a letter to teachers on the use of stoplights in the classroom

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.55.18 AM

Dear Teacher,

 

Before you hang that stoplight up for the new school year, please put yourself on red for a minute or two.  Rethink the idea that hanging a large paper traffic light in the front of the room, dotted with magnets or popsicle sticks displaying each student’s name is ok.  Rethink the concept that publicly tracking behavior and doling out consequences based on whose behavior moves them off of green each day is fair, kind, or appropriate.  Please rethink.

 

I recognize myself in you.  I once believed that giving students a “visual” for where their behavior stood in my class would enable them to control it, that all children could control their behavior, and that controlling behavior was one of the most important tasks on my teacher to do list.

 

As a first year teacher, I remember ‘writing names on the board.’  That’s what I was told to do, and that’s what my teachers did when I was in school.  But then I started paying attention to the hurt, the shame, the frustration, and even the apathy in the eyes of those students whose names appeared in chalk day after day.  They were six and seven years old, and I knew they deserved better.

 

I absolutely understand why you want it to work.  It’s a very big and very unwieldy job to be in charge of educating dozens of young children for six hours/day.  But we both have to admit that a major part of the stoplight equation, even if it works, is shaming.  And shaming children simply isn’t what we educators are supposed to do.

 

We also know the predictable pattern the stoplight creates.  Think about how it feels to see your name, day after day, moving towards that red circle, broadcast to your peers and anyone who walks into your classroom.  Those are the very children who struggle with “school behavior,” and they deserve our support, not embarrassment.

 

Or you could think about how it feels to be 5 or 6 or 7 years old and to worry daily about your name being moved from its perch on green.  I promise, there are more authentic ways to get children to think about their behavior and more compassionate ways to help children to develop those executive functioning skills.  There really are.

 

I know you can put a halt to it because I did, and it wasn’t even that difficult.  We simply started talking things out.  I know you can do it because my current work takes me into so many wonderful classrooms of K-3rd grade children, both public and private, urban and suburban, with amazing teachers in each of those categories who don’t use the stoplight or anything like it.

 

What they use, and you certainly have this too, it’s just not as visible as the stoplight is right now… is respect.  They teach and practice and brainstorm and model and discuss and live respect.  Respect for the teacher, yes.  But respect for children, too.  The stoplight used this way does not respect children, their feelings, or their struggles.

 

So please leave that stoplight in the supply box.  Don’t use your crisp new class list to construct more names to move from green to yellow to red. Your students are so much more than popsicle sticks or magnets, and these events in your classroom are learning opportunities for all of you.

 

The school year is fresh and new.  Ditch the stoplight and adopt an approach that helps every child in your classroom feel supported, not just the ones who are most able to control their behavior.  All of you will feel better at the end of the school day.  I know my students and I did.

 

Thank you,
Jen Bradley, Ph.D./mom to four/former chalkboard shamer

 

P.S. Due to the overwhelming response to this article, I’ve started a website and Facebook page to share resources and continue this important conversation.  Please join in!

292 thoughts on “a letter to teachers on the use of stoplights in the classroom

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful well said!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you!

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Funny, last year I prayed a lot about this and had many chats with parents to get their opinion and this is what I think… I still use the light system.I rarely have to switch anyone to red (actually, in 4 years of teaching- public and Christian- can only remember two times students have ended up on red and that was for their choice to directly defy my authority and/or disrespect another student) not ever anything they “couldn’t help.” The colors are a visual reminder (Green- go! Yellow- slow. Red- stop!) and I think it’s a real life training tool. I don’t have posted rules in my room, we begin each day with a pledge to one another (“Because our class is happiest when I’m caring, kind, and respectful, today I will try my best to be patient, friendly, and helpful.”) and I always refer to this when students make poor choices (“Colby, was that caring when you…?”). Running a classroom without the opportunity to teach the real-life lessons of ownership for your choices, natural consequences, and mutual respect (aka “shaming” opportunities as the author puts it) doesn’t help our students… it hinders their growth in my opinion. We can’t walk on egg shells (especially in a busy room full of busy kiddos- who has the time?) and even 5 year olds know when they’ve made a poor choice. When we begin allowing our students’ feelings to dictate our classroom management, we create a false environment that doesn’t transfer into real-life. I don’t bully, shame, or purposefully wound their little souls, but I do switch them to yellow. Kids are much more resilient than we often give them credit.

        Reply
        • Michael Berman

          Dear Anon,

          First, I want to say that while I will be referencing or quoting things that you have said, I in no way intend to call you out, tell you that you are wrong or start an argument. What I am about to type is genuinely intended to discuss the subject and pose questions as well as hypothetical situations that in return might elicit a response and further both of our growth as educators.

          You stated that “The colors are a visual reminder” but later state “even 5 year olds know when they’ve made a poor choice.” If they are aware that they have made a poor choice is it more beneficial to remind them and the rest of the class by changing their color, or is it more beneficial to talk with the child and help them understand both why it was a poor choice but also what they can do in the future to fix it?

          In my opinion the latter makes more sense. Imagine I have never split a piece of paper in two; I have no idea what scissors are; and the task is to split said sheet of paper into two parts as cleanly as possible. Without the knowledge of tools that exisit I might try to fold the paper, lick the paper, and rip the paper; I might try to put the paper on an edge and tear it this way; or I might try another method. If in the end I see that the paper is frayed and looks poor is it more beneficial for you to tell me what I did was not right because it is frayed and that because of this you are going to put a tag beside my name that says, “did not split the paper very well” or would it be more beneficial to tell me that what I did could be improved in the future if I use “scissors” and explain how to use the tool.

          What I’m getting at with this example is enabling schildren with tools and better outlets seems like a more efficient (for now and the future) way of establishing order and proper behavior than simply showing a child visually that what they did was bad even though they already know it was bad.

          You also stated that you begin your day with a pledge. If that works for you, that is good, but in general from what I have gathered repeating something might help it stick to rote memory, but it does not usually translate to true understanding and comprehension. I can tell you hundreds of songs that I know the words to but never truly understood the meaning. It’s even easier for children to learn the words because they HAVE to say them, not because they actually understand, listen to themselves, or think about them.

          Lastly, you wrote that, “running a classroom without the opportunity to teach the real-life lessons of ownership for your choices, natural consequences, and mutual respect doesn’t help our students… it hinders their growth in my opinion” confuses me. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are meaning by this, but I believe that talking to the parties involved in the incident without making the matter public is a more official, real world, proper way to handle issues. In the real world when you make other peoples problems public its called gossip. I am also confused on how simply switching a light to a color accomplishes those things you posted any better than speaking with the children and understanding their side.

          Hopefully this finds you and you find time to read this wall of text, but if not I hope it reached at least one person and furthered their thoughts on the matter.

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            Thank you for your response. I would love to clarify a few things… I do talk students through their unwise choices each and every time, and NEVER switch a child to yellow without first giving a clear verbal warning, nor do I switch colors for something they are unable to control. (And once on yellow, students are always able to switch back to green.) I am a full supporter of coaching children through their choices and equipping them with the tools needed to succeed.

            Yes, a child can identify when something is “bad” (as you mentioned above) but want to clarify that I do not use that word in regards to their choices. I use “wise” or “unwise” to define their choices, never “good” or “bad.” I’m not into behavior management, but do embrace the opportunity to help shepherd their hearts and help students learn to identify when a poor choice has been made.

            During the first few weeks of school (and again after Christmas break), we talk through the class pledge, identifying each character trait (caring, kind, respectful, patient, friendly, and helpful) and give examples of how we can treat one another with those attributes (role playing, writing activities etc.). This sets the foundation for the entire school year, and I hope that with my coaching these character traits transfer way beyond rote memory and sink deep down into their hearts.

            Finally, I respectfully disagree that addressing a public event in a public manner is gossip. If a child chooses to publicly treat another student unkind, or publicly disrespect the teacher, then yes, I do feel there should be a “public” means of addressing it. This is not gossip. (Public records do exist in the real world.)

            I know it’s hugely unpopular today to call people into account for their choices (publicly or privately), and accountability is quickly becoming an old-fashioned notion… which is why my comments are sure to ruffle feathers.

            I appreciate the discussion.

          • paula henry

            Kudos Michael!!! Very well said. I would also like to point out the statement, “can only remember two times students have ended up on red and that was for their choice to directly defy my authority” is telling me that this is a power struggle. If I am incorrect that would be great! I feel I need to teach self-regulation. Children learn by taking risks and then the consequence of taking that risk is a teaching moment for the teacher/parent. Marilyn Gootmen if I spelled that correctly, talks about the teacher who sits on the fence in her book “The Caring Teacher’s Discipline” The teacher who controls her classroom by her power never allows a child to take risks so this child is stunted because he knows only one way the teacher’s way and if the teacher is not there he doesn’t know what to do and is afraid to do anything because it might be wrong. The teacher on the other side of the fence lets children run wild and they take all sorts of risks and these children get hurt and hurt others because there were no rules or guidelines. You need to find a balance. A balance will help children learn to reason and problem solve. They work together with others when issues come up. Every disciplinary action should be a teaching tool. Teaching the child what he should be doing. What does putting a child on yellow or red teach? I think we are missing great opportunities to teach if we just move a child to yellow. It reminds me of putting a child in the corner if they still do not listen put a dunce cap on them.

          • Heidi

            I totally agree with this. I wholeheartedly agree with holding people accountable for their actions–children and adults–but I don’t believe that doing so publicly benefits anyone. I am a university professor of engineering and science, and I have would not *ever* dream of dealing with a student’s behavior publicly. I would probably be fired if I did so. How is that different? I would argue that it’s even more important that children are given a chance to maintain their dignity by having behavioral issues dealt with privately than it is for adults–adults really have no excuse. And yet I have never been treated that way by a supervisor and have never seen a supervisor treat anyone that way, in a professional setting. Let’s set the bar high for children, hold them accountable for their actions, but let them maintain their dignity as human beings (as we do for adults).

          • Cindy W.

            I was a teaching assistant for a professor at UCLA who would order students reading the newspaper during his lecture to leave the hall. It usually only happened once a quarter. If you choose to act poorly in public, the consequences will probably be public. That’s part of the consequence. Sometimes a clip move is a reminder. Sometimes it lets me know I need to check in with a student privately. Any system can be abused, and teachers would do well to remember there is a huge imbalance of power in the classroom. But I don’t think there is an inherent problem with a visible reminder of where the boundaries are.

          • Heidi

            Yes, of course, there are some professors out there who use public shame to control their classrooms. But just because someone does it doesn’t make it a good idea 😉 There’s a reason that most college professors choose *not* to use public shaming to encourage students to behave themselves (and it’s not because college students are inherently well-behaved!). That’s actually a perfect example–do you *really* think that those students who were singled out publicly were convinced of the importance of the material and developed a respect for their professor? Or do you think that they developed a poor attitude towards the material and the professor? Do you think that the other students felt like it was a comfortable and safe environment in which to learn and ask questions, or do you think that they laughed at their peer and then while just being relieved that it wasn’t them and resolving to fly under the radar? I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see why singling out students publicly is problematic.

          • Anonymous

            Thank you for your share????

        • Pat

          No. I respectfully disagree. My son, now 24, was that kid who was always the one who “made a poor choice”. At 24 he is the most lovely kind and empathetic person, and currently in grad school, respected by his peers and his professors alike. But as a child, he was hard work. When your kid is always the kid whose name is on the wall, because he’s the one who is taking a little longer to learn those sorts of skills that come naturally to other kids, well, it breaks your heart as a mother. When your 5 year old says he hates school, it breaks your heart. When your kids says he wants to put his own name on that chalkboard just to “get it over with” it breaks your heart. Just because real life is shaming doesn’t mean the classroom has to be. That is false logic, and we need to create a better world for our kids, starting in the classroom.

          Reply
          • Diane

            Pat, I saw this shaming process on a regular basis in my internship and also saw that it accomplished nothing. Glad to hear that your son didn’t let himself be affected by it into adulthood.

          • Anonymous

            Glad to hear your son had no long-term effects. My 5-year-old just started kindergarten last week and has already been in the principal’s office for giving high-fives in line or otherwise not keeping to himself…red light. He has a lot of energy and zero malice in his body, but at age 5, has to learn to corral it in certain situations. I pray every day that he learns to reel it in but doesn’t have his spirit crushed, especially when other kids are around and spread what color he was on for the bus ride home.

        • Anonymous

          My son was in kindergarten last year with this kind of chart I feel that its not to shame the child but to serve as a visual reminder that I made poor choices and I need to think before I keep doing what I’m doing . his class stop light had 4 colors. green yellow orange and red I saw it work

          Reply
        • Teacher

          I think a lot of teachers say that they would never call a child bad or say that a child was being bad… but ask the children what the red light means. They know it means bad. Even if we say it means “unwise” they know it means bad. Some children have their name up there next to the symbol of bad every day. Roles get defined within communities and the stoplight is a visual reminder of those roles, which makes it very difficult for a child to change and for the community to let the child change. Some have said that the red light is not frequently used… what is the point then? As a teacher with almost 20 year in the classroom, I would say that the child for whom the stoplight system was designed is a child who will have trouble self-regulating enough to avoid repeating a behavior twice. Maybe look at The Responsive Classroom materials for some ideas about alternatives. There really are other ways to modify struggles in the classroom, ways that are respectful of children and supportive of their growth.

          Reply
        • BGH

          This attitude is much more helpful than trying never to hurt someone’s feelings. In particular the pledge to one another and the use of those pledge words throughout the day are a sound idea. Once, I established IGGIES for Improved Grades Group (IGG). One of my under-performing improved 6 of 7 grades without allowing that other one drop from previous report cards. He had taken the idea as a personal challenge to show me and his classmates what he could accomplish. The idea worked for him but not for others. So we all just keep trying to hit that button.

          Reply
        • Anonymous

          I agree with you. Egg shells put mud on faces. We need to respect our students, but they still need to follow the rules and be good citizens.

          Reply
      • change5553

        Punishment is designed to make kids “pay” for their mistakes. Encouragement is designed to help children “learn” from their mistakes, first by connection (I care about you) and then by focusing on solutions. One way is through “curiosity questions” that help children explore the consequences of their choices instead of “imposing” consequences on them: What happened? How do you feel about what happened? How do others feel? What ideas to you have to solve the problem? Another encouraging system is the Wheel of Choice (http://store.positivediscipline.com/positive-discipline-download-products.html) Children learn several problem-solving skills on the Wheel, and then choose their favorite solutions to correct a mistake. Mistakes are for learning, not for shaming.

        Reply
      • s

        Is there a way I can get in contact with you? Thank you

        Reply
        • Jen

          S- Are you looking to contact the author of the article, or a commenter?

