurts to feel like you've got something under control and then realize that maybe what you're doing isn't best for the children in the program. But what you do with that hurt ultimately defines how effective you are as a professional in any field--especially early childhood education.
This is a shameless profession. Good teachers don't care if they look like idiots dancing with children. Good teachers don't get defensive if they make a mistake and their mistake is pointed out to them. They pick up themselves up again. To reduce all teachers to this level of helplessness that an article like mine severely damages their self-worth and fragile sensibilities is a lot of bologna, because I know from personal experience that teachers are neither fragile nor helpless.
This is also a profession where the words "lazy" and "uneducated" are not bad words. There is so much knowledge and information to share in this field. I am uneducated about a lot of things. I'm also lazy about a lot of things. For instance...
Today, I was sitting on the floor at the quiet time of the day and a child across the room was screaming. I chose to say her name over and over again from where I was at rather than walking over to her and helping her practice respectful words with her friend. That was a lazy choice. I was being lazy. I willfully chose to ignore what I know to be effective because I was busy with another child.
No teacher should fear those words, because here in the adult world, we should be motivated by our own introspective perception of ourselves and say, "that was lazy of me, perhaps I should try something else next time." If we're going to shut down every time someone calls what we're doing lazy, what kinds of things are children going to say that will shut us down? Personally, I am thankful for the outside forces that can tell me, "that looked really lazy" or "what you're doing isn't aligned with D.A.P." because I am so caught up with the other nine billion things I have to do every day, that sometimes things like that go unnoticed by me, and to have that honesty and that organic response is important. I know other teachers can relate.
I've never worked with an early childhood teacher who was offended when I call something they're doing a lazy technique or an uneducated choice. Most early childhood teachers are self-taught or trained by other early childhood teachers in the environment, and that's how these weird, inappropriate routines start up. This is why there are four year olds who are expected to do worksheets for a portion of the day. So, I help teachers define what they're doing that's lazy and we figure out how to move out of that rut. I call out the uneducated practices, and I help them find sources to look at to help them make more educated choices rather than doing what they "thought they were supposed to do."
You Shouldn't Say It's Wrong Without Offering Alternatives
This one also threw me for a loop because I must have missed the part where the title was "Rip those behavior charts and burn them and then try these other things." There are articles out there that offer that information. A commenter shared Beyond the Stoplight which was a very good resource to look through. For me though, and a lot of other readers, it was kind of obvious that my choice alternative was "nothing." If I repeatedly say something is unnecessary and useless for child development, the odds that I'm going to suggest you do something instead are pretty low. My advice was to just cut it out. My advice was written clearly in the title of the post.
I'm not a fan of the word "punishment", but for real, "let the punishment suit the crime" is always going to be my mode of conduct. "Let the consequence suit the act" is more appropriate. I believe in natural consequences. I'm not going to bark orders at a two year old and ruin their sense of wonder when they're doing something that I think is unsafe. I'm going to observe them, and if they fall, they'll either get back up and try again or they'll decide for themselves that that wasn't worth it. When a child hits another child, I'm not going to hover down like a helicopter and bark "say you're sorry" because nobody learns anything. I'm going to facilitate a conversation that lets the victim speak up for themselves and lets the perpetrator look their victim in the eye as they do so. You can't teach empathy by putting that child in time out or cutting their outside time or putting them on red. You actually have to get down on the floor and facilitate a conversation between the children. If you brush this off because it sounds like too much work, especially with the 900 conflicts that arise between young children, then don't be upset when a consultant calls you lazy.
If you're not comfortable saying, "That was lazy of me" or "I need to do more research on that" multiple times in your daily life, then you're probably not engaging in developmentally appropriate practices. No amount of angry comments or death threats to the guy writing blog articles is going to change that. Hop off the defensive and engage in an actual bout of research and discussion.
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If you're a licensed program with your state, accrediting, or aligning with quality rating scales, the likelihood that you are required to post a schedule is high. I am in no way advocating for people to defy the powers that be. They exist for a reason and their purpose is a good one.
However, just because you're required to post it, doesn't mean it has to be in-depth, and it, by no means, requires you to abide by it. We'll get back to that in a minute.
Early childhood classrooms are not governed by core curriculum standards. Read that aloud. Early childhood classrooms are not governed by core curriculum standards. This has got to be the greatest part about the difference between early childhood education and traditional K-12 education. This is a privilege that we have over K-12 teachers. We need to acknowledge this. Unfortunately, for a vast majority of early childhood teachers, we're still behaving as if we are bound by core standards. We're behaving as though the children in our care are required to be able to do X, Y, and Z before they go to kindergarten.
