Last year I finished my 12th year of teaching. Over the last 12 years I have seen many behavior management trends come and go. During my first few years of teaching, prize boxes were all the rage. I was teaching kindergarten at the time and remember begging parents to bring in their child’s unwanted Burger King toys. I would stock up my prize box full of junk and hold “prize box days” at the end of each month. However, even while using this method I thought to myself, there has to be a better way.
Shortly thereafter I got rid of prize boxes because it was way more work then it was worth. I distinctly remember the last “prize box” day I had (after spending at least $30 at Target to beef up the prize selection) and watched the kids pick through the toys not really want any of the things I had to offer. I thought to myself, this is SO NOT worth it! The kids really didn’t care about the prizes and I was wasting my money buying junk (and wasting a good chunk of a Friday having the kids pick out prizes). I stopped prize boxes and have never looked back.
After prize boxes, I used the card system where each child had 4 cards (red, yellow, green, and gold) then tried the clip chart system and finally golden tickets. I will say, each system worked in its own way but they were not producing what I really wanted. All of those systems produced students who cared more about the color they ended the day on than what happened that day in class. Each afternoon, without fail, at least one parent would say to their child, “what color did you end the day on?” They didn’t ask, “What did you learn today?” ” What inspired you today?” “What did you accomplish today that you were PROUD of?” These questions might have come up on the car ride home or at the dinner table but the FIRST thing these parents said to their child was about their “color.” I saw similar situations with my students. When their parents picked them up, the first thing THEY would say was, ” I was on pink!!!” or they would lower their eyes and not want to tell their parents that they “ended the day on yellow.”
I saw this response to these systems and didn’t like it. I didn’t want my students and parents MORE concerned about the color their child ended the day on than what they did that day. So, I changed my system again.
This past year I was introduced to using “Responsive Classroom” as my behavior system. Using this system was EXACTLY what I was looking for.
Here is a video to show what Responsive Classroom is:
There are quite a few videos (you can find them on YouTube) offered by Responsive Classroom to help teachers create positive communities in their classroom. In a recent study it showed that Responsive Classroom decreases discipline problems, helps students learn social skills, and allows for high quality teaching. After using it in my classroom, I must say that I have seen all of these things play out.
I will say that one of my strong suits as a teacher is classroom management; however, I have come to realize that I didn’t need any of the aforementioned methods to “control” my class. In fact, it really has nothing to do with “controlling your class.” Instead, it’s all about creating a safe environment, where students can shine and actively participate in class.
So…. how does it work?
Great question. In this method, it’s all about teaching students how to be successful in the classroom. It puts the emphasis on clear expectations, reinforcing positive behavior, helping students develop self-control and letting them take part in creating the rules and expectations. In the book, “Rules In School” it presents a scenario, “The teacher announces the rules on the first day of school with little or no discussion of their meaning. The message is clear: Follow these rules or else. While this approach to rule setting can be effective in establishing a sense of order in a classroom (which we very much need), it does little to help children develop self-discipline, ethical thinking, or an understanding of how to be contributing members of society. At its worst, it invites tension, blind obedience, or a constant battle of wills between adults and children in school.” With RC this scenario changes. Instead of “forcing students to obey,” the primary goals are to:
*Establish a calm, orderly, safe environment for learning
*Help children develop self-control and self-discipline
*Promote respectful, kind and healthy teacher-student and student-student interactions
*Include students in developing and maintaining the rules in the classroom
*Help students achieve their hopes and dreams
In RC, it does not rely on punishments or rewards to “get students to behave.” Rather, you present your class with clear expectations for behavior and then you actively teach children how to live up to those expectations. As the teacher, you model the behaviors that you expect of your students and then have your students practice these expectations. These are ongoing lessons. Every time you notice the appropriate behavior, you reinforce the behavior with positive language.
How do you respond to misbehavior?
In using RC it’s all about developing trust and respect amongst your students. In building your classroom community, you also build trust with your students. Students will STILL misbehave; however, instead of moving their clips down (and potentially causing shame), the consequences you use and implement are logical consequences. Logical consequences mean that the “punishment fits the crime”. If a child draws on the floor with a crayon, you would give them a scrub brush so that they could clean up their mess. If a child is having a hard time at the rug, you have a specific spot in your room called the “take a break” chair. This is a place where students can choose to go if they are feeling overwhelmed or need a break or you can ask a child if they need to go calm down or take a break. When you first introduce the chair (or area) to your students it is NOT done in a negative way. Rather, it is a positive place to go so that your body can recharge and allow you to re-enter whatever the activity was.
This is a video about modeling how to use the “take a break” chair. (Please note, I don’t call it “time out” in my classroom– I use the phrase, “take a break.”)
This is another video that shows a conversation in a third grade classroom about introducing what happens if students lose control of their bodies.
Other ways to correct behavior include using proximity, losing privileges, and having conversations with the child who is misbehaving to help redirect the behavior.
Responsive Classroom In Action
I will be the FIRST to admit it. When I was first told that this was the way I needed to run my classroom, I was a little bit worried. I was worried about using the “take a break chair” and I was worried about coming up with logical consequences. However, after two weeks of creating and practicing our class rules, writing down our hopes and dreams, establishing routines, learning how to use each area and item in the classroom, and many community building games, I saw students who not only loved being in school, but students who truly loved each other. My students were a tight knit community who worked well together and looked out for one another. They cheered on their friend’s successes and helped friends who were in need. They genuinely cared for each other and treasured each other. At pick up, I never heard questions about behavior* and rather, I heard questions about my students’ day and what they learned. This method truly helped me achieve exactly what I wanted in my classroom and I can’t wait to start building our new classroom community next year.
(We created this craft during the first week of school. After a few group discussions about our hopes and dreams, students drew theirs on this craft created by Jennifer White. We talked about how we were driving towards our hopes and dreams and referred back to it throughout the year. It was a great reminder for our kindergarteners!)
(*As a note: if a student did have a rough day, I made it a point to call that parent before the day was over to give them a heads up about their child’s day. On the phone, not in front of the child, I dialogued with the parents about how I was helping the child through the behavior and what the parent could do at home to help as well. )
To read more about Responsive Classroom, you can check out these books:
*contains affiliate links*