          Reply
    • Rob

      Nice sentiments, but what would you recommend in place of this?
      Just a bit of my own ideas are here from my first year of teaching last year.
      http://spiritedteaching.com/topics/classroom-management/

      Reply
      • Kindergarten Sailors

        I thought I was the only teacher tired and discouraged by the stoplight behavior charts and ladder charts! I felt so relieved reading many of your opinions on this as well. I was so disappointed in the behavior system this year that I decided to create my own.
        The past seven years of teaching kindergarten, I have utilized a
        Stoplight Behavior Chart. Green stood for good, yellow was received
        after 3 warnings stood for uh-oh, and red was after an additional
        warning and a note went home. The biggest problem I had with this
        behavior chart was that neither I nor the students could always remember
        exactly what they did to receive a note home. At the end of this year, I
        thought to myself what the point of a behavior chart is if the students
        and I could not remember the negative behavior they did.
        So this year I found a solution! I created a Popsicle Stick Classroom
        Management System! Each popsicle stick stands for an expected behavior.
        This allows students to get direct reinforcement for a particular
        behavior skill. Find out more at https://kindergartensailors.wordpress.com/ or here https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Kindergarten-Sailors

        Reply
  • Robin Smith

    Indeed!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks!

      Reply
  • Brea

    Excellent! Thank you for this!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  • Michelle Murphy Ramey

    Thank you! I absolutely hate those charts, or flipping cards. I think some teachers think they need it as a crutch for classroom management when it’s just a horrible thing to do. How would we feel if our admin used one of those during staff meetings on us?

    Reply
    • Jen

      Absolutely! In fact, another blogger wrote a great piece from a similar perspective: http://missnightmutters.com/2012/08/too-high-a-price.html#

      Reply
    • David Heeg

      That is an important point: what would teachers do if the administration had a red light in every office to track daily teacher performance. I believe they would be outraged by the indignity, on the whole, and if they were in a union they would demand its removal.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Um, we are! Displaying school wide test scores and blaming the teachers for student performance goes on in all public schools across the country.

        Reply
        • Self Righteous

          NCLB has made damn sure this is happening to students. And by the way, when teachers start acting like unruly kindies, THAT’S when the admin can start hanging their red lights. To compare the two is asinine.

          Reply
        • Anonymous

          AMEN!

          Reply
  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with everything you said. Well done. One note, respectfully, there is at least one spelling error (it’s where there should be an its).

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you for letting me know! There are times I’d love to have an editor, as I can skip over those things in my own work even when I know better!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I understand where you are coming from this and I respect that. However, I’m sorry but on some parts I have to disagree. If the teacher who chooses to use the stoplight… presents the expected behavior in the classroom and presents the consequences. It is not like the student is unaware his/her name wasn’t going to be moved to a different color after inappropriate behavior is displayed. Consequences are a part of life, they are not shameful… life’s mistakes teach lessons.

    Reply
    • Eric

      Agreed, as long as a child can redeem themselves this is harmless. Isn’t every form of punishment shaming? It teaches that actions have consequences?

      Reply
      • Toni Monroe Clymer

        I went to the Responsive Classroom training this summer and learned that consequences and punishments are not the same thing. Applying a logical consequence is where it stops. And knowing the difference between a logical consequence and a punishment is important. For example, if a student wrote on his desk you would have him clean it off. That is a logical consequence. If you have him clean all the desks in the room is a punishment. We are in the business of teaching children, not punishing them.

        Reply
        • Pam

          Excellent response! Students are coming to school with more and more emotional and behavioral issues. Behavior is learned. We need to teach and reinforce the appropriate behavior- not punish.

          Reply
    • Jen

      I would respectfully argue that knowing there will be a consequence for behaviors doesn’t mean a child is able to control their behavior. For the ones who can’t, they just learn they’ll get in trouble for doing something they don’t yet have the skills to manage (assuming they’re even age appropriate expectations in the first place). One of my favorite quotes from Ross Greene is that “children do well if they can.” If they can’t, I believe that what they need is support. Teachers who believe in consequences can offer private feedback, conflict resolution, and if needed, logical consequences instead of such a public and disconnected response to classroom issues.

      Reply
      • Trudi

        I would like to point out that it is not always the point of a child controlling their own behaviors, there is a whole classroom of children there and if a select group of children are known for being on red or yellow do not put it past the other children to push their buttons. A teachers job is massive yet you only have one set of eyes and it is impossible to see everything. Ibworked as a para in 1-3 grades and you would be amazed how early this kind of behavior is learned and even as adults it is hard to control our emotions day after day if someone is “out ringer you”

        Reply
    • Lori Petro

      Adult imposed consequences do not teach and are meant to shame a child into thinking before he acts. Unfortunately shame interferes with relationship and motivation. Consequences do not improve behavior but make kids more likely to be self-serving, think only of themselves and sneak to avoid being caught.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      I agree with you. I am not a teacher either, but a physician and I am sorry but children these days are lacking some serious respect and proper up-bringing. Although the school system is not responsible for this, the fact that we bubble our children and try to protect from everything is in the long run hindering them. Don’t use red, it is bad for their self esteem, don’t use negative statements it is bad for their self esteem. Don’t , don’t , don’t, don’t. Children are not as fragile as we are making them out to be and this constant protection obsession that society is taking is proving to produce negative not positive results in our young adults.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I agree with anonymous above; we coddle children so much that they are not getting prepared for hurdles they will need to handle later in life.

        While I agree that there are many more positive ways to teach children than the stoplight…I also believe with my whole heart in consequences, why not teach children that there are consequences also? After all, early educators are in large part preparing children for adulthood anyway.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          Yes. Don’t coddle them. If a Kindergartner makes a mistake we should have them live under a bridge immediately, instead of waiting for the additional mistakes that are sure to come.

          I hope I am the one that gets to decide what is a mistake, so that my children don’t have to go live under a bridge.

          I also hope the system of consequences in the classroom isn’t teaching a skewed set of behaviors, rewards and consequences. When my children go to live under that bridge, will they accept it?

          Reply
      • Ananymous

        You are so correct. As an educator for many years, I have observed a definite decline in respect, responsibility and accountability across the board. While I don’t believe that punishment is the answer, I do believe that children should take ownership of their behavior. We have created a society in which every incident is “someone else’s fault.”

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        Amen! Year after year I see parents coddling their children and the disrespect for authority is terrible. Parents as a whole these days do not discipline their children in fear of hurting their self esteem or just not taking the time to do it. That’s not real life. Real life has real consequences.

        Reply
    • me

      This is why I HATED school!
      I loved to learn but hated going to school because of having someone else tell me and my parents I was a bad person almost every day. I had colored paper i needed to bring home. What a stupid way to hurt a child! It made me mad and made me want to act out more because they were attacking me. My natural response to being attacked is to fight back and win.
      Dear 2nd grade teacher, thanks for teaching me to be a bad kid.

      Reply
      • me

        There are better, smarter ways to teach children to be respectful, follow rules and have good behavior. If you are too stubborn or plain stupid to see this, I feel sorry for you.
        No time in life to fight so I wont see your recomments but enjoy mine.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        Amen to that. School taught me shame and boredom. It taught me that learning had to be repetitive and filled with busy work that was pointless memorization instead of truly understanding or engaging. I’ve finally been able to undo the damage formal education did and part of it was the punishments. Kids are curious and still learning their way; they should be coached, not shamed. This is also coming from someone who really doesn’t like children, hahahaha…

        Reply
    • chris

      Agree!

      Reply
    • Brenda G

      I agree with this, life’s mistakes teach lessons. Plus, there is a such thing as “healthy shame” and “toxic shame.” Healthy shame is a normal emotion, lets us know our limitations, and gives us personal power, developing in us very young meant to grow and thrive as adults. Toxic shame happens from beliefs we have when we’re taught that we’re a failure because of our mistakes. So, being teachers, parents, counselors, and every person responsible for young sponges, we need not and should not be telling and showing children they’re worthless and bad for making mistakes. One time multiplied by many turns into such toxic shame that takes years of healing and by then, the damaged adult needs to re-parent their inner child. Jen, I appreciate your article greatly! A stoplight system, writing names on boards, etc…. they are all methods for modifying behavior in children, and there are many. I believe there are ways to going about teaching children to learn from their mistakes WITHOUT shaming them. (i.e. talking when relevant (because talking doesn’t work for all kids), the stoplight method, praise for positive behavior, be a positive role model, as an adult when you make a mistake say, “Oops, I’ll do that differently next time, we all make mistakes.”, etc.). Thanks for reading. Brenda G, psychotherapist and behaviorist

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Exactly!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    A-1!

    Reply
  • Dee

    Great perspective. How do you feel about the clip chart (where students start on green and can move up or down)? I use this in my classroom and I am actually a big fan of it. As early as possible in my day, I find something positive my “frequent flyers” do, and start them off moving up on the chart. If they move up early, they seem to stay on track for the day. My students rarely find themselves at the bottom two levels of the chart. If anyone moves down, we confer about appropriate choices that can help them move back up. I really wish that controlling behavior wasn’t high up on my to-do list, but management is about half of what I am evaluated on (and therefore determines how I get paid).

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Dee, I’ve heard bits and pieces about a flip chart, but haven’t seen it used. Is it private? I do really like the part you shared about conferring with the child, as I have seen great benefits from collaborative problem solving with young children. Sad to hear that you are evaluated so heavily based on student behavior, but from what you wrote, the Responsive Classroom (link above) may be a good fit for you if you haven’t already connected with them. It takes more time at the beginning of the year, but allows for much more teaching once routines have been established.
      Best,
      Jen

      Reply
    • Cindy W.

      I also use a multi-leveled clip chart. Everyone starts in the middle, and most of the moves are up, rather than down. I like having a system where I can acknowledge the “wise” choices kids make, even if it is artificial. http://www.newmanagement.com/ebooks/clip_chart.html

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I am not a teacher but thought this was great. I still vividly remember my one and only “color change”. I spoke out of turn in the second grade and the little piece of construction paper in the manilla library pocket adorned with my name changed from green to yellow.
    No one made fun of me, my mother wasn’t upset, it didn’t teach me a lesson; it just made me really, really embarrassed. And not in the “oh gosh, I am so embarrassed I will for sure behave better tomorrow” sort of way but embarrassed in such a way I didn’t want to talk at all in class or have fun in case I got carried away and spoke out of turn again.
    My teacher was a really good teacher but that moment has stayed with me (I am now 30). When I think of 2nd grade that is my strongest memory.

    Reply
    • Jen

      This is such a powerful comment as it shows the lasting effect systems like this can have on children who simply make a mistake. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Reply
      • Mary

        Really? Come on. I sort of get what you are saying about the public shaming. But moving a child from green to yellow is not going to scar them for life. It’s this kind of attitude that is making our kids big sissies in life!!

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          Of course it won’t scar a child for life…unless that child happens to have an issue that makes it difficult/impossible to stay on that green and day after day finds themselves in the red. They want to stay in the green just as badly as any other child but fail day after day…yeah that scars a child. Do you think a child WANTS to fail everyday?? What do you think happens when that child gets to middle school? They surround themselves in a cloak of apathy because they’ve been scarred so much it’s their only defense mechanism left. Most of those kids never finish high school. For them the system just cemented the ideas in their heads at a very early age that they were failures and bad kids. It does nothing to help the kids learn how to change their behavior, just continues to punish them for not being able to change their behavior.

          Reply
        • Anonymous

          Also, remember that developing minds don’t have the full scope of the world yet. Small pieces of their memory might in fact influence how they view the world. I think it’s a very myopic point to assume that children are dry erase boards that can come clean as they turn into adults.

          Reply
    • RS

      Great story, thanks for sharing! I too remember my first “yellow.” My kindergarten teacher had made some kind of small mistake on the board, and I had pointed it out to her. When she disagreed that it was a mistake (it was, of course) I didn’t take it well and stuck my tongue out at her. Yellow! It created a hostile environment that lasted the rest of the year. Let’s face it: I probably shouldn’t have had to take kindergarten anyway. But, instead of moving up/elsewhere, I was either silent or combative the rest of the year. The teacher told my parents I was having trouble–that I might have a behavior or learning problem. Then when we took an end-of-year written test and I earned 100% the teacher was shocked. She showed it to my mother, who rolled her eyes at this woman’s disbelief that I was, in fact, a good learner. I simply didn’t respect her. A thing she never understood, and for which I still blame the “yellow” and her lack of flexibility.

      Reply
    • jackie

      I think that pretty much sums it up for me. 20-some years later, and it’s your most vivid memory of that school year. Wow.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I love your post! I am a teacher educator who specializes in classroom management and can’t agree with you more! Unfortunately, preservice teachers see this approach over and over again and want to replicate. It takes a lot of work to teach and show them that there are alternate ways to create an orderly, productive and respectful classroom (I hate the word control). Articles like yours are great so I can share them with my students. I like the Responsive Classroom Approach as well. I also created an app for the i-Pad/i-Phone called Classroom Management Essentials. Email me if you would like a promo code to check it out. I think you will find it in line with your philosophy.
    Tgarrett@rider.edu
    Thanks,
    Tracey

    Reply
  • Pingback: What She Said…. | An Educator's Journey

  • Stephen Ransom

    There is certainly nothing wrong with consequences, but they need to be natural, logical, humane, and preserve dignity. I, too, was taught the prescriptive strategies of “behavior management” and came to learn that they are intended more for the teacher’s benefit than they are for the student’s. New technologies and apps are capitalizing on this as well, playing on the teacher’s need to keep control and keep students compliant.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I agree that if and when consequences are used, they need to meet those three standards, but I also like to pushback against the idea of consequences for every single slip, mistake and infraction. And yes, compliance as a goal is just not a very high ideal for education! Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Lori Petro

    Completely agree – my daughter was always on “green” in her classroom but this didn’t mean it wasn’t affecting her or sending her unintended messages! I wondered how this affected her sense of self – and her opinion of the kids who had more trouble.with behaviors.

    I discussed this in my video blog last year and shared how I talked to her about it – and through the process of empathy – led her to understand what the teacher felt and needed – so it didn’t just become about “behaviors.” Navigating Punitive Discipline at School — http://youtu.be/DxUdjYjHSFE

    Lori Petro
    Educator/Advocate
    TEACH through Love

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Lori,
      I agree that it affects all of the children in the classroom community. I remember watching a first grade boy being reprimanded by this system in front of his classmates last year… and what struck me was how uncomfortable all of the children in the class were watching it unfold. This was a little boy who was repeatedly “on red.” and I think the class knew it wasn’t a fair expectation for him.

      Reply
    • Jen

      Also, I’ll check out your link… thanks for posting!

      Reply
      • Lori Petro

        Thanks Jen! I do a weekly video series on emotionally intelligent / respectful discipline.

        I was excited to see your site was in my area (I’m in Phila – previously based in CA) and have clients who are always looking for local like-minded communities!