That's not true. No quality rating scale or state regulation explains an "end point of aptitude" for the children in early childhood environments. We need to take advantage of this freedom by implementing developmentally appropriate practices. It's important to mention that D.A.P. defies boundary within NAEYC. It just so happens that NAEYC has a very good handle of what those practices are. A program can be 100% aligned with developmentally appropriate practices and still never accredit through NAEYC, and that's okay. Accreditation does not determine a program's true quality.
I am all about releasing the archaic need for control in a classroom. I am all about giving up that age-old notion that "I am adult. You are child. You respect me. I scare you. I love you. You fear me. You love me. You have no option." Not only is that wrong and setting a horrible precedent for social awareness in the future, it's just stupid. Plain stupid and useless. One of the most controversial ways I encourage teachers to release control is by killing off the role lesson planning plays in the early childhood classroom. Think about being in control versus facilitation this way: When you "control your classroom", every time you get a new student or group of students, you're back at square one and have to go through all the stresses of acclimating these brains to your rigid, developmentally inappropriate set of expectations. When you don't "control your classroom", that won't matter to you.
I walked into a classroom the other day with a schedule that listed the following:
8:00am - 8:30am: Breakfast
8:30am - 9:00am: Circle Time
9:00am - 9:30am: (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) Science (Tuesday/Thursday) Story Time
9:30am - 10:00am: Writing/Language/Literacy
10:00am - 10:30am: Math
10:30am - 11:00am: Outside Time
11:00am - 11:30am: Art
11:30am - 12:00pm: Lunch
12:00pm - 3:00pm: Nap
3:00pm - 6:00pm: Snack & Play
Two and a half hours of what this teacher considers "learning". I hate this. I hate this about so many of the teachers in our profession. Not only does splitting up Art, Science, Writing, Language, Literacy, and Math imply that these subjects never overlap, it also signals a gross lack of trust in the students.
If you can't trust that little Johnny is going to gain some language and literacy skills by hearing you talk while you play together, you aren't trusting Johnny as a student or yourself as a teacher.
If you can't trust that little Mary is capable of using her own imagination to make art out of mud outside, you are stifling her ability to believe that she can succeed on her own.
If you can't trust that there are materials in your classroom or outdoor areas to explain, by the very nature of their existence, concepts related to science and math, it's time to buy items worth having (i.e. get rid of the "Frozen" toys).
What hurts most is that this implies that playing comes secondary to learning. Which shouldn't even need further explanation: total, unabridged, unexplained play is the ONLY way to fully grasp new concepts.
Assuming this schedule required mealtimes to stay the same, I made it better.
8:00am - 8:30am: Breakfast
8:30am - 8:45am: Storytime / Stretches / Songs (Exploration Available Elsewhere if Needed)
8:45am - 10:00am: Outdoor Exploration (Play)
10:00am - 11:30am: Indoor Exploration (Play)
11:30am - 12:00pm: Lunch
12:00pm - 1:00pm: Outdoor Exploration
1:00pm - 3:00pm: Quiet Time or Exploration for Non-Sleepers
3:00pm - 3:30pm: Snack
3:30pm - 6:00pm: Indoor/Outdoor Exploration As Requested
A cookie-cutter teacher may be asking, "How am I supposed to lesson plan for that?"
My answer is "don't".
You can plan novel activities by just dropping the materials in the middle of the room and seeing where the kids take it. You can plan science activities by sitting in the middle of the exploration time and mixing ingredients to make different ooey gooey materials, and letting the kids play. You can plan writing activities by buying a movable alphabet, putting a word together, and letting the kids touch the letters and copy them once they're ready and willing to do so. You can plan art activities by throwing down some butcher paper and paint and saying "go for it!". You can plan a math activity by counting every child who is in attendance aloud with the children.
If you're really interested in doing what's best for the children in your care, you don't need any more proof that learning happened than the smiles on their faces, the messes on their clothes, and their willingness to do it all again the next day. No more schedules. No more worksheets. No more dedicated activities. No more group lectures and rules.
Let it go.
Strive to be the kind of teacher that students aren't going to try to prove wrong 20 years from now.
Stop telling them things that aren't worth listening to.
Well that was a short post.
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.
Check out this article about my experience with control issues of my own.
Our posts are created by several early childhood professionals. Most stories will include the author's name and a link to their "About Me" or the program they own or represent.