Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Put Your Name on the Board - a Tale of Why I Gave Up Classroom Discipline Systems

Image from here


Put your name on the board! Those words spoken in a very stern voice accompanied by a teacher look was enough to whip the toughest student into shape. Except when it didn't which for me was enough times to make me wonder. Could my discipline systems really be thrown out and replaced with nothing? Would chaos then reign supreme?

If you had come by my room last year you would have seen them. Those sticks in the cups or the names on the boards with checks, sometimes double checks and plenty of stern looks to go around. I was doing exactly what I had been taught in school, exerting my control as the main authority figure and if students misbehaved, well, then there was some form of punishment. Oh don't worry; there were plenty of rewards as well. If students didn't move their stick or get their name on the board for a week then their name got entered into drawing for pizza with me. At the end of the month if they didn't have their name in my book for not doing their homework, they could also enter their name, and then I would finally draw names and five lucky students would have pizza with me. Confused? I was! I could hardly keep check Of all those names, checks, and punishments.

However, last year I realized something after reading Alfie Kohn; I knew I had to change. By perpetually focusing negative energy on the same students, who, lets face it, are most often the ones having their name singled out somehow already, I was indeed just adding more to their self doubt. While I believe in discipline for all students, I also believe in compassion and that philosophy simply was not fitting in with my chosen system. So I did as many teachers may do; I threw it all out. However, instead of hunting for a new system, I decided to detox myself, start this year with no system for reward and punishment and instead strive to create a classroom community where students just know what the expectation is.

I was petrified that first month. I run a tough classroom in my expectations for my students and I know that if you do not set the tone those first weeks, it can be detrimental to the rest of the year. And yet I held strong in my conviction that even the more unruly students would eventually figure this out through repeated conversations and respect. And boy, did we talk. We talked about expectations, rules, how to speak to one another, and what to do when something goes wrong. A lot of the time, I just listened to these amazing students come up with solutions to problems, listened to them explain how they envisioned our classroom, how they wanted fourth grade to be. And I was in awe; these kids knew how to behave without me telling them over and over. And they certainly would figure it out without me alternating punishment and rewards.

So after the first month I started to breathe again. I let our new system flex itself and watched the students help keep the classroom stabile. Sure, there are times when I think ooh if I just had a way to "punish" it would fix this and this and then I realize that perhaps I just need to find some time to speak to that particular student. Now instead of an exasperated tone and a system to keep them in check, we discuss, we try to fix, and we reevaluate. I don't run the classroom with a complicated system of checks and balances, rewards and punishments, but rather with an atmosphere of community, of belonging. Is it perfect? No, but neither am I, nor my students. I am just glad I believed in my own skills enough to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, my students would know how to behave without me rewarding them for it. Once again, they blew away all of my expectations.

43 comments:

Farrah said...

I loved your post, and have been doing something similar the past few years. I started it a few years ago when I kept forgetting whom to reward/punish, etc...It was just exhausting, and I couldn't see that the former system was creating any real change in behavior. About 4 years ago, I started reading materials about the Responsive Classroom and have been attempting to incorporate those types of strategies. Although I haven't read Punished by Rewards, I'm intrigued by it. I may try it this summer. Thanks for your insight and willingness to share!

Bronwen said...

What a wonderful post! I have just had this conversation with a friend about to start her first year teaching. She came to me to ask what discipline "system" to use, and I promptly said "none!"

We discussed setting clear expectations and a sense of personal responsibility and I am hoping she gives it a go. It's hard, but it works for me and I agree it enables students to rise to the challenge rather than sink to their lowest both in their behaviour and their self confidence.

Thanks for a great post!

Bronwen

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Farrah, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with this as well. I am so glad to hear I am not the only one out there trying this, I knew there had to be a better way! Thank you for the book recommendation, I will be adding it to my must read list!

Bronwen, what a great conversation to have with a new teacher. I never thought to ask the question my first year and now realize I should have. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

Cara said...

I teach in a school where a weekly conduct grade must be given. I have a "pull your clothespin" system, but I rarely have a student actually do it. Many teachers talk about how hard it is for a student to maintain a 100 for the nine weeks, but I have 85% or more of my class keep a 100. My behavior system is maintaining respect with my students, realizing to not sweat the small stuff, and most importantly, keeping my students engaged. We have fun times in our classroom!

Dale (@vicdale) said...

Great post. I agree - I could never keep track of those checks and points and I knew it really didn't make a difference. Three years ago our school started using Diane Gossen's book "Restitution: Restructuring School Discipline" (www.realrestitution.com). Each class created a Social Contract using ideas in the mini book "Social Contract- What We Believe". Some of us were fortunate enough to spend a day training with Diane. The process has been transformative for many teachers and kids.