        Reply
  • Ignacio Valdez

    The other thing about,”the teacher who chooses to use the stoplight… presents the expected behavior in the classroom and presents the consequences.” I wonder how often that teacher reviews, models, practices, role plays the expected behavior and the consequences (reinforcement or punishment). As a behavior psecialist for my school district, IO often see where the teachers focus on behavior during the first three weeks of the school year and then expect the students to follow their expectations for the rest of the year. “They know what they should be doing by now,” is an often-heard rationalization for not reviewing behavioral expectations throughout the school year.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I wonder the same… Responsive Classroom focuses on extensive modeling and practicing throughout the year, and your point about how crucial it is… well said!

      Reply
  • KarinB

    The vast majority of teachers that I have observed using the stop lights as visual cues do so for the whole class, NOT to single out individual children. It works very well to cue the children to noise levels that are appropriate for the activity taking place. Green = normal inside voice, Yellow = quite voice (whisper or only loud enough for your partner to hear), Red = this activity requires silence. I’ve seen this work so well! Please don’t shame all teachers that use stoplights in their classrooms.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Bradley

      Hi Karin,
      I think using a visual tool, whether it be a temperature gauge, a volume meter, or a traffic light, to give whole-class feedback about noise level can be very helpful. I agree with you that it’s not the image of the stoplight that’s problematic… it’s when it’s used in the way I described above. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Reply
    • Carena

      Exactly – I used it when teaching 7th grade to indicate when the noise level was getting out of hand, albeit a little differently. If they hit amber, they’re starting to get out of hand and for every minute they were on red, they all owed me a minute at lunch time. One or two kids generally noticed and quickly signalled for everybody to keep it down, plus it saved me adding to the cacophony by shouting for quiet!

      I probably wouldn’t use the same approach for my little ones though. Most of them struggle to sit on the mat for ten minutes and I don’t expect them to have that self control or familiarity with the school environment.

      Reply
      • paula henry

        Ouch! Taking away time to eat lunch is a punishment. For children with lockers a far ways from the lunch every minute counts. Also, for those using the free lunch program that might be the only good meal they get. Using it as a visual for volume is one thing, but adding on the punishment is not so good. Just my thoughts!

        Reply
  • Anonymous

    Beautiful! This can knock a child’s self esteem down. My son would get moved to yellow and have humiliating crying outbursts. I had to explain to his teacher it was not because he was moved to “yellow,” but because he was embarrassed in front of his peers. Once this was established, my son was able to be successful. I suggested a sticker program. I purchased some for his classroom and when the day ended the children were given stickers. I love love love this idea of no stoplights. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    • Jen

      I’m glad you found something that helped your son and that the teacher was willing to negotiate this with you.

      Reply
    • Mary

      Some teachers may be receptive to this, but beware. Others do not like it when parents come in and try to change up their classroom/management. Most of them would tell you that if you have such great ideas, you can apply at the school for a position.

      Reply
  • Maureen

    I don’t like the shame-game either. How about just suggesting other positive forms of classroom management without throwing blame on hard-working, well intended, loving and caring professionals who already are bashed by politicians and ignorance day in and day out? We need to support each other in positive ways, not blame each other for doing what what we can to change the results of society’s perils. Everyone should check out The Nurtured Heart Approach, both for supporting each other and our students. End the shame-game!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Maureen,
      I hear you, but I am not trying to blame anyone. I am trying to highlight a system that I believe is harmful to children. I think that allowing professionals and other adults to (privately) read a critical piece about a widely used practice that I admit to gravitating towards myself as a new teacher… I don’t think that’s playing the shame-game. I will check out the reference above though… thanks for your feedback.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I agree with Maureen. It’s not that I don’t agree with your view on the use of the stop-light; however, I do think the article could have been written differently so that it didn’t make teachers look like “bad guys”.

        Reply
        • Lisa

          I’m just wondering if either of you are seeing the same pattern repeated in your comments – you’re asking the author to have more compassion, to stop labelling you (teachers) as the bad guy, or, in fact, as “red” on the stoplight….but that’s exactly the author’s point. What you are feeling is exactly how students feel when they are labelled in this way through classroom management methods like the stoplight. Similarly, this is the kind of empathy that she is asking you to practice with your students.

          Reply
  • SNB

    I’ve never used the stoplight but this year my school is implementing PBIS. I hear we are all going to have to carry around a flip card system. Im Very nervous about using it for many of the reasons you state. :/

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi SNB… I think your nervousness means that you’ll find ways to put your students and their needs and feelings in the forefront of your practice. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Michelle Barr

    A very nice read. It was clothes pins on a banner-like chart in my daughter’s classroom K-2. If someone was out of line, they got a couple warnings. If it continued, the teacher would ask the “offending” student to move their clip. So, they had to do a walk of shame on top on being called out in class. They had the opportunity to “redeem” themselves and go back to green before the block was over, but if they moved on to the next block without moving back to green, it stuck with them the rest of the day and they could potentially go to red. At the end of the day, a lovely little face is drawn in their agenda in the matching color marker and sent home for the parents to handle…from which all of this stems and should be taught in the first place.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for pointing out that there are other version of this same system… the stoplight is the one I most frequently see, but it’s the principle behind it all that needs to be examined.

      Reply
      • Lona morgan

        This reminds me of the very old Dunce Cap of the early 1900’s but not for giving wrong answers but for behavior in the class room. Very humiliating for the child.

        Reply
  • Chad Cornwell

    Very nicely written. We need to encourage students, not chastise them in front of their friends. Classdojo is a GREAT website that allows teachers to monitor student behavior and communicate with parents about behavior in a way that preserves each student’s dignity.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Chad,
      I’ve never heard of that site, but will check it out.
      Thanks!

      Reply
    • Kelly

      ClassDojo is a WONDERFUL tool. The students do not even need to see who is gaining or losing a point but it makes them all think about their choices. It could still be used in a negative way though. It is up to the teacher.

      Reply
  • Kelly

    Why is it that these generations of children are not expected to control their behavior? Do you think that parents controlling everything for them may have something to do with their not being able to control their own behavior? There are always exceptions to the rule (i.e. medically diagnosed issues) but what has happened to personal accountability? Many problems that I have seen seem to stem from having NO SHAME. I have also used a chart as mentioned earlier by Dee. Students can move up and down through the day. They see examples of positive behavior, everyone begins in the middle at ready to learn, students actually earn their moves (up and down) and can therefore own them. I would have conversations with students about the great things they did and the things they can work on and why. Did this work with all students? No. (in that case I would do an individual behavior chart on their desk with specific goals and they were usually defined in their IEP.) Did some students have days where they got upset after being moved? Yes. Did I occasionally have parent phone calls wanting me to change their child’s clip? Yes. Did I do that? No. The bottom line is that students learn that they made the choice to behave in xyz way and they are responsible for their choices. I understand that other things can contribute to behavior (nutrition, sleep, family issues, etc.) and I always looked for that and tried to help the student understand that these things are part of behavior. Most of the time it was lack of sleep because of extracurricular activities during the school week.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Kelly, I don’t think it’s that these generations of children are not expected to control their behavior… I do think we are realizing that for various reasons, many children aren’t yet able to. I also think we’re realizing what appropriate expectations are for each age… sometimes that mismatch is the biggest barrier in a classroom. But I don’t think shame is a useful tool… I think compassion is a much more effective and kinder approach. But I do think the conversations with children about expectations and private feedback you suggest make great sense.

      Reply
      • Kelly

        I think the point also needs to be made that many times the students already know who is making poor choices in their behavior. I think that sometimes a regular education classroom (especially as they become larger) is sometimes just not a good fit for a student. There are certain behaviors that are not acceptable in a classroom of students that may be okay at home or a smaller setting. Even as a teacher tries to be with every child as much as possible it will never be like it would be with a very small class or a parent. These behaviors can then negatively impact the entire class. There has to be boundaries and clear expectations taught at home and in the classroom.

        Reply
    • Anonymous

      I agree with you totally, we are too fearful to hurt their self esteem, when in the long run this approach is resulting in children that are outward full of themselves but lack inner self worth and esteem. New studies are confirming this.

      Reply
  • crystalthinker

    I agree, but am not sure of my alternative. I clicked the three links above and did not find suggestions for an alternative. I am required to provide y principals and parents a list of my discipline plan in the first week of school. I have to specifically say what I will do on the first thru third warning I give students. I have been trying to get rid of the pocket chart but a, struggling to think of whatnot do instead. Can you offer more specific alternatives?

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Crystal, Thanks for your question, and yes! I am working on a follow-up piece with more specific alternatives. I will also post back to you here when I have a bit more time to gather links.

      Reply
  • Kathy

    The majority of the time when my students act out, it’s because they haven’t been taught explicitly which behaviours are acceptable and which ones are not. Teaching acceptable behaviours AND unacceptable ones, training the kids one step at a time (as outlined in Daily 5) is setting them up for success. I’ve seen this work in my classroom and heard of many success stories from other teachers. The whole idea always brings me back to a course I took several years ago with the catchword being, “If you want a behaviour, teach a behaviour”. Training the students and continuously referring to the anchor charts created as a process of the training keeps the desired behaviour in the forefront. Even adults needs to be reminded; we expect kids coming from different backgrounds to comply to our norms. Well, then, we have to teach them.
    Thanks for sharing on such a timely topic.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Absolutely… we need to teach what we’d like to see… including respect. Thanks so much for the comment!

      Reply
  • Debra Goodman

    One additional problem with rewards as well as punishments is that children begin to focus on pleasing the teacher rather than learning, creating, and so on. Children should feel valued for who they are, and not worry they will lose approval for their behaviors. Consequences should be in line with the learning goals as well as the behavior so that teachers and children are working together for constructive learning experiences and environment. Learning is it’s own reward – and there’s nothing like that moment when a student asks the other children settle down during reading time because he’s reading a challenging story and needs quiet.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Agreed, Debra… Rewards are the flipside of this coin and learning absolutely has its own reward. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    Beautifully worded

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    WE Tried them all, I did not see the walk of shame, It was always the same kids day after day, they had no respect for the teacher, they did not care.. What did they lose, if they got all the way to the botton they lost a few miniutes of recess. These kids that were constantly on the green board or with clothes pins, had a lot more issues than the teacher could take care of herself. WE had to use something to try and keep control, and these did not always work. These kids were only kindergarten, I feel bad for you that will have the few distruptive ones in your class, WE tired rewards. Did not work. I am only a helper in the room/ I had a rude awaking. The teacher cannot teach your child respect, parents you need to do that at home. There always a few, but this last tern there were a bunch. Ready for a new bunch to come in, and hopefully this year we will not need any corrective devices.

    Reply
  • Tricia-Lee Keller (@behaviouratplay)

    Great post and I agree – not a fan of classroom wide behaviour charts either. They don’t teach what to do instead (unless avoidance is the goal). Every student has a set of skills they’ve mastered and self-management skills they’re lacking. I prefer to use a self-monitoring system with goals/skills that has been decided/collaborated on between the learner and the adult.

    It’s not a matter of *if* consequence must be used – there is always a consequence good or bad. It’s about organizing the social and physical environment to be prepared to offer more of the good consequences and ensuring that learners are more likely to experience them.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks, Tricia-Lee… I really appreciated this, ” Every student has a set of skills they’ve mastered and self-management skills they’re lacking.” So true!

      Reply
  • Josie

    In kindergarten, my son was subjected to a punitive classroom “management” system known as Happy Bear/Sad Bear. Each child had a card with their name on it tacked to a bulletin board. The cards were marked with each day of the week. At the end of the day, the teacher would stamp the card with either a happy face or a sad face of a bear depending upon if the child had followed all the rules, didn’t make any mistakes, and generally acted obedient, compliant, and teacher-pleasing.

    As the children lined up to leave, the teacher would stamp the back of their hands with the corresponding face – happy or sad. This practice labeled the child good or bad for the child to see, the class to judge, and the parents to monitor.

    At the end of the week, the Happy Bear/Sad Bear card was sent home with the child for the parent to sign and send back to school on Monday. Children with all Happy Bear faces for the week received a small prize on Friday. Children not “earning” all happy faces received nothing.

    If a child was marked with a sad face on Monday, they had no chance to redeem themselves by Friday. The week was ruined.

    This system caused my son great anxiety – so great in fact that it resulted in his licking the stamp off (happy or sad mark) the back of his hand before he got home. He began crying and hiding on school mornings to avoid the classroom. My son worried about himself and his friends getting a sad face. He worried about being skipped when the teacher passed out the prizes and treats on Friday. He worried about not being perfect. He worried about inadvertently making a mistake. He worried about being publicly humiliated at school and embarrassed at home.

    His kindergarten teacher refused to make any changes to the Happy Bear/Sad Bear system and insisted it “worked” for her. She blamed my son’s anxiety and distress on home factors, his “immaturity” and claimed that he was simply “manipulating” everyone.

    By December, my son was reduced from a happy, eager learner to a child who hated school, hated learning, and had developed a full blown anxiety disorder. We removed him from public school to homeschool.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      Oh my goodness! How awful! I also have a son who was more often receiving yellow cards than green. And as the year progressed, he began to get a few blue and even a couple of red cards. His mood, self-esteem, and ambition is in the gutter, and I am praying 1st grade will be different. Wishing the best to you!

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Expecting a Kindergartner to wait all day for feedback is cruel. My employer uses a happy bear/sad bear system too. Once a year I am given feedback on how I have been doing. I haven’t figured out how to lick the stamp off, but I sure look for ways to avoid getting on the bus on the day of my annual review. I used to hope the review would cover accomplishments for the business and helping customers and happy ideas like that. But it usually boils down to whether I got to meetings on time so that I would wait patiently for the important people to show up. Hmm. Maybe this Happy Bear/Sad Bear thing is teaching our children to fit in to a 20th century workforce.

      Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Josie, Experience like your son’s are exactly why I wrote this piece and started the Beyond the Stoplight community. I’m very sorry to hear how the system affected him.

      Reply
  • Amii Spark

    I have a happy tree for my 3 -5’s. Spontaneously kind/caring behaviour is rewarded quietly and privately during free play with a little leaf, with the child’s name and what they did written on it. They then place it on the happy tree. All of our older children 4-5’s also have a private book where they/ their key worker writes what their self chosen goal for the week is. They come up with some lovely and very different things! Their key worker then works with them to find ways for them to meet their self chosen goals. This keeps the focus very much on choices and positive behaviour.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Amii, this sounds so lovely and positive! Thank you for sharing. What a nice concrete alternative.

      Reply
  • Diane

    For the first time in 16 years I have put up a 6 color clip chart in my classroom and now I’m rethinking…This is the system where all the kids start on green and as you catch kids making good choices thoughout the day, they move their clip up. I changed this year, because it seemed like a good way to reinforce the positive things that kids were doing. In my school, the kids who had a hard time following the rules, would see what their peers were doing positively and then would do that as well. Some of those kids were so excited at the end of the day when there clip made it to pink! After reading other posts, I do want to make sure to not leave kids on green all the time, and maybe make a silent sign to the kids who need to move the clip down, so as not to embarrass them. These are two of the ideas that still seem to bother me about this chart, which is why I haven’t done it until now! I thought I would give this chart a try. I guess if I start seeing that the kids are feeling uncomfortable, I can always take it down..

