What if I Walked in My Staff Room
and the Principal Put My Name on Red?
by Janet Adams M.A.
I was excited to start my second assignment as a fourth-grade teacher at a new school site in 1989. The move was somewhat overwhelming in that I just completed two years as a middle school English/Reading/Art teacher in a small K-8 grade elementary school and now I had to start all over in a new grade level. Hear me out. Why would you care about a 1989 teacher move? Keep reading. I was thrilled that when I unpacked my plethora of banker boxes, I found my classroom behavior chart. That was going to be my first bulletin board. Do you recognize this chart?
Student names were posted and fresh green, yellow, red construction cards were cut out and distributed. Teachers visiting my room with warm welcomes stopped at the chart and asked, "what is this?" I explained over and over how my innocent looking chart worked as a simple manipulative way to address students' behavior. During the day, the color code cards would publicly shame an offender if they had to "pull a card" and the other students showing a positive green card above their name would be ever so careful during their day and self-regulate their behavior so as to not be embarrassed. "Wow, can we copy and make one for our room?" Behavior charts soon sprang up in my colleagues' rooms. I was pleased. I had helped change the culture of our school. The chart was remade fresh for five more years as my new fourth graders entered and left. This was the system they learned in Kindergarten and this was the system that kept them in line.
What if my principal had put me on a system and I walked in my teachers' lounge and saw my name on red? How would I feel? Safe? Would I want to leave that job? It would not be a good situation.
What are the Unintended Consequences?
If you browse your Pinterest account for "classroom management systems" today, this chart and many other varieties will be ready to 'Save' to your boards. Today, social and emotional learning has become the new norm for behavior management in classrooms. Social and emotional learning (SEL) provides a new foundation for safe and positive learning and enhances students' ability to succeed in school, careers, and life. The last four years in my quest for learning about SEL, I have stopped and have had an 180-degree heart change. I thought that I had to be the hero in the classroom and maintain discipline but all that time my students were the heroes and deserved to know the skills that would empower them for their lifetime.
The Past Has Caught Up With Me
My granddaughter is a brand new kindergartner this fall and attends an all-Spanish immersion classroom. "What are you learning?" I asked with great enthusiasm. "I pulled my cards to yellow two times this week", she shared sadly. I sat there quietly then tried to explain to her that those 'yellow cards' were not what was important. "Be yourself, enjoy your new experiences with friends and language."
A few days later an IT tech was in our home installing a new flat screen TV. I asked him about how he learned his trade. "I hated school and I was marked as a trouble maker, " he boldly shared. "My card was always on red year after year. I later attended a private trade school and realized I was not dumb, and graduated with a 3.9."
I apologized to him.
I Can Start from Now and Make a Brand New Ending
1. I attended a week-long conference on restorative principles that captured my heart. I learned about a sustainable classroom management system called "Discipline That Restores". A teacher responds and offers life-giving strategies to create respect, cooperation, and responsibility in the classroom. http://disciplinethatrestores.org/
2. I read articles and blogs from teachers who are learning and willing to share about social and emotional learning.
- Why Social and Emotional Learning is Essential For Students
3. I listen to podcasts that interview teachers about amazing and emotionally safe classroom management systems.
4. TED Talks
- Brene` Brown: Listening to Shame Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity, and vulnerability shine through every word.
To all my students who are now adults, please know that I am sorry. If you are a teacher, toss out your chart and enjoy the quest for new relationships.
Janet Adams M.A.
Online Course: Pinterest for Teachers