Behavior charts are a common sight in schools, and they take lots of different forms. Pinterest is filled with tons of behavior chart ideas, including using grids, colors, cards, stickers, or even clothespins. For many, the behavior chart is viewed as a part of their schoolwide culture. In some schools, individual teachers may choose to use one within their classroom for their students. Ultimately, behavior charts are a way to give students a visual representation of behavior goals and serve as a way to monitor progress. But is it time to rethink this public display of behavior tracking?
A Central Part of Some School Cultures
Behavior charts are a big part of our school culture.
There is no doubt that some schools and many teachers would never consider discontinuing the use of behavior charts. The mere thought could induce panic. In these situations, behavior charts are part of a system that works, that is being implemented with fidelity, and that their students are accustomed to. Students don’t look at the public display as a reason to be embarrassed. Everyone’s behavior is being tracked, so no individual is necessarily being singled out. The intent is to motivate students to behave and not to publicly shame. Also, visual learners can clearly see where they stand.
As a classroom management tool, behavior charts can be powerful… if their use is to intentionally create a positive learning atmosphere. As part of social-emotional learning (SEL), a behavior chart can help to reinforce the behaviors that will allow students to become successful.
Reconsidering the Behavior Chart
Recently, however, there’s been a call to reconsider the use of behavior charts. A growing number of schools and educators have moved away from using them, believing they may do more harm than good. Many child psychologists note that these tools can be demeaning, shaming, and even cause anxiety within students. Hardly the result you want when you’re teaching SEL!
Those who question the use of behavior charts say that no matter the positive intent, this tool assumes misbehavior will be the norm. It puts educators in the role of judge and places them in the position of constantly monitoring for poor behavior. And if you’re always watching for shenanigans, it’s harder to recognize and praise the good behaviors your students exhibit.
Behavior charts also change the way students view their teacher and can foster anxiety even among the best-behaved students. The ever-changing nature of behavior charts preys upon a student’s natural empathy for their classmates. This pulls student attention away from the educational process, putting the spotlight on how they and their classmates are acting instead of what they should be learning. Students who don’t misbehave often report anxiousness and being uncomfortable witnessing a classmate having to “go pull a card” or “move your clothespin.”
Changing the Focus of Behavior Education
It’s often been noted that in almost every area of a student’s life, we teach. We teach them to read, to swim, to multiply, to drive. Should we not also apply those efforts toward helping them learn to behave? Shifting our focus away from behavior charts may be a good first step. Instead of a public accounting of how well or how poorly students behave, we can help them to assess and manage their feelings and actions. We can also teach them to use their innate empathy to support their peers through a rough patch. This kind of behavior education will help them to develop emotional skills for lifelong success.
Ultimately, schools and teachers must consider what is best for their students and school culture. Examine the role of behavior charts in your school. Does it motivate your students and is it implemented with care and support in mind? Or does it stress your students out and result in low self-esteem? Placing students at the forefront of our minds in this decision process is a great place to start.