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I wish there were more teachers as open minded and thoughtful as you, Diane. Your comment is my absolute favorite of all, because it shows a willingness to look at what you’re doing and make changes to create a more supportive and respectful learning environment for your students. You didn’t get defensive. You didn’t feel attacked by the piece. You just saw it as an opportunity to look at your practices and find an even better way. Bravo!

      Reply
    • Jen

      I too appreciated your very thoughtful examination of your practice. What did you decide to do last year? How did it go?

      Reply
  • Gallit Zvi

    I totally agree and do not use such systems anymore either (I used to…so embarrassing…)

    I wonder though, what do you suggest to new teachers? Ones that want to have a management plan..something to help them feel safe at the very start of their careers? Any tips?

    I, like you, know the value of building community and talking these things out and I do not want to suggest any shaming practices with these new teachers, but sometimes…people need something tangible. Any thoughts?

    I am just thinking out loud here…but I know some folks will be to scared to put away their charts, and stop lights and bee hives and I want to give them an alternative..something to hold on to that won’t shame kids but is more than just “talk it out”….

    Thanks for this great post

    @gallit_z

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    I disagree 100%! Today we seem to think kids do not need to be disciplined or get singled out. This is what is wrong with society. Kids need to learn there are consequences to inappropriate behavior. Hello this is the real world ….As a teacher I’m not nailing kids for every little thing but after several disruptions or inappropriate behavior they need to be held accountable. I’m not sure if you are aware but every part of school today is labeling and grouping kids. Kids are made aware of low testing scores, etc….how is that any different? As someone stated above its a way to track behavior and some kids need that visual. I know when kids see that if they misbehave again they will get a red light and they straighten up. It shows they are capable of behaving. I got my name moved, check marks, detentions and I lived and became a teacher. How about we stop with all the rewards….Why does it seem we have to bribe kids with candy or rewards for them to behave or do work. That is NOT the real world! Connect behavioral consequences with the real world…..goes with the Common Core and new evaluation system!

    Reply
    • RS

      Yeah, all hail the Common Core…

      But seriously: public shaming is not a healthy thing, and that seems to be the most central point of the author, not an attack on all visual indications of behavior performance. A “visual” may be well and good–but privately shared, not publicly.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      AMEN!!! Agree 100%!!!

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Yes! Yes! Consequences! To the gulag with them. Put them in another class! Repeal 504 plans! Especially poor and disadvantaged. Johnny won’t sit still for six hours, send him up the river! Only teach the kids who are like us, the ones who liked school!

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        I love you Anonymous!! 🙂

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        LOL! Me, too.

        Reply
      • Jen

        🙂

        Reply
  • Marcy

    Hmmm…I bought a ready made stop light for my classroom but it didn’t occur to me that it was for use the way you described. I have only one marker for it and I use it as a visual reminder for students if we are in “green” (talking with others/working together is okay), “yellow” (we need to work a little more quietly and independently) or red (not time to work together, quiet thinking time or class discussion with only one person talking at a time). It is a visual reminder for those who need it – without naming them.

    Reply
    • KarinB

      That’s a great use for stop lights in the classroom! Many kids need that visual cue for how loud/how much taking they can be doing.

      Reply
    • Jen

      Great example of how a stoplight can be a visual without shaming. I’ve seen teachers use a volume dial for this as well.

      Reply
  • Wanda Lynch

    I am not a teacher,but I am a Grandmother.I have seen my granddaughter’s face time and time again when she was asked by her Mom “Did you stay on Green today”>Her emotions would run between nervous,worried,upset,and sometimes hesitant,because she didn’t want to answer the question at all..Shaming,children in front of all of their classmates is not fair and a bit like being a bully.There must be a better way.

    Reply
    • Bunny Bradley

      I’m a grandmother too- in fact I’m the grandmother of Jen’s kids (you can see them in the banner at the top, and yes they are adorable). When I was in school in the fifties, we did not have stoplights, but we had an equally awful system: for each subject, kids sat in order according to how well they did on daily oral quizzes. I was a straight A student, so for me that was usually first seat in the first row. It was a different way of public ranking, but it was equally horrible.
      For me, it was a source of constant unrelenting anxiety about “losing my place” and having to move back (the next person who answered correctly would then move up). I hated every minute I spent in school, despite being “first”. I can’t imagine how awful it was for the kids in the back seats- and the worst part is that I didn’t even think about them at the time, Saving face and avoiding shame meant maintaing your place- and secretly hoping that the person in front of you would screw up so that you could move back up. It was sick, and it was good for no one. None of these systems are.
      Great post Jen! I would have loved to have a teacher like you, but being your mom is even better.

      Reply
      • Bunny Bradley

        Make that “maintaining”. Guess I have to move back one seat for that.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        In Junior High we say in order of our grades, and I loved it. I took it as a personal challenge to get to the first seat. I worked hard, but never made it. I have not had any lasting feelings of failure. Instead, I learned about how to study and set personal goals.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

          Depends on your personality. Clearly your learning environment fit your competitive spirit well. But what about the other people in your class? Now doubt there were some who felt humiliated and shamed on a daily basis. That’s why the one-size-fits-all American public education model is so outdated. So many bright students with potential end up slipping through the cracks.

          Reply
  • Anonymous

    Class Dojo is an incredible alternative.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Actually, I worry that Class Dojo can be used similarly to shame. One thing that has come up quite a few times over the last year.

      Reply
  • BeverlyandTim LaBorn

    Like anonymous above, I DO NOT agree with the majority of you. We have given so much praise and rewards to children today that they are not able to handle negative consequences and in fact will not put forth as much effort as they could because they might fail and fall off that high pedestal they have been put on. Having a parent ask a child daily if they have “stayed on green” all day is the parents problem they are expecting perfection out of the child. If there is an ongoing problem, then the teacher needs to address that child individually, and yes I know there are some children that are not able to “control” their behavior. As a mother of an autistic child, I know full well that malady, that does not mean they should not be given consequences or redirection in a public setting. They will have to be out in the world some day and the world will NOT pat them on the back and say, “It’s OK, I understand you just can’t control it” It doesn’t work that way and we do our children a disservice by giving them that expectation. There absolutely has to be compassion and chances before consequences are given, but they are a necessary thing to have a balanced development.

    Reply
    • RS

      Actually, the way grown people in the “real world” drive around my town, it seems there are no consequences for adults’ bad behavior either. 😉

      More importantly: the best point here is that reprimand should be private. A classroom is NOT a microcosm of the outside world. It needs a foundation of trust an respect that cannot be established in the shadow of shame.

      Reply
    • Kelly

      I COMPLETELY agree with your entire statement. I do not think parents should focus on the color as much as the behaviors that got the child there. By asking more pointed questions they can learn about a child’s day, ups and downs and all. Children need to lean what to do when they have made a poor choice. More and more it is running to the parents to rescue them. School should teach children how to be in the real world as well. Isn’t that what people are complaining that is missing from education? Students coming out unprepared for a job and working with others?! I completely agree that it is a disservice to students if we do not help them with this.

      Reply
    • D from MT

      There is nowhere in this blogger’s post that she states that children should be patted on the back and told that it is ok that they can’t control their behavior. Nor does she mention praise or rewards. Encouragement and praise are VERY different things, believe it or not.She states that there are alternatives to publicly humiliating children and she states that respect is to both be given and gotten. She is right.

      Reply
  • Ashley

    What I do is I have sticker charts stored away on a shelf. They can only gain stickers, not lose them. When they have filled up their sticker charts, they get a reward like choosing a game to play, choosing their partner for the day, etc. They gain stickers for being good friends (sharing, etc.), using their manners, cleaning up after themselves, etc. if they have earned a sticker, I pull their chart out, call them up, and they put the sticker on. That way they can get a visual of their progress but without it being compared to someone whose chart has more stickers and therefore no humiliation. I think this is a great alternative.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I’m glad to hear that you’ve developed a system w/o shaming.

      Reply
  • Stepheny Seabolt

    I’m sorry, but I believe that a child should be rewarded for being good (staying on green), and punished for being bad (going on red). Don’t shame them? They shouldn’t have acted like fools in class! You’re supposed to teach you children that there are consequences for all behaviors, whether they are good or bad. If you do the crime, then do the time…isn’t that how the old saying goes? Kids should be taught to own up to what they do wrong, and accept the appropriate punishment. POINT BLANK. You, maam, are contributing to the nation of whiners and whimps that are being raised today.

    Reply
    • RS

      Your views uphold a punitive, patriarchal, strictly hierarchical society which invests all authority, responsibility, and ability to reason and judge in the teacher. This is an incredibly old-fashioned organization which, contrary to what you claim, DOES NOT teach “good behavior” as such, but rather OBEDIENCE. This is something I would value in a dog, not a young student. This is how a society raises soldiers, not learners. By the time I get to young people at age 17/18 they’ve been made passive, uquestioning people-pleasers. I would much rather you all undertake more elaborate behavioral practices in elementary school than continue to send me zombies who won’t question, won’t speak up, who blindly believe and do as they’ve learned is culturally appropriate.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        AMEN to RS!

        Reply
      • orna

        Thank you RS. As a preschool/kindergarten teacher for 20 years these are exactly the kinds of kids I’m working to send you (the questioners, not the blindly obedient ones). I start out each year with NO rules. Our guidelines are that I expect we, myself included, will all be kind and respectful to each other and with our classroom materials/toys. When issues arise we work as a group to understand the problem and look for a solution; then we move on with our day. As the kids create the rules they also end up enforcing them and learn to work cooperatively as a community. We don’t need to break people to help them learn. Learning is actually fun and interesting if you remove the manipulative hoops we like to make others jump through.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        Problem with it is we are not raising learners, we are raising spoiled brats who think they can do no wrong. Go ask a few University professors what the reading and writing skills are presently.Children are told their entire life they are doing great, go to University get a C and called their mother complaining who then in turn calls the professor to contest the mark? We are not raising learners, we are raising kids who are unable to take control of their action, know independence or consequences for their action. Just look around you at the children;s behavior now compared to before, it is out of hand!

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        Well said. Take it a step further and public shaming by the teacher in K-3 becomes public shaming by the students in 4-12. I believe public shaming by students is also known as “bullying.” I suppose this would be considered okay by those who think school is about obedience and conditioning children for the work force of the previous century. At graduation time, the brighter kids have learned to hide their brightness from their fellow students and possibly teachers, and they are finally ready to type memos for the local steel or oil magnate.

        Reply
    • Kelly

      I do think that “shame” is a bit strong for describing students being held accountable for THEIR choices. I fear that the lack of consequences (or believing that THEY deserve a negative consequence for a negative choice) contributes to a feeling of entitlement and does not reflect what life is like in the ‘real world’. If I am speeding and I have been informed (signs etc.) of the expectation and the police pull me over and give me my ticket then I need to take my consequence and learn not to do that anymore. Now people think the rules do not apply to them and THEY should not get a ticket, it is not THEIR fault. Kids see their parents doing this and then it gets perpetuated when we do not hold students accountable in school or give them awards and trophies when they did not earn it. I feel like the addition of a conversation about the choices and alternatives is the difference between a clip chart being shaming. I think the goal is to help a student understand how their behavior affects others in the class and their own learning and what THEY can do to change it. We are not alone in this world and people need to stop being so self centered and remember that their behavior can have an impact on many others around them and in the world. We must teach kids that and model it.

      Reply
      • orna

        For grade schoolers school is very much the “real world” and they are absolutely “entitled” to recreate it. Being kind and respectful is not the same as being without boundaries nor does it mean that we don’t take into account the needs of those around us. We’re not just conditioning dogs here, we’re helping a fully human individual learn how to exist successfully in a pluralistic democracy in which blind obedience is a recipe for disaster
        .

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        I agree, when did being responsible for your actions start being considered “shaming” ?

        Reply
        • orna

          Its the holding up to public ridicule that is shaming not the expectation that one is, age appropriately, responsible for their actions.

          Reply
        • Anonymous

          Joe cannot stand hearing the third wrong guess at the problem on the board. He blurts out the answer. Publicly move him to yellow. Over time, what is the conditioning?
          1. Sam will retreat into his own little world because class participation is frustrating.
          2. The class labels Sam a smarty pants and learns that smarty pants are bad people.

          Now the kicker. Suzy does the same thing. Is she reprimanded or is the behavior overlooked?
          3. There are different rules for boys than girls.

          Reply
          • Someone

            Or… Sam/Joe learns patience and waits to be acknowledged. And the class learns that blurting out, right or wrong, is not acceptable (and doesn’t focus solely on Joe/Sam). I know the tendency is to go to the most negative possible outcome of public consequence, but just like most everything in this world, the outcomes end up in the middle. So Sam/Joe will probably blurt out again, but eventually he’ll learn. And another student or two may bear some ill will to Sam/Joe for some time, but certainly not the entire class and certainly not forever.

      • Stacey O'Neil

        Agree completely. We can not expect children who are not taught safe, healthy and respectful behaviors in the home to learn them without explicit behavioral instruction. Makes me wonder what population the author works with.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        Thank you for the being pulled over example. That is “public shaming”, as are all the news stories about a person’s alleged crimes. If we are a society that should not do public shaming, then the police should privately send me a not of my bad driving behavior, all court records should be sealed, and the news should not be reporting on any of it.

        It’s quite hypocritical to enjoy E!, any reality TV, or gossip with your friends about anyone, if you are calling the stop light a public shaming.

        Reply
    • Josie

      Deliberately and aggressively using shame and humiliation to hurt a child is all about an adult’s need to control and feel powerful. This type of thinking demonstrates a complete lack of empathy for how a child feels and teaches a child that adults are not to be trusted and that hurting someone is the way to get what you want.

      Demanding that children meekly and instantly accept whatever painful consequence an adult doles out creates and perpetuates a culture of bullying and abuse.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Because there are consequences does not mean that the children have no say in it. In building and maintaining a classroom community students should definitely be a part of deciding the consequences +/-.

        Reply
        • Josie

          When the teacher purchases or makes a stoplight, labels sticks or cards with each child’s name, and publicly displays this system in the classroom, the only member of that classroom who has had any input is the teacher.

          When classroom management systems like the one described in the original post rely upon shame and humiliation to create obedience, a community is formed, but it is a community where children have no voice, no power, and no respect.

          All children deserve a classroom community where they feel safe, where they aren’t constantly and publicly compared to their peers, and where they have been honestly included in establishing the rules they are forced to live by.

          The stoplight system as originally described does none of that.

          Reply
          • Jen

            So well said, Josie! Thank you so much for commenting.

  • clryan

    Thank you! I teach preservice teachers and we have this conversation over and over again. So very important!

    Reply
    • Jen

      I teach them too! Glad you found it helpful.

      Reply
  • dorothy

    Amen, I have been at my new center 1.2 months now and I have been saying this very thing. New parents ask if I will continue the stop light in my room and when I tell them no they are shocked. When I explain that I personally feel it shames the students and allows everyone to pass judgement on thier child and the meer fact that I believe in redirecting the child, they smile and thank me for not haing thier child labeled. I am going to print this and show it to my boss.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I hope it went well with your boss! I’m glad this resonated with you.

