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March 29



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Do public behavior charts have any place in a leadership classroom? The answer is clear: No! Authentically shifting student behavior from “challenging” to “consistently positive” requires a focus on positive engagement and the whole student. In fact, a growing body of research supports moving away from labeling or ranking student behavior. Even when executed with positive intent, traditional behavior modification plans can be problematic and create unintended negative consequences for students. They can also be detrimental to classroom culture. Courtney Clark, Interventionist at A. B. Combs Elementary, shares her experience with rating student behavior using traditional behavior charts.

Leader in Me Weekly: Please share more about your experiences with rating behavior according to a red, yellow, and green scale. 

Courtney: When my oldest child was a kindergartner, she came out from school every day and consistently told me, “I had a green day.” I would ask her to tell me more about what she learned and who she talked to, but she was determined to come out everyday and tell me her color and tell me who was on red or yellow. The more I thought about it and watched how other kids were interacting with their families after school, I realized that defining children as a color and inviting them to define themselves by their behavior doesn’t align with a leadership model. From there, I had a conversation with Principal Summers and we began to get rid of behavior chart practices at A. B. Combs.

What can you share with educators to help them shift their paradigm about this practice?

I try to express to teachers that behavior is a skill just like reading and math. If we have a child who’s lacking in an academic skill, we teach them and give them a chance to practice. It is the same thing with behavior. Give them time to practice and celebrate good effort—just like we would with other skills—that it’s not something to be punished because you don’t know it yet. We also want the focus to be on the whole person and leadership development. When we use a behavior chart that clips up and clips down or switches colors, we’re putting the focus on the wrong thing and it makes a child one-dimensional. That’s why we really have moved away from that system where everyone looks at that chart to see “where they are.” It is not a true picture of a child.

How can we support educators who still believe that students need to be punished for negative behaviors?

While we do definitely have consequences and compassionate responses for negative behavior, consequences without practice and support are ineffective. The other thing that we always try to keep in mind is that all behavior is communication. When a child is behaving in a certain way, they are communicating a need. So, once we figure out what that need is, and teach them how to get that need met in a safe and orderly way, then the negative behavior will likely subside.

What has the impact been on the school community from this shift in response to negative student behavior?

I can tell you that office referrals have dropped dramatically. And one of the things we did was work really hard to teach educators practices that help our children to calm down when they get upset. We focus on the pause—that space between the stimulus and the response. The work is in teaching the teachers and students how to grow their pause and how to deal with challenges in a calm way. Our teachers have become really good detectives at figuring out what happened before that behavior by asking:  What was that child trying to tell us? What fixed it? When is that child successful in the day? 

Thank you for teaching us to approach challenging student behaviors from a lens of leadership and fostering growth in the whole person! 

We can promote accountability and responsible leadership expectations with Personal Leadership WIGs. Using this strategy, all students work toward various Wildly Important Goals. These are built on students’ diverse needs and set up each person to celebrate growth as a community. One student leader may be working on using kind and respectful words with their peers, while another is striving to arrive on time for class. Shifting student behavior in this way involves moving away from what you want to stop and focusing much more on positive engagement—what you want to have happen—and the whole person. Build ownership, empowerment, and equitable systems for behavior accountability with Personal Leadership WIGs. Are you willing to give it a try?


Focus on positive engagement and the whole student with our Empower Positive Behavior With Personal Leadership WIGs resource.

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Happy teaching!

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Posted March 29, 2022 by Ready Aim Shoot in category Classroom Management, Collaboration, Social Emotional, Teaching Strategies

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