Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Abandoned My Classroom Behavior System

Nikos Kazanizukis

For years, I used a credit/debit system for my classroom behavior plan.  Students earned credits for following classroom expectations and debits for a long list of classroom infractions.  Each month, my students would add up their credits and subtract their debits, and then I wrote them a paycheck for the month.  Once the banker cashed their check, they shopped in our classroom store. Excitement filled the air for most of my students on shopping day. Yes, I hate to admit it, but there were times when a student didn't earn a paycheck for the month. Then as I watched my students, I realized these systems and plans actually label our students. What was my actual purpose for having a plan?

So during the 2014-2015 school-year, I decided not to have a formalized behavior system for my classroom.  I read several blog posts from teachers who no longer use a punishment/reward system for their students. My first thought was, they have to be crazy.  Their classroom must be chaotic, and their students can't really be learning. What I discovered was the exact  opposite.
Kimberly - iWrite in Maine Moving Past Behavior Charts

Last year, I wasn't too concerned about my decision.  I looped from third to fourth grade with the same group of students.  They were an awesome group, and we were a community of learners.  We had a positive and trusting relationship with each other.

At the start of this year, I spent many sleepless nights trying to decide what to do.  A new set of students were on their way to join our Fourth Grade Team.  I started reading and researching what management system I could implement for the new school year. Then, I realized that I was setting low expectations for my new group of students. My final decision, no formalized behavior system. Believe me, it wasn't an easy decision.

I started thinking, that as educators we may not receive a paycheck some months for our own behaviors.  Our cards may be turned to red before the afternoon begins. Our parents may receive daily emails about our classroom behaviors. Our name may be written on the board with checkmarks next to it, and our sticks may get pulled.
Yes, I have talked to colleagues during staff meetings, when I should have been listening. 
 I have missed deadlines for turning in surveys and paperwork that I was given reminders for from administrators.  
I left materials at home that I needed for the school day.
I have blurted out when I should of kept quiet.
Yes, I have rolled my eyes and complained while attending PD that I felt was worthless.  
I talk in the hallway to staff members and students when we have a zero voice policy.
At times, I forget to shut off my phone and it rings/buzzes during class instruction.
Hmm, my list can continue on and on.

As we embark upon our seventh week of school, it is one of the best decisions I have made in my teaching career. It is about the relationship we establish with each of our students not the management system.  One size doesn't fit all.  As educators we know, the first weeks set the tone for the entire school year.  I need to set the bar high and believe in each student in my classroom.  Was I hesitant and worried, absolutely.  From day one, my fourth graders wanted to know if they would be earning points. I totally understood.  For as long as I can remember I used a some type of reward system.  My question to them, points for what?  I had lots of responses from my fourth graders with puzzled looks on their faces.  You know, Mrs. Evon! What do we get if we get our work done?  What if I am working quietly? What if I help my friend?  What if I forget my homework, what will happen?  Our conversation was truly eye-opening.  My response, you are role models and leaders! As fourth graders you will be an example for others at school.  

Magic Johnson

The bottom line is, we all make mistakes. Our students entrust in us to teach them and help them grow and learn from their mistakes.  Do my students blurt out, yes.  Do they forget to return homework, yes.  At times, do they get up during instruction time, yes.  The big game-changer is how I react to it.  They don't get punished by losing points, getting debits, turning cards, or putting their names on the board. Their reward is developing confidence and feeling proud! Students learn the importance of taking ownership of their learning as well as their behavior.  They will fail, stumble, make mistakes, succeed, learn, and grow. Yes, we set goals for behaviors if needed.  When a behavior is a concern, we have private conversations. We fill each others' buckets and my fourth graders are making their "Mark on the World"!

I know I need to take time each day to truly listen to my students, even when I have a lot of curriculum to cover.  Our students need to know we care, and they truly matter. Do I have days that are more challenging than others, absolutely.  Do I have to count to ten at times before I respond or have a private meeting with a student, yes. There are nights when I go home and wonder if I am making a difference. Teaching has changed over the years, but one thing hasn't.  Our students need to know that we believe in them and their full potential!  Wish I would have done this sooner. Rita Pierson sums it up perfectly.

Rita Pierson