      Reply
  • Mary Catherine

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, and I also really appreciate the links at the bottom of the article! I respectfully disagree with you, though — I think “the chart” isn’t what can causes difficulties. Rather, I think it is teachers who utilize it as a form of punishment. I have used Rick Morris’ clip chart for years (kids go up and down) — as a way to help kids with a visual of their choices. I don’t shame them, nor do I fit all children into cookie-cutter behavior expectations. We talk about choices, about how to react to situations, we role play a lot, and we have private conferences to work through situations. I model appropriate choices, and I definitely respect my students. Again, I think saying that the chart isn’t appropriate takes away from looking at the teachers themselves. Perhaps they need assistance in creating a true behavior management and modeling system. “The chart” shouldn’t be punishment, nor should it be some kind of discipline system or a threat to lord over kids. It should only be used (correctly) as part of a teacher’s “bag of tricks” to help children. I fear that stating an inanimate object is the cause of difficulties makes it less likely that we, as parents and educators, will see where help is really needed — teacher training.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Mary Catherine,
      I think the clip chart is equally problematic, but I agree with much of what you say. I think it’s a good insight that the object itself isn’t as much the issue as the pedagogy behind it. I still argue that this one shouldn’t be in the bag of tricks.
      Thanks,
      Jen

      Reply
  • Mary

    I am a preschool teacher of 17 years. Sorry, but 99% of the time, the child who is moved to red could care less who sees it. Most of the time they themselves don’t care that they are on red. I don’t use the stoplight these days, but I have in the past. I’d like to think now that I have enough experience in the classroom to manage it without visuals.

    Reply
    • Jen

      HI Mary,
      Thanks for commenting. But if they don’t care, then why use it?
      Jen

      Reply
  • Rachel

    I agree with the main point of the article, which I believe is to avoid publicly addressing negative behavior. This will only exacerbate a situation and embarrass the child. I’ve never met a teacher who desires this effect. However, after teaching for 3 years in the Philadelphia school system, I sympathize with teachers who feel as though they are “out of options” when trying to discipline a classroom where many children have are not taught how to behave appropriately at home. I’ve also taught in the suburbs and have implemented Responsive Classroom, which works great. I wonder how that would’ve worked in the inner-city classroom though. Personally, I had little to no support from parents or administration. You go into survival mode. Looking back as a veteran teacher, I’d be curious how systems like Responsive Classroom and other management systems suggested would fair in an environment such as Philly. “Oh, you destroyed my classroom while we were all at lunch? Let’s talk about it, that should resolve the problem!”

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Agreed!!!! I don’t think anyone gets into teaching because he/she wants to destroy children. Anyone who isn’t in the classroom daily should visit for 10 minutes and see if he/she changes his/her mind. Many days it is about survival and oh yeah…you have to plan, prepare, learn, study, teach, evaluate, and help these children and move them onto the next grade! It seems now we need to add “parent” to the list as well.

      Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Rachel,
      I’m in Philly too… I’ve seen RC used in public schools in Philly with wonderful results. It takes time to develop communities like that anywhere, but it definitely can be done in urban schools.
      Thanks for commenting,
      Jen

      Reply
  • arzntchr

    Great article, and great points. I am teaching third grade this year. My kids were visibly relieved when I was asked if I ever put names on the board and I replied, “No, I will not put names on the board.” I don’t do a behavior chart. I use a system called Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle, and I emphasize that we are a community and we have fun learning! We practice the rules together. We even practice breaking the rules so we can practice how to remind each other of the rules and how to follow them. There is no shaming, only reminding and celebrating success. I love my class! I do use something called a “reminder ticket” that I have students fill out if they need too many behavior reminders in a day. But I try to talk to the student privately and not shame them in front of the class.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Ahhh life in suburbia…must be nice.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Doesn’t this get frustrating for the good students who are now taking on a leadership role having to remind their friends of good behavior? I am a teacher of 15 years and have had those “teacher pet” students who are visibly frustrated and annoyed and impacts their learning. What would you do with 30 students 3 of which who are autistic and have 2 aides? Just saying…

      I think each classroom teacher needs to do the best he/she can for the needs for the whole.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    IDK where you are, but in my daughter’s school in NC they have adopted common core into their curriculum. She started kindergarten last year and had a colored chart in her room. Everyone started on green and could move up and down as acquired. It went from red all the way up to turquoise through the rainbow. Everyone clipped up or down based on appropriate behavior and expectations. I am adopting the same chart in my pre-k class this year to prepare them. I see nothing wrong with it.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Common Core doesn’t require the chart. How did it work with your prek students?

      Reply
  • Wendi

    I do understand what you are saying but, if used differently this behavior management piece works. I’m at a school the uses both responsive classroom techniques and PBIS. We are also a public day school servicing children with social and emotional needs. We use the stop light to track daily points earned. Those points determine what activities you can select during structures recess the following day. Our students earn points during each period of the day including lunch for their interactions with adults and peers as well as staying on task and meeting individual goals. I would suggest not “dissing” as the kids would say the stop light method completely, maybe just in the traditional way it’s been used.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Wendi,
      Interesting mix of strategies!
      And yes, it’s not the stoplight, it’s the method behind it.
      Thanks for commenting.
      Jen

      Reply
  • Anon

    After reading this article it has made me think twice about using such a system. I do understand that it could be humiliating for a student, especially if done in front of the class. I have used a whole school system where students are given free time on a Friday for 30minutes. However as a discipline tool, during the week they can lose or regain time (usually in intervals of 3 minutes). I am very doubtful now about this approach.
    Also I am a very strong believer in a responsive and positive classroom community but with older students how can you address a misbehavior in the middle of teaching without calling attention to it by naming the student e.g. John – you need to listen more carefully or more extreme a child hitting another child. You cannot stop a lesson to go over and talk it out with the student, you certainly cannot ignore it and it is possibly ‘shaming’ if you call them out in front of everyone. Obviously it is great to distract from the misbehavior using positive encouragement of reminders/good behavior but sometimes other students need to see consequences otherwise they think you are soft or haven’t dealt with the problems. What would you do in the middle of a lesson and a child is being disruptive or disrespectful? Also can you suggest options for levels of disruptions e.g 1) minor 2) more severe 3)very severe
    As ever teaching is a widely scrutinized profession and I find the more years I teach the more we doubt and sometimes lose confidence in our practise becauseit is ever changing. Big post but something I am very interested in. Thanks

    Reply
    • Anon

      oops *practice

      Reply
    • Jen

      Great questions. I am going to work on a piece soon to talk about minor, sever and very severe disruptions by crowdsourcing through the Beyond the Stoplight community. I think most alternatives to this type of system take time because you’re constructing a classroom community that looks different, but I agree that having some concrete alternatives is key. In the meantime, here’s a post about alternative systems: http://beyondthestoplight.com/2013/09/02/ten-stoplight-alternatives/

      Reply
  • Aretha

    At the beginning of last year I used the traffic light but then switched to Classdojo in October. Students and parents loved it. The child with the highest points at the end of the day and week were rewarded. Random points can be selected by the classdojo system and if I saw a student who normally acted out of norm show or demonstrate a positive behavior, I would have them reward his/herself with positive points.
    The problem today is that many students do not respect authority figures or elders. There is a lack of respect which leads to the societal ills of our day.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Aretha,
      I agree that respect needs to be the focus, which is why I think that classrooms built on mutual respect are so powerful.
      Thanks for commenting,
      Jen

      Reply
  • Vici

    I dislike any sort of behaviour ‘system’. Children ‘misbehave’ for a reason and our role should not be about coercing, threatening, bribing etc good behaviour from our children but rather finding the root of the problem and resolving it in an individual and caring manner. As a teacher the problem is as likely to lay with us and our interactions with the child and the learning environment we have created as anywhere else. We need to honestly reflect and analyse and avoid quick judgements.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Agreed, Vici! One of my favorite quotes is that “all behavior is communication.”

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    Please don’t agree with the author because she has PhD next to her name. Visit different classrooms and see how teachers utilize the stoplight system BEFORE you make any judgments! Unless you yourself have spent more than 10 mins in a classroom, you have NO right to make any judgment! Oh, and yes! I am an educator of 29 years!

    Reply
  • Kristin

    I have used the stoplight, and must say I have some kids who really responded well to it, in that they were able to control their behavior because they didn’t want to have to change. Although, others, it clearly meant nothing to. I’m going to use Class Dojo this year and see how it goes. I certainly never gave thought that I was “shaming” my students by using the stoplight. I’m hoping that Class Dojo will do the trick!

    Reply
    • Toni Monroe Clymer

      Class Dojo is basically the same principal. Consider throwing out the public conduct tracking altogether. Apply a logical consequence and let it go. We should want children to be intrinsically motivated because it is the right thing to do, not because their avatar is going to get a point. I attending the Responsive Classroom training and it was so eye opening. Just my two cents.

      Reply
  • me

    This is why I HATED school!
    I loved to learn but hated going to school because of having someone else tell me and my parents I was a bad person almost every day. I had colored paper i needed to bring home. What a stupid way to hurt a child! It made me mad and made me want to act out more because they were attacking me. My natural response to being attacked is to fight back and win.
    Dear 2nd grade teacher, thanks for teaching me to be a bad kid.

    Reply
    • Jen

      So sorry about your experience. I am always saddened by how many students and parents still feel harmed by systems like these many years later.

      Reply
  • Kaye

    Wow, these comments are informative! Yes, some parents are not teaching their students to have manners, be respectful, and behave as we do. I have to say, though that if you are interested enough in education to have read this post and taken the time to write a comment, chances are you loved school and were a “good” student. Our world has changed so much in the last 25 years (when I started my teaching career) and we, as educators must embrace the now. Five year olds, especially those in poverty, are setting about the task of managing their behavior at school with an inherent disadvantage. “School” behavior is not modeled or expected of them in their home. Is it coddling them to teach them the standards of behavior in the classroom BEFORE we begin to punish them? I think it is imperative that we give students the time and support to develop these behaviors in a caring environment. Yes, consequences are assigned but they must be tied to real life outcomes, much as we have learned and continue to learn as adults to modify our behavior. I choose to model, explicitly teach, allow practice time and problem solve with my students. There can be no real intrinsic change in behavior without a relationship between adult and child. My job is teach every child, not just those that can manage their own behavior without assistance.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      You’re an awesome teacher Kaye, I can tell. Thanks for teaching EVERY child

      Reply
    • charlenemhj

      Kaye, I agree completely. I teach at-risk preschool and these poor children have never been taught behavior. I work with them, model behavior, and we discuss how ‘we’ would feel if someone did that behavior to us. The only deal breaker in my classroom is hurting someone else intentionally. If you hurt someone else intentionally, you have to sit in a desk, rather that at a table for the rest of that lesson and then we have a conference in private to talk about why that was done. I tell them that I realize they are upset but everyone is safe in my classroom so that is not allowed. After we discuss the feelings behind the action, it is resolved and they may come back. After a few weeks, those behaviors disappear because the children value our safe classroom. I modify the behavior chart as I posted below because I am required to have one and this appears at a glance to be what administration dictates. When students are treated with respect, they give respect and for many kids, it is their first time experiencing and understanding respect which I consider a far more important concept than discipline.

      Reply
  • Sue Turner (@godivamomma)

    I went to the Responsive Classroom training this summer. I am ditching the stoplight this year and I am very nervous about it. Tracking and reporting behavior is required and when we receive our evaluation, our evaluator must see signs of our discipline plan. Every other teacher in the school uses some form of this; this is the norm. Four of us went through the training: 1 teacher started out saying she wasn’t going to use the chart but after the first day of 26 students and 10 of them having consistent behavior issues, she put up the chart. Another teacher was told by Administration that she must use a chart; she has reworded hers to reflect readiness to learn but it still is what it is. I’m not sure about the third teacher and next week is my first week with all of my students (I teach PreK and my class does staggered enrollment). I’m making a few other changes as well to be more in line with the Responsive Classroom philosophy but I’ve gotta say that I’m feeling somewhat alone and like this is a make or break thing. If I succeed and my class shows respect to one another as demonstrated by their overall behavior, this could be the start of a paradigm shift at my school. If I fail, my evaluation and professional reputation will be negatively affected. Oh, I also have an assistant in my room who impacts the dynamics of the room; I can try to control my own words and actions but I can’t control another person. I’m hoping for her support and that her interactions with the children will reflect that. Prayers and encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Sue,
      Wondering how your year went?
      Best,
      Jen

      Reply
  • Nicole

    Thank you for sharing so honestly about your own journey with these external systems for controlling children’ behavior. Another excellent resource to add….www.consciousdiscipline.com.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you, Nicole! Great resource.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I hear you, but it is time to rethink our broad overused negative response to “shame.” There are better ways to discipline, but removing shame or guilt for our actions is not one of them. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/1995/02/05/the-return-of-shame.html and some follow up conversation. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0047-2786.00087/abstract

    Reply
  • charlenemhj

    I agree with you completely however, as some of the other teachers have mentioned, I am REQUIRED to have something visible for administrators to see. I teach at-risk prek so there are behavior problems galore when we begin. I changed my stoplight to a blue sad face on the bottom(which I explain that someone is upset today and we have to figure out how to make them feel better), an orange, straight lipped ‘middle’ face (when they are just not having a good day, for whatever reason), and a yellow happy face on top (because they are having a bright, sunshiney, happy day). When we do our attendance each morning, the students all tell me how they are feeling – happy, sad, or mad (because their baggage from home in some cases can determine their behaviour that day and getting it out and discussing it can help). My behaviour chart is actually used by the kids. If they are having a hard time, they just go up and move their clips to how they are feeling and that is my cue that they need a hug, or someone to talk to, etc. When administrators walk by, they see the sacred chart and that names are being moved so they tick that off of the walk-through checklist. My behaviour plan is more about consequences. I remember watching Andy Griffith and Opey when I was a child and remember how all childhood mistakes were given appropriate consequences and how much that really impressed me. I also know that my father would look at me when I did something wrong and tell me he was disappointed but we would talk about it and discuss what I did and why, then what I could have done instead. My father and grandfather had that same kind of system (probably because they are who I watched the show with). So much better than punishment. I hope those who are like me, that have to have the behaviour chart up, can fudge it like I was able to.

    Reply
    • Jen

      This is a really, really intriguing idea. Thank you so much for sharing it!