Clive said...

This is why your blog is one of my handful of Must Reads! Loved it - especially allowing the children to set their own rules and expectations. Respect!
Thank you!

J said...

Great post... someone mentioned the word respect. That is the key to all of this. Building rapport, and making a connection are the two most important elements in a "non - discipline" scenario. It is unnecessary if these two things are accomplished. We all know that the old way doesn't work, so why do people still try it?
Thanks for your perspective.

Mr. Macdonald said...

I'm right there with you. In my class we look at what we would expect someone to do or say to us. If you wouldn't like it (which usually means, if someone did/said this to you, would you tell on them), then don't do it to others. Golden rule stuff. Mostly we us the word "courteous." The kids get it. It deals with social "norms" more than it does rules. It seems to be working, but like you said, it's not perfect.

My daughter has "cards" in her Kinder class. She is absolutely terrified of "pulling a card." I've been to her class to visit her and she is a robot. She's not my little girl. It makes me sick. She then comes home and lets loose. It's tough because it makes it tough for Mom and me. We know she needs it, but she turns into this little monster at times. She is releasing all this built up angst and energy and everything else she has to keep in while in her Kinder class, of all place.

I know her teacher. How do you approach another teacher, who is in direct contact with your child each day, and tell her that her management is depriving my daughter of enjoying kindergarten; enjoying school?

Lyn Hilt said...

Pernille, thanks for sharing your journey. I think it's so important to cultivate a true learning community built on reciprocal respect and care. I see too many teachers focusing on the negatives throughout the day, implementing ineffective classroom management plans that do nothing to establish rapport or help students learn why certain behaviors impede the learning process. The team discussion and problem-solving approach is huge. I shared this post with my staff. Thanks again!

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Cara - Thank you for sharing your experience with this, I must admit, I am glad I do not teach in a school where our discipline system is decided for us. Good for you for making it work for you and your students!

Dale - thank you for the book recommendation, there are so many things for me to read and learn from. The checks and balances were liberating to get rid off!

Clive - You said it best; it is all about respect and finding what works for us.

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

J - I often wonder if the old way does work for some people. I am not one to judge, I just know that most certainly did not work for me. It is vital to find and take the time to establish those connections. Thank you for your comment.

Jeremy - You bring up such a strong question, as an educator, what do we do if our children end up in rooms where we see their creative selves and personalities get smothered? In fact, you may just have inspired another blog post. Is there a way to have a constructive conversation?

Lyn - What an honor to have my post shared with your staff. Thank you for being a progressive principal who sparks these types of conversations, I wish I had come to this realization myself a couple of years sooner, rather than waste my time on all of those systems.

Sue Downing said...

I chuckled when I read, "I could hardly keep track of all those names, checks, and punishments." While waiting for a classroom of my own, I have been subbing the last two years. If teachers can't keep track of their own systems, imagine how subs feel. Valuable learning time is replaced by the kids telling me what they get if they are good and what the punishments are if someone misbehaves. I finally quit trying to deal with them, so I tell the classes that I will leave detailed notes for the teacher and he/she can decide the rewards and/or punishments that should result. When I get my own kids, I plan to follow your lead.

Douglas W. Green, EdD said...

I never liked the name on the board system. All I could think of is the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. In the case of some students, there is no such thing as bad attention. When a child misbehaves, eye contact without comment can be more effective than saying anything. After a few seconds, comments like "are you ok", "can I help you?", or "are you finished?" can work better than anything. If you need to talk to a child, do it in private and with respect. Yelling only works, sometimes, in the short run. Check my blog for concentrated tweets and book summaries. DrDougGreen.Com

Oldteacher said...

So, what do you do when you are forced to use a system and turn in proof every week? The system involves handing out lots of tiny pieces of paper so that the student can go to the "store" to buy junk to argue about, lose, or distract themselves and others. The system doesn't work. Unruly students continue to be unruly, and avid learners suffer while I chase after the student who thinks its okay to run away from the class to do what he wants.

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

The comments here have really gotten me to think about the implications of having a discipline "system" and which effect it can have on students. I had never thought about it from a sub's perspective, thank you Sue for that! And Douglas, I agree, I had students who counted aloud how many times they had had ther name on the board and then boasted about it to their friends. Whatever lesson I was trying to teach them certainly was not working! Thank you for your website, I will be checking it out.

And Oldteacher, I am not sure what can be done when a school makes you use a particular system, I would change it t benefit the kids