Elementary school classroom teachers: has this ever happened to you? You come up with a brand new behavior management system and it works perfectly, for about a month. But soon it stops being effective and your students go back to their old behavior. What could have happened?
As a first year teacher, I found this pattern terribly frustrating. I’d think I’d found the miracle cure for bad behavior, only to see it blow up in my face a few weeks later. I finally realized what was going on.
For those who don’t know, a behavior management system is a way to help your students keep track of their progress (behavior-wise) over the course of a school day. Many teachers connect their systems with rewards and consequences, while some find that the system itself is sufficient.
The problem was that the children simply had short attentions spans. At first, the new system was different and thus exciting. The new system made behaving in class fun. It worked simply because it was new. But as time wore on, the children grew bored with it. It stopped being a fun and just became a burden, just one more thing they were expected to do.
This was certainly a dilemma. What type of system was I supposed to use when whatever I chose would be obsolete in about a month? It took me a while, but I finally stumbled over the answer. I needed to keep things fresh. I needed to constantly be changing my systems.
If a system only works for a month, then use it for a month. Once it stops being effective, go on to something else. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that a lot of work? Not really. If you try the different systems outlined in this article, you only need to give yourself an hour or two at the beginning of each month to write something out on a piece of poster board and maybe cut out a few cardboard shapes.
Here are ten possible behavior management systems. You can probably think of tons more and personalize them for your class.
ONE: For the first infraction, a student’s name is written on the board. Then it is circled. Then you place a series of checks by that child’s name. Positive behavior is recorded by erasing those marks.
TWO: Write the children’s name on cards and put tape or Velcro on the back. Line up the names on poster board. Cards are moved to the right or left based on positive and negative behavior.
THREE: Place stars in an envelope with the child’s name on it. When the child commits an infraction, remove a star. You can also add stars when a child is working nicely.
FOUR: Line up small pieces of colored paper next to the children’s names. For example, green is excellent, yellow is acceptable, red is unacceptable. Change the color next to their name to correspond to their behavior.
FIVE: Tape a small piece of paper on each child’s desk. When they commit an infraction, place a small X on their paper. When you are happy with their behavior, place an O. Students try to get more O’s than X’s.
SIX: Each child begins the day with a certain amount of points. They can earn or lose points throughout the day, depending on their behavior. You can keep track of it with a poster or on a clipboard.
SEVEN: Put the children in groups or pairs and use one of these systems for a whole group. This is a positive use for peer pressure.
EIGHT: Put each child’s name on a circle that is divided into sections. Every time the child commits an infraction or does something good, turn the wheel so that the corresponding portion is facing up.
NINE: Every child has a small jar. Whenever you notice a child working nicely, you put a marble (or something small) into the jar. If a child commits an infraction, take the marble out.
TEN: Every time a student does something positive, write his/her name on a piece of paper. (If they make a mistake, remove the piece of paper). At the end of the day, put the paper in a hat and draw out a winner.
Are you thinking that these are all the same systems, just with minor modifications? You’re right, and that’s what makes them so easy to use. But for some reason, (I can’t quite explain it myself) these little changes are enough to keep your systems fresh in the minds of your children.
The details are up to you. You devise the consequences that go along with each system. Depending on your class and school, they may include detention, a phone call home, no recess, extra work, or whatever you think is appropriate. Or you may find that consequences are unnecessary.
You also pick the rewards that make the most sense. Possibilities include bonus points on a test, a reward, free time, candy, small trinkets, a positive note or phone call home, etc. Again, some teachers do not use rewards; they say that positive behavior is it’s own reward.
Of course, there is much more to a well run classroom that behavior management systems. Teachers are still responsible for outlining expectations, following through on consequences/rewards, being firm yet fair, and creating a welcoming environment for their students.
But a behavior management system can be an important part of the equation. These systems simplify expectations for children and give them (and you) a simple way of measuring their progress. They prevent discipline from being a chore and turn it into something fun.