      Reply
  • charlenemhj

    One last thought directed to the parents, and I am speaking as a parent and a teacher in this. I don’t believe in public shaming. I have taught my own children that when a student acts out in class, they are usually upset or angry at things we don’t know about. Many students see so many things in their life that they shouldn’t. I don’t know about all school systems, but in many, teachers are taken to task when their students misbehave so they must have a visible behavior plan. Not all teachers have time to conference with their students as I do in preschool. Our guidance counselors are now test facilitators and enrollment secretaries. They do not have time to counsel upset or troubled students. The pressures of home and the pressures of school (which I assure you are great with the testing system we now have in place) are often too much. Especially in elementary school, this is when children are still growing into the people they will become. This is when counseling would be the most effective and could really help them change their future, but it is not an option anymore. PLEASE use your power as a parent to ensure that your school provides counseling to any child that wants or needs it. Don’t let them turn the guidance counselor into a testing secretary. We need your help and so do the children to ensure they have the resources they need and deserve. Next time you are at a PTA meeting or such, ask who is in charge of the standardized testing in the school. You will be surprised. Testing should never have fallen under the heading of guidance.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I so agree!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    Seems good in theory but I have seen the short and long term effects it has on children. It does not fit and work for all children, not at all.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  • Jill

    Enough! I have taught for 29 years and I am so sick of this kind of cut down of teachers and their methods. Like we aren’t smart enough to know if we are hurting a child’s feeling. I get in trouble because I don’t have a chart – I get put down because I do. Just once would you trust me enough to believe that I know what I am doing. I’m not in it for the money (that would be stupid), I’m not in it for the kudos (usually only hear something when I’m being challenged), and I’m certainly not in it to please the parents (because that is impossible). I love children and I want them to learn something. I had what would be called a “yellow” child. If he did not respect the teacher and their expectations he was in trouble. His self esteem wasn’t ruined…he is a 21 year old dean’s list student. I could go on and on but those who agree will smile and those who don’t will never listen. Bet you are the people who talk during a movie because no one ever told you to be quiet and respect others!

    Reply
    • Josie

      Angry, frustrated, resentful and disrespectful adults create classroom environments where public behavior charts become necessary because students are not respected. Individuals who demand respect from others (children included) but fail to give that same respect up front and in return create adversarial relationships with parents, students, other teachers and administrators where shaming others becomes the norm. Individuals who feel personally attacked and lash out at new ideas, methods and suggestions to examine their own practices rarely improve the culture and community of their classrooms because they are too afraid of change.

      Reply
      • David

        Josie, I am curious…are you a teacher or an administrator?

        Reply
  • Anonymous

    Wow, lots and lots of post. Some helpful some not. This is the way of man. Some helpful some not. In a perfect world Elementary teachers would take care of all of this and teach children to be respectful to the learning environment of everyone in the classroom. We would have students in middle school that could all read, write and do math at an appropriate level so that our class sizes of 30 plus kids could move along at decent clip to complete our, usually state adopted, curriculum. When you are an adult it is three strikes and you’re out. I taught all levels of students from 4th grade – 12 grade and getting to know your students is the best plan of action. I would no more call out the names of some students BUT would definitely call out others. Some have thicker skins and that is what it takes to get their attention to their behavior. The issue sometimes is not to shame but time management of the environment. I have had middle school classes of 41 minutes with 30+ kids. School is NOT their first rodeo by that age and basic behavior such as calling out or disrupting the class is used to derail ALL learning so that I stop and confer with that student. Accordingly , in order to NOT shame that student in front of others i am to take that child into the hall and confer with them. Leaving ALL the other kids unattended. This is not practical in any form. I have incorporated a clip board that I carry around and target 3-5 behaviors. Usually three. It looks like a roll sheet and in the little boxes i can fit at least three numbers in them. More if the class size will allow larger boxes on one page. The date goes where the assignment it. at the top is the key that tells me what 1,2,3… etc. each behavior is and I document. If a student gets a number I notify them of the number but will not discuss it during class.Discussion of behavior is not done in class. This approach allows for class to continue for everyone else while letting the offender know you are in fact aware of them and that they are not going unnoticed. just notify them of the number.Older kids love to derail learning usually because they are lost and/or do not understand the direction that you want them to go in something they are doing. Depending on the age depends on when i call home.I discuss behavior outside of class and this can be done either directly after class or in an outside of school hours(detention) depending on the number of offenses. Almost 100% of the time when i give them the option to discuss after class what went wrong they opt out saying they know what they did and prefer to not discuss it. I still make them tell me what they did wrong to make sure they are aware. I teach my kids that it is okay to have a bad day but it is not okay to take everyone else with them. I spend a great deal of time at the beginning of the year modeling how to resolve conflict and the idea of CHOICE. My goal is to empower young people with the idea that it is within themselves to CHOOSE how they want to be perceived by others and how they want others to treat them. I teach them that EVERY action has a consequence and that we don’t notice most because they don’t come with negative result. ALL of this being said. Realistically, there is a time , sometimes on a frequent basis, that certain behaviors MUST be addressed right there in class in front of everyone. If you allow ONE student to cuss at you or openly defy putting up a cell phone during a test , or anytime it is not appropriate to have technology out, it sets the pace for a year of defiance. Bullying is another no no and can not be tolerated at anytime and must be addressed immediately. That is not to say it is for shaming. you have to teach or tell them the other options for the situation. “miss , i was joking ” doesn’t work in my class. Ugly words are ugly words PERIOD. Having a classroom like this is HARD WORK AND DAUNTING AT TIMES. In the end though , you get students empowered to be the best they can be while in your room. They know you care and want to do well for themselves not so much for you as the teacher but for themselves. Isn’t that the ultimate goal> for our student to NOT need us in the end?
    different soapbox follows. BTW , I am not paid nearly enough for the job i do and do well. I live paycheck to paycheck and if anything big happens it is sometimes years before i recover. I love love love my job and stress over the success of my students daily. Young people want to be heard and to matter in the world in which they live, SCHOOL. The public has given us impossible goals simply by allowing too many students into one class due to funding. one last thought….. WE are just like those kids. Please, if you have an issue with a teacher DO NOT go over their heads before you make a true true effort to communicate with them first. It derails the environment for everyone. Just like kids , if you approach us in a non hostile way we will listen and respond in the same manner. I cant tell you the times i have had to talk an adult down from a rant about their kid only to have them come to my way of thinking and end up supporting me in my decisions. If i know my kids as people it becomes apparent to the adult and they know i am really on their side in order to help their child. Every job has some quacks. We don’t treat every doctor as if they are the bad one just because we had one bad experience. We are not all quacks….. just saying… you should also know that while this all might sound touchy feelly (not a word) I am not a person of this persuasion. life is fluid and ever changing. The world as a whole is NOT a fair environment. To teach otherwise is also not realistic. We teach academics and behaviors that hopefully will be repeated for the benefit of all the world but the bottom line is … if 2% of your class is out of line on a regular basis stronger measures will be taken. I will NOT forfeit the learning of the other students to accommodate the feelings of one or two students. If your child was part of the 98% you would not want me to do that either. stepping down off soapbox now….

    Reply
    • paula henry

      Very well said. Yet if all the teachers of the ones younger than you teach, would use other methods than shaming your job would be easier. My son’s middle school teacher held him after school with two of his friends and told his friends he had a defect in his brain. That was why he acted out and was the class clown. They should not join in with him, because they know better. I think he meant well, but he was wrong. My son is 24 now and I have still not found what the defect was. When I asked the teacher as my son came home ashamed, crying, and asking what the teacher meant, he answered well I’m not sure. At that time every problem child was ADD or ADDHD. I had many teachers telling me this however, it has never been proven even with testing. So when people here say calling a child out is okay I beg to differ. You sound like a very caring person and you are underpaid, and under appreciated, yet I feel there is no time to shame a child under any circumstance. My son held it together until he got home, so that teacher was surprised to see me. You may never know the damage you may be causing.

      Reply
  • RR

    I agree. Reading through many of these comments, I see teachers angry that one more time they are being criticized for what they are doing in the classroom. I’m not sure that the author was criticizing the teacher, but the method. Teachers do have a hard job, and many times it is thankless. I have been there. But I will also say that these different charts don’t make much difference to the kids. If you have a student that is disrespectful or obstinate, he/she could care less about these charts. The note or frown face going home means nothing to the parents because the child’s behavior never did matter. They will not take action. To the child who makes a mistake, it is damaging to them personally. You can read through these comments and see that it is so. A quick note to these parents would have worked so much better because that parent is interested in their child’s future. I know that these charts very often lead to the class knowing who the ‘good’ kids are and who the ‘bad’ kids are. Then the other students make sure that they get the ‘bad’ kids in trouble or blame the ‘bad’ kids whether they did it or not. My son was not a bad kid, he was respectful, smart, funny, outgoing but he was in trouble multiple times a day. I got sick of his teacher meeting me at my car to list everything he did wrong. Finally I thought “this is ridiculous” and looked at his infractions. Wow, one of them was because he stood up too fast when an adult entered the room. (they were required to stand up as a class) That was the last day that he ever got in trouble at home for something he did in school. From that point on the behavior chart was irrelevant in our house. His classmates knew that he could get on the ‘bad’ chart so he got blamed for everything. And he still is smart and respectful but is no longer funny, outgoing and engaging. His schooling took that away from him.
    We expect these boys to sit in a chair without moving all day long and if they can’t, they get on the ‘bad’ list. How about we start giving them things to do instead of asking them to do things that they are not capable of doing.
    I am now in preschool and am so tired of seeing little kids in time out for being—little kids. I’m trying to teach them the better choice. I expect them to clean up their mess, apologize if they hurt someone or messed up a project. Time out certainly wouldn’t have helped when they made a mistake. I look at their little faces when again they are sitting on the playground off to the side for some ridiculous infraction. Those kids need to be out there using up their energy. Instead they sit there, then go inside the building with too much energy and get in trouble again, and up on the behavior chart we go.
    I think that there has to be something better than these behavior charts for the students. I don’t believe that they actually make a difference in the students behavior, or if they do, they only work with a small number of the kids. Your ‘trouble maker’ is not going to care if his name is at the bottom of the chart.

    Reply
  • jane

    I appreciate your point of view.Not all children are able to control themselves as well as others due to ADHD , OCD and autism when you put those children on display it embarrasses them. Then you get a negative reaction and then the child is even more embarrassed because their peers do not understand them and it causes a rift in their social development.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Jane,
      Thanks for the comment.
      Jen

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I have been teaching in Early Childhood for 20+ years. I don’t care for any type of material reward system(prizes, stickers). I have learned that the more positive comments I make the more positive behaviors I get in return. I do have a stoplight for classroom noise level. Two programs I have not heard mentioned in any of the posts: 1,2,3 Magic by Dr. Thomas Phelan, (he originally wrote for parents, then came out with a book for teachers) and Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks for the suggestions!

      Reply
  • April

    This article really bummed me out. This is because I agree with you but I love the clip chart system. I am an art teacher in a low-income slightly rough school. The chart is great because when the homeroom teacher brings her class I can see right away how everybody is doing. Before, I would have students explode and I wouldn’t understand why. Now I know who had a rough morning, who might need a bit of extra attention and who to give some extra chances for advancement. It also standardizes consequences. I don’t have to remember 25 different behavior management styles for each class that comes in. I only get 50 min a week with classes as large as 28. I can’t have in-depth compassionate conversations whenever a student misbehaves. That might be 3 or 4 at once! My classroom is small and I can’t leave it so if I do try to have a private conference with a student several more will overhear it. I don’t like it when students are obviously ashamed when their clip goes down, even less when they get older and don’t even seem to care, but it works so much better than any other system I’ve ever tried. (Especially for the little ones who seem to benefit from a concrete visuaI of how they’re doing)
    I don’t know what else to do as our charts are mandatory school-wide and I don’t have a choice. Plus you haven’t provided any practical alternative

    Reply
  • Pingback: Links of Last Week | Educating the Heart

  • paula henry

    I had to post one more time. I never used the stop light method, but have seen it in action with preschoolers. The poor children would cry, scream, kick, and run around when they were put on yellow or red. It caused more behaviors than the original behavior. Also, parents loved it. If their child was on yellow or red they would punish them at home. You will be in your bed right after supper or What did I tell you if you were on yellow wait until you get home. It was so sad and hard to watch. These same classrooms a year later have no more or no less issues with the stoplight gone. What I am hearing from some of the negative responses are well if I cannot do that give me something that works. I have overcrowded classrooms, no assistants, more mandates, less money, and parents who are asking for help when I wish they would just help me! None of this is any one persons fault. As the years go by we learn more and more how our brains work and we do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time. When new information comes we try new things. Some work some do not. We do not however ignore research and teach the same way we did 20 years ago. We are in the field of education which means we believe in life long learning. Enough of my philosophy! on to some assistance for those who are willing to try new things.

    I have a great resource that I encourage everyone to use. This curriculum has all the tools, strategies and resources you can ask for. Free or inexpensive. Here is the website. I encourage ALL school districts to send staff to become trainers to train everyone well worth it. I wish you well!

    http://consciousdiscipline.com/Default.asp

    Reply
    • Jen

      Paula, great resource. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I recently read about the following token economy system:
    http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/free-resources/behavior-management/token-system

    It sounds appealing as it simply reinforces positive behaviours without publicly humiliating any students for poor choices. Still, it can be a very strong visual incentive.

    Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      So children should be constantly rewarded from something they are suppose to do? But, on the other hand, is this how we teach pride and intrinsic motivation? Shouldn’t feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments really be our goal and how do we get there?

      Reply
    • Jen

      I know many educators who use token economies. I think they’re a double-edged sword and try to steer teacher towards strategies that don’t rely so heavily on rewards. http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/pbr.htm

      Reply
  • Joy

    Dr. Marvin Marshall wrote “Discipline Without Stress.” He wrote it for teachers, then wrote a follow up book for parents. Both are filled with common sense ideas and examples for how to teach children to be more responsible. He also has loads of ideas and advice on his website: http://www.marvinmarshall.com

    Reply
    • Jen

      Great link. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  • Hannah Joy

    Wow, I just wrote an assignment on this last week and so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. The last few weeks of uni conferences have enforced traffic lights, star charts and a range of other external reinforcers and all I could think was “yuck”. There’s not enough literature out there and my assignment may have looked weak by taking a risk and saying what I believe, but the research will come and I’m hoping in a few years all pre-service teachers feel as uncomfortable with these reinforcers as I do. Shaming children only makes them feel worse about themselves, and the worse they feel, the worse they will behave, and the worse they behave, the more they are convinced that they are not capable of making great choices or doing the wrong thing. Thanks for standing up and shedding light where it needs to be shed!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you, Hannah! And yay for speaking up!

      Reply
  • Betsy

    I was one of those children that never moved off green. Ever. In 13 years of public school. And I have one of those children now (I also have 3 others that don’t mind getting off green). The stop-light isn’t even really effective for those of us that stay on green. It teaches us to play the system, for sure, but it just reinforces any (ugly) feelings of being better than “those” kids that can’t seem to control themselves.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Such a good point, Betsy. I have two who’d be on green and two who’d live on red if they were in classrooms who used it, and I wouldn’t want it used on any of them.

      (and I would have definitely been a red kid!)

      Reply
  • Beth

    Years ago as a beginning teacher, my colleagues were using a similar system with yellow, green and red cards in a pocket chart labeled with names. I tried it for a very short time. I began to notice a change in my behavior. The students were on edge and seemed like the unacceptable behaviors increased. I also found that it made me more irritable. I immediately stopped that system and never used it again. The most successful form of class discipline for me was to treat the students with respect, speak softly, and go directly to the student to discuss behaviors and if necessary, talk with them privately in the hallway.

    Reply
    • Jen

      So simple, but so powerful. Thank you for sharing your experience, Beth.

      Reply
  • Victoria Miller (@victowrites)

    Hi. Thanks for this. I want to suggest a book full of wonderful, strategies based on respect and love. I read it a couple of months ago and it has made wonders for my teaching (homeshcool) The book is called . “It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids” and you can find it in most bookstores. I bought in amazon http://www.amazon.com/Share-Renegade-Raising-Competent-Compassionate/dp/1585429368/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376404401&sr=8-1&keywords=its+ok+not+to+share+renegade+rules
    Also, a very extraordianry book is “Calm and compassionate children: a handbook”, which also was a REAL eye opener. http://www.amazon.com/Calm-Compassionate-Children-A-Handbook/dp/1587612763/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376404476&sr=8-1&keywords=calm+compassionate+children
    Hope it helps!!!

    Reply
  • Carrie

    I’ve always disliked these type of classroom behavior systems. We homeschool but I have seen it used with my niece and nephews. There are some great resources for teachers (and parents available on the Positive Discipline website. http://store.positivediscipline.com/teachers.html

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thank you for sharing! Yes, great site.

      Reply
  • Katy Gartside

    Hi,
    I’ve never used a stoplight, but have seen it used for volume control and that seems to work. I’ve not seen it used with individual names though, which I think would be awful for kids. When I was a beginning teacher I had sticker charts, but they didn’t last long! I also wonder about the site called ClassDojo – I opened an account to see what it was, and it seems like a digital sticker chart. I talked with my kids and they decided they wanted to try it out, and they liked it, but it was a pain for me. It’s all behaviour modification and I’m not into that. A lot of people on twitter seem to really love ClassDojo and I’m wondering what others here think.

    I am lucky to have a small class, and we spend a lot of time building community and developing class expectations together. They decide fair consequences and they deal with it when they need to. It works for us.
    Katy

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Katy,
      I’ve seen the stoplight for volume control as an effective visual too. Class Dojo does seem to have many of the same pitfalls as the stoplight system, including the ability to use it publicly.
      Thanks,
      Jen

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I just say we beat them.

    Reply
  • lmarie77

    and when this is school policy, to have a “move it board” where you go in from of the entire classroom and move your card from green to yellow to orange to pink/red, then what should a teacher do. School Procedure.

    Our sons come home from school and tell us who had to move their card. Although, one of our sons always seems to move his card, because he physically can not sit very still.

    Fabulous article.

    Reply
  • Dean Madonia

    The Ultimate History Lesson with John Taylor Gatto explains WHY… well worth watching if you have any interest in your children’s education…

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQiW_l848t8

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4_KjUiqg0Q

    Part 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exGYyV7yMpY

    Part 4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xgYQM5S7as

    Part 5

    Reply
  • Sov

    Thank you so much for writing this. I often forget about these until Im talking with friends about peaceful parenting and corporal punishment.

    When I was in 2nd grade I had a teacher that used a stoplight like this and certainly abused it. When a student in her room needed to be reprimanded she would move a clothespin from green to yellow, yellow to red, then red to the child’s clothing. I can’t remember if she offered warnings. Now, when a child had the clothespin on their clothes, they had to walk around all day knowing they were going to get three hits with a wooden paddle from the teacher at the end of the school day- and everyone else in the class knew it, too. Corporal punishment was condoned in the school.

    I got my share of spankings- I cant remember what I did that was so awful… chatted some, fidgeted, needed to use the bathroom during class- I remember that one because I started to pee in my pants again, afraid to ask to use the bathroom during class time. This absolutely was not what I needed at the time. I was struggling in school, it wasn’t hard to see that, and there were very real reasons why. My parents had divorced two years earlier, my mother had just moved us from NM to GA where we never saw our dad but were surrounded by strangers, we went from comfortably middle class to living paycheck to paycheck. The cherry on the cake was my being sexually molested by a neighborhood boy. I say all this to stress, when I landed in this teachers 2nd grade class with PTSD, too scared to look up or raise my hand, and seeing a child psychiatrist once a week she still chose to use the stoplight method, with spankings and public humiliation, to handle my trouble in class…. instead of reaching out to me, asking me what I needed help with, building my self esteem and self confidence or whatever else i needed as a broken child.

    This method is a crutch and there is a thin between it being a “visual aid” and it being emotional/mental/physical abuse. Thank you for acknowledging this practice as unhealthy and unproductive.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Dear Sov,
      Thank you for stopping by. I’m so very sorry to hear about your experience, but appreciate you sharing it. I hope the movement to have trauma-informed educators combined with caring classroom practices helps reach children who are the most vulnerable and prevent further damage.
      Best,
      Jen

      Reply
  • Jen

    After reading this article and comments I feel quite frustrated because as I can see a lot of people agree that this system should not be in place. I completely disagree! For quite a few years now, we have seen a change in kids in the school system. Less respect for everyone, less motivation, etc… you guys all know what I’m talking about… And I believe for one that this is in fact caused by people coddling the kids. The kids need to learn what it is going to be like in the real world. Do you think that in the REAL world, that the employer will worry about hurting their feelings if they are not doing the job accordingly? Or what about if they didn’t succeed very well in life and end up living in a trailer… will their feelings be hurt then? Will there be someone there to protect them then? Children need to learn how it will be like in the society. Maybe it’s cruel to have that chart in the classroom but hey the society is far from cruel and they need to defend themselves. The society isn’t fair and they need to learn that the earlier the better!!

    Reply
    • Jen

      I meant to say the society these days IS CRUEL!

      Reply
    • Clairessa Humphrey Campbell

      I am pretty sure they will have to enter the real world soon enough! Lets let them be children as long as we can. I don’t think that I am “coddling” my children or my students by having a mutual respect for them. I also don’t think for one second that a real boss would call you out in front of everyone you work with to tell you what you were doing is wrong, she/he would call you in to their office to do so in private, which is what you should do when a child does something that is not right.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    If parents would do their job and teach their children proper behavior, then it wouldn’t be up to the schools to have to do so. My response as a public school teacher who has had many dealings with disrespectful children and parents who think their child is an angel or superior to the rules, there’s always private or homeschooling. I think too many people worry about children’s “feelings”. Seriously? When does it end? Parents needs to give their children the tools to handle different situations and stop meddling so much. I’ve heard of parents contacting college professors because their child did not get a sufficient grade. Being a teacher and a mom of three, I handle each of my children and students differently based on their own individual needs and situations. I never had a “clip system” in my third grade classroom until this past year. I had a difficult group who needed the daily visual and this was suggested to me by our school psychologist. The clip system was like magic with this group! As I start up school, I don’t plan to use the chart unless I discover that I need to with my new crew. I am not so naive to think that there are fabulous teachers and below average teachers and as a parent only you can advocate for your children if you feel the teacher has crossed the line and I totally respect that. I am offended and disappointed that some would consider a behavior system with clear expectations, warnings, and discussions of choices as “abuse”. In my classroom we do weekly bullying group discussions/class meetings and discuss and role play proper behavior at length. If you are practicing peaceful parenting, why is it that your child would even be impacted by this system anyway? It could be assumed that your child is an angel.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      *I also wanted to mention that my clip system had an opportunity to “move up” and to be recognized for positive choices, which is often where I focused.

      Reply
    • Jen

      Completely agree! 🙂

      Reply
  • Ryan

    I used to think that shame was a bad thing. Then I lived for a while in Saudi Arabia where nobody has any… children are completely spoiled little monsters that do whatever they please, litter is everywhere, maids and other expat workers are underpaid and severely abused on a daily basis, and driving on the roads is a horrifying experience (everyone believes that the road belongs solely to them, you can’t imagine what this is like unless you’ve lived through it). Trust me, a bit of shame is a very positive thing and helps society function. Saudis have very high self esteem. Ludicrously, unrealistically high. Be careful what you wish for.

    Reply
  • Dan Gurney

    Thank you, Jen, for writing this essay.

    Your message worth passing along. I am impressed, too, by the many thoughtful comments you’ve received.

    In my school the flip card system is widely used, sadly. I wrote about your post on my blog http://misterkindergarten.blogspot.com/ to help spread the word.

    Reply
  • Olenka Hand

    see this amazing approach – SAY WHAT YOU SEE – language of listening 🙂 http://www.languageoflistening.com/resources/read-swys-book/

    Reply
  • kamboogie

    Hello. For first five years of teaching, I used a similar approach to behavior management in my classroom. I then moved to a new state and a new school and was forced to re-examine my thoughts on this. The shift for me came when I was told that the system I was previously using was not used in the school. “LAWD have mercy! What do I do then?!?!?!?” I thought. Over the past 8 years I have developed, along with teachers in my school, a strong management system. What I learned from my colleagues is the importance of helping students (and myself) tap into our emotional literacy. We use the Second Step curriculum (Anti-Bullying Curriculum) and the RULER approach to social-emotional literacy created by Mark Brackett. I have always taught in inner city schools. I can tell you first hand that the approach I’ve used over the past 8 years, has been far more effective than the approach I used earlier in my career. Spending a whole lot of time talking about emotions, behaviors and strategies that will help us show our “best selves” that does not publicly humiliate students and actually requires me to delve deeper into personal relationships with individual students, has truly, truly helped me be a better teacher. I was nervous of course about this touchy-feely stuff because I just wanted to get down to the teaching part…I know that teaching students to be empathetic, reflective and kind is the best way to set high expectations within your classroom community and your school. Students will then go out and be better citizens. This approach works for every single child – not all at the same time of course. There are some whom you will have to work with every single day during the Fall at least. Like with anything, you will need to revisit, revise and reteach. However, the time an effort put into builiding a classroom community around social-emotional literacy is invaluable. Now I will be entering my 14th year of teaching. I will be going to a new school (where thankfully the Principal shares these same beliefs) with many challenging students, I plan to continue to use the strategies from these two curriculums to create a safe, respectful learning community. It really does work if you shift your focus.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Thanks for your very helpful and insightful comment. I am going to look into the RULER system for sure.

      Reply
  • Clairessa Humphrey Campbell

    Thanks so much for this! As a mom that has a child (now Nine) that has always struggled to “stay in line” I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to have him at five years old come home at the end of every week with a red light on his report. He was trying so hard but just could not do it. He has ADHD but in kindergarten I really don’t think meds are the answer and it broke my heart. I almost pulled him out a handful of times, and not until Christmas did he come home with a green light. I cried! He had a great teacher, if not for her I think I would have pulled him out. I just don’t think this light thing did anything for him. other then disappointing his parents at the end of the week and making him feel bad it did not change the way he acted. They are children, not robots and they should be treated as such. I don’t understand why we feel the need to call them out publicly to the entire class, if your boss did that or you friends you would come unglued. As someone that is now in school to become a teacher, I also wonder if this is almost like if we shared students work with people that were not their parents? That is a huge no no. In the second grade we were gifted with a wonderful teacher that understood his need to be a little different and she worked with it, also I finally felt like he was old enough to try some very low ADHD meds, However, a huge part of me thinks its wrong to ask a child to take meds to alter who they are just because its harder for them to sit still for long periods of time then it is for others. It took us over a year to find some that did not make him feel foggy all day. Why cant teachers accept that all children learn differently? My youngest who is starting 1st grade in two days never gets in trouble, however, at the end of the day he could come home and tells me everyone that had to pull a clothespin (their system was 3 clothespins on a paper with their names). That in my opinion is the problem, he knew everything about what they had done and would tell me they were the “bad” kids. He did not need to know that those kids were in trouble, and he then treated them differently (and I am sure he was not the only one) because, even at five smart kids know not to hang out with the kids that get in trouble, because that ups your own chances, just trough association. Which brings me back to my older child. Not until 2nd grade did he have any friends in his class because he was always the “bad” kid that no one wanted to hang out with or talk to. He thought he was not very smart and his self-esteem was low. However the minute he had a teacher that stopped getting upset with him every time he talked when he needed to be quite, or was still standing when everyone else was in their seat already, he made friends, went from basic or below in reading to advanced, and started believing in himself. All because his teacher chose to praise the good and downplay the bad! He is going into 4th this year and though he has grown up very much there are still times when he does things that a “normal” child would not. What I wish more teachers understood is that it is not always a choice, he is trying, sometimes his brain just cant do it! I know its frustrating, I am his mom and it is for me sometimes, but as teachers we have to work on our reactions to these children. If it was a choice they could make to just “be good” I think 95% of them would. No one want to be in trouble all the time, and most kids make really good choices every day, I challenge teachers to “choose” to see those instead of seeing only the bad!

    Reply
  • Clairessa Humphrey Campbell

    I would like to add that after reading the many comments above I find it ironic that the teachers that insist that this system is the way to go also seem to be the ones with the most negative views on teaching and their students. Could this be because that is what you are choosing to focus on? Might it be that if you started trying to find the good you just might find it?

    Reply
  • Pingback: Endings and Beginnings | iTeach with iPads

  • Anonymous

    A lot of the comments to this post are disappointing. So many teachers unwilling to learn to do better in such a simple way, clinging to their lazy habits. If doing something this easy for children is too much for you, maybe it’s time to consider a new line of work.

    Reply
  • Pingback: Germantown Avenue Parents – responding to stoplights

  • Pingback: a letter to teachers on the use of stoplights in the classroom | beyond the stoplight

  • Becky

    The problem with any color system, be it in elementary school or middle school, is that it treats each student the same. We do it in the name of consistency. If you think about it, it’s inherently UNFAIR because kids are so different from each other. Good parents will admit that each of their children reacts differently to the same discipline; they each need different approaches. Just read some of the comments above to hear the memories of the effects of a stoplight system years later on adults. Some are no worse off emotionally & it served as a good reminder; it had no deterring affects on others; some not only didn’t need it – it was a humiliating memory and may have affected the teacher/student rapport.
    The job for a teacher is enormously difficult – building rapport, listening, getting to know each individual’s ways of processing and learning, all while maintaining the flow of classroom activities to achieve today’s curriculum expectations. Jen is right; the only way is to recognize what RESPECT looks and acts like.
    It can be done though. I’d like to offer an excellent resource – Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk.
    – 21 year veteran middle school teacher

    Reply
  • Pingback: Quote of the da… | beyond the stoplight

  • Pingback: Ten Stoplight Alternatives | beyond the stoplight

  • Ron Amundson

    Could someone help me understand this issue? In the 80’s, pedagogy 101 told us this was a bad idea. Since then there have been a significant number of peer reviewed papers confirming this is a bad idea… why on earth is it still in place? Granted, crowd control and pedagogy can be at odds at times, and certainly some classes can be really crazy. On the other hand, this is like going to doctor and having them practice medicine the same way their father did in the 1950’s.

    I’m not in public edu, so I don’t know all the other factors involved with this. Is it school boards, or administrators that slept through their teacher training classes? Is it poor teacher training in the crowd control domain such that pedagogy gets thrown out the window? Something is way off here, it just doesn’t make sense.

    Reply
  • Celeste

    I created a Behavior chart with clips for my class this year. I actually have never felt the need for a whole class behavior system before. As I was trying to write a letter to my parents explaining this new clip system I really struggled to make sense of it. Always in the past I have felt that natural consequences and talking about behaviors was what worked best in my case. I felt like I built a relationship with my students based on mutual respect and trust…and behaviors were pretty nonexistent in my class after the first couple of weeks. Last year scared me, I had some behavior issues that I had never encountered before, as did several of my coworkers. I think that’s why I bought into this whole clip chart thingy. And because they are cute! And everyone (on Pinterest and in the blogs I follow) is doing it. Talk about “peer pressure”. After reading this article and all of the responses I think that I will probable put my cute little chart into the closet for now (maybe I’ll use it later with the bottom cut off – just use the positive aspects of it). I’m going into this year with high expectations for my students, both behavioral and academic. If I find that for some students I need a behavior plan then I will do some research and find a plan that works for the specific needs that I have and not a generic one like the clip chart. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Diane Mentzer - Elementary Library Media Specialist, Hagerstown, MD

    I wish I could send this to my grandson’s teacher. My daughter is very hard on him when he gets in trouble. Today he came home with a yellow so she took his ipad away for a week. I am a teacher too, have been for 31 years, but being her mother means I am just giving into him. I feel so sorry for him that I will not tell her when he has problems at my house, where he is every morning and afterschool. I can only imagine the way he felt when he was moved to yellow because he knew he was also going to get in trouble at home. If it is consistant behavior, yes tell the parents, but if it 1 time every week or two let it go. Haven’t you ever talked to someone during a meeting, spoken out or had your mind wondering. They are only little kids let them be kids.

    Reply
  • Katie - Concerned New Mom

    My daughter is 3.5 and just received her very first RED in life. We are on day 4 of this new “system” in her new preschool classroom and I’m sorry but I can’t help but feel completely humiliated for her.
    All of the other parents could see that she has achieved this “red status” when they picked up their children at preschool, and another child reported to me today that “Lily was BAD” as I walked into the classroom. My daughter was in tears about her “status” on the board. She was the ONLY child on Red. What my child had done was pushed another student on the playground, and told a parent who afterwards had asked her what was wrong (she was in a “cool down period” from the push) to “Mind their own beeswax”.
    Okay…I KNOW that talk and behavior is disrespectful…I DO! But half of me is thinking, she wanted to be left alone, she has her own feelings! Both my husband and I talked to her at length tonight about her actions, how she should not speak to adults that way, not touch our friends, etc. We took away her treat after dinner and no TV for the rest of the day. We talked to her about talking to her teachers if she felt crowded or wanted someone out of her space (thus the push!). We talked about how it is unacceptable to be rude to an adult and discussed the consequences of doing so.
    I am NOT labeling my child as a saint. She is a spirited child, she needs to be reminded often of her behavior. It is MY job to do so. She is after all 3.5 and funny as anything…but she is learning her limits.
    She was VERY upset about her day today. For the past 3 days she has been above the green light and eager to tell me about her fun days, what she learned, etc. After I picked her up today she told me that she doesn’t like school and doesn’t want to be there.
    I for one appreciate this article….I think it sparks a discussion of how we are educating our children. And honestly, I wanted to give her a lollipop because she got labeled as “BAD” when she is the opposite.
    I know the “real world” is different, but she is 3.5…Is this really what I have to look forward to with 15+ more years of school to go???

    Reply
  • mary gulick

    as a retired principal, I tried very hard to discouraged the “pull your card” system with the teachers… many felt it was the only way they (teachers) could “control” their students……when child comes home from school, no longer do they hear “how was your day?” or “did you have a nice day?” or “what did you learn in math?” but unfortunately in too many homes, the child hears the dreaded, “DID YOU GET YOUR CARD MOVED TODAY?”
    Please Teachers, Take HEED. There are so many positive approaches to behavior… the card system has seen its day.

    Reply
  • Brandi

    I am not a fan of the lights and charts and such. I am a teacher and parenting coach and I believe that while kids should have consequences or reactions to actions, it should not be charted for all to see. Also there was mention of a few warnings before they get to yellow. End the loads of warnings and act. If a child will not stop talking to a friend, move them. If they push someone help them learn how to solve delemas with words or by coming to get an adult for support and if they cant excuse them from where they are of have them sit with you. Logical consequences are the best ways to change behavior, especially when done in a calm way. We also need to focus, not only on getting rid of unwanted behaviors, but adding and teaching the wanted ones. Yes the class will see the reactions for actions but it is not hanging there for all to see all day

    Reply
  • Pingback: quote of the day… | beyond the stoplight

  • Anonymous

    As an advocate for humanistic education I commend you Jen and others for recognizing the significance of the “humanity of teaching” although teaching is considered an Educational Institution, let’s not institutionalize our teaching .
    By the way Jen, Lori Petro has presented many wonderful programs on this subject, she is deeply committed to this message.
    Amy S. /Ed.D – mother of 5, professor of education

    Reply
  • Kathleen

    Kudos for talking about this important subject. I know: stoplights don’t work. One of my favorite teachers has a quote up on the wall of her classroom. It says, “The hardest to love need it the most”. Our children deserve to be seen, heard and respected. When they misbehave there is generally a reason. Finding out that reason, discussing it with them and truly addressing their needs requires time and patience. When we make time for this, we all learn something. Allowing a misbehaving child a chance to have his/her voice heard and respected is the number one best thing you can do to change behavior long term. The threat of changing their color status that morning may improve their behavior in that moment (for a few), but it doesn’t really address the problem. Giving them time, a safe space, and communication opportunities can change everything.

    -Kathleen B.
    A ‘stoplight free’ Kindergarten Teacher

    Reply
  • Pingback: Quote of the Day | beyond the stoplight

  • Anonymous

    Thinking of the real world…if I break the law, then my name goes in the newspaper. Are you suggesting that stop too? It is the way the real world works. If we shield children from how things really work, then age eighteen is a rude awakening.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Not suggesting we stop traffic rules from being enforced, but I am suggesting that we treat young children like small humans who are learning to develop skills and that we do it in a supportive and caring manner.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    why not start on red every day and give all children opportunities to move up to green by the end of the day. This would also highlight children whos’ behaviour wouldnt necessarily let them move up naturally

    Reply
  • Kara Bride

    Thank you. You are so right, and yet these punitive methods are so prevalent.

    Reply
  • Anon

    Thanks for the article. My daughter came home from her first day of kindergarten a couple of weeks ago, and I asked her various questions about her day. The thing that stuck in her mind the most (evidenced by the fact that she kept bringing it up) was the one student who got down to “red.” Made me sad that this was such a focal point for the classroom. And especially that the teachers would give a “red” to anyone on the very first day of kindergarten. What a negative way to start a lifetime of learning.

    Reply
  • sebedell

    After 39 years in education, I’ve learned that creating a family concept in the classroom was truly the best way to handle management. We were a family. I’d tell them “Sometimes we come to school with a bad day feeling sometimes a good day. We all feel this way including me.” I would tell my students. “Let’s help each other work and play through the day. Our job is to learn. Your parents have work if it is cleaning the house or going out to a job. This is your first job. When someone has a problem, we will work through it. But understand because you are having a bad day, doesn’t mean you can take away everyone else’s right to learn and work. Let’s help each other.” The more I embraced a family unit in the classroom the more my young students began to work together or not disrupt the others. I was required to use a positive behavior display in the room, but really did not make much of it. We worked as a family. Through the years I discovered that some students found this to be the first safe place to be a family. Their home lives were very disruptive. The problem with education is a parenting problem. Yes, there were some poor teacher as there are poor doctors, nurses, dentists, bankers, politicians, policemen…, but the problem really is the lack of parent support and work with education.

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    There are kids who almost always stay on green, and then there are the kids who often get moved to red/yellow. These kids get labeled as troublesome and the other children tend to want to avoid them leading to even further isolation for these kids that are already struggling. This system worked fine for two of my children, but it was disastrous for my child with ADHD. These kids that struggle are the ones we have to worry about becoming isolated, getting involved with drugs, or hurting themselves or others. We need to find a way to help these kids early on and the stoplight method in my opinion just gives kudos to the kids who weren’t going to be a problem anyway and continues to emphasize to those struggling with behavior that they are “losers” as my son would say, that they are different and don’t fit in, and that they will not be able to get ahead. We are talking about young children here not teenagers or adults, and there is a lot of opportunity to give support and help change behavior by the way we respond and treat them. My 5th grade son had a lot of problems in kindergarten through second grade but then started maturing, however, he is still judged and ostracized by his peers because of his behavior in those younger grades. Some of the things they had him do in younger grades were lonely lunches, sitting in a single desk away from all students, wanting him to sit out on the end of year kickball game while everyone else played. Everything was to isolate and also project the behavior up on these charts to others. He is such a fine young man now, but his chance to fit in was ruined those first three years and his self esteem is zilch. It was often his impulsiveness and blurting out when upset that got him in trouble in these younger years so I feel it was definitely something that could have been handled in a better way.

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    And this is why we are raising a generation of kids who are not accountable for their actions. There has to be a consequence for misbehavior. Sometimes seeing their name on a color is all the reminder they need.

    Reply
  • Pam

    The one and only year I tried to use a system like this (that involved pulling cards) I found myself concentrating on what the children were doing wrong, instead of what they were doing right. I gave it up in late October. For me, as a teacher, this doesn’t work. However, children do need to be accountable for their actions, not all conversations about behavior can be done in private, and classroom control DOES matter.
    We have recently begun issuing demerits along with a stated opportunity for how to earn back demerits. (Example–not coming to class prepared to work–in attitude/materials– the demerit can be earned back by coming to class prepared to work for 2 consecutive days. The point is to change behavior, not punish.) There’s a pretty fun event regularly tied to having enough merits, which one earns simply by being respectful, and turn in work. These are middle school kids.
    I deeply applaud the bravery of those who choose to disagree respectfully with your post, because the nature of the ‘net today means that are exposing themselves to disdain and ridicule.

    Reply
  • Pam

    My comment should read “how to earn back merits.” Demerits = loss of privilege; merits = rewards. Even with my errors, I think you can follow the system.

    Reply
  • Renee' Fowler

    This takes me back to my days in grade school (private school). The system at my school was as follows: The section of the chalk board reserved for this started out clean (no names) every Monday morning. On your first infraction you got your name written on the board, the second added a mark after your name, the third another mark, and for the fourth you got a spanking. Yes this was back in the days of corporal punishment (which is a whole other issue). One of my problems with this kind of thing is that, once the child has been disciplined and the incident is over, their infraction is still held over their head for the rest of the day, or, like when I was in school, for the rest of the week. And face possible punishment later in the day or week for what you did earlier. That’s just wrong! When it’s over, it’s over. Deal with the infraction at the time and let it be over with. It’s important for the child to be able to release their guilt and not have their infraction held against them anymore once the discipline is done!

    Even if the teacher doesn’t mean for it to be a shaming thing, it’s still embarrassing! The fact that it isn’t your intention doesn’t keep the children from being shamed. I remember this well as I was one who got her name on the board often! I did not like this system as a child and I do not like it now.

    I’m sorry if I come across kinda strong. Please know that I’m not angry. I just have strong feelings about this as I have lived through it.

    Reply
  • Anonymous

    Thank you this valuable insite! I am an Occupational Therapist and was looking on line to describe the stop light program in an evaluation I am writing. The poor first grader shared he hates school because he is always on yellow! He is a nervous kid with sensory issues. I am definitely using your thoughts when I report and hope to reshape the culture of the elementary school I recently joined when we move into the new school year! I completely agree! Would rather recognize needs for sensory breaks or build in accommodations to help those kids who can’t control themselves! thanks,jodi

    Reply
  • rose

    Well written! This post of yours expresses good feelings and is very accurate about how students feel when they see the traffic light chart.

    – The traffic light chart can make students feel ridiculed
    – It can remind students that they are not good enough for their teacher
    – Many students earn reputations (bad girl/boy) with this chart

    Good post!

    Reply
    • Fatima Ahmad

      well I agree to some extent but it also can differentiate it to where how does the teacher displays the traffic signal.
      It is very important for the teacher to make it feel like its not to scary looking but at the same time, if they continue to misbehave they are some consequences that come along with it. Otherwise, for some kids from my experience can easily walk over the teacher and that’s not what you want in a classroom especially if your trying to teach and have students learn.

      Reply
  • Fatima Ahmad

    Classroom Management is an important tool in order for learning to take place in the classroom. It is very true that we do not want to make it super difficult that the child/ren start to fear us (teachers) or make it super easy where they began to walk all over us. I have started to explore my 1st grade classroom and started to work with my cooperating teacher regarding classroom management. I have had the responsibility between transition periods with kids so that is when I was observed for the very first time by my cooperating teacher and our instructional coach. Luckily they were happy with my classroom management skills. What I do with my kids or my cooperating teacher did is during the first couple week of school, students are learning everything over and are getting use to their routines We have a behavior chart that students will be either asked to hop up or down depending on how many times they were reminded to focus or do what they were asked to do behavioral wise. Many times, I have observed my cooperating teacher ask those students that have been on top of their game when it comes down to listening and following directions, they will be asked to hop up meaning “Good choice,” which then leads to “Outstanding.”

    When our students are asked to hop down, they will go to “warning, teacher choice and final would be parent contact.” Most of them do a very good job because they also have to color on their calendar sheet how they were that day for each day. Depending on their behavior colored sheet, they are rewarded with a prize or they get to choose something very special prize from the treasure box that we keep at school. The treasure box includes special erasers, pencils, bookmarks and or anything that be special.

    I honestly really like how the classroom is set up in my cooperating teachers classroom. I think the author who wrote a little criticism about the signal is a little harsh but at the same time, I do agree that, that shouldn’t be right infront of the door where each parent or the child sees it as soon as they enter the classroom. This approach can make it a bit overwhelming and concerning for many parents. This can also lead to bring down the child’s self esteem which we don’t want. We want to encourage their positive behavior instead of making them feel humiliated or embarrassed.

    Reply
  • aaliyah

    LOVE

    Reply
  • roxanne d

    Nice analysis , I Appreciate the information – Does someone know if my assistant could possibly access a sample MI PC 674 form to fill out ?

    Reply
  • mlberg

    Hello Jen Bradley,

    Want to enable good behavior? Please help me distribute the Caregiver’s Manual for Men (CMfM): https://mlbergitn.wordpress.com

    Thank you for your help.

    Dan

    Reply

Leave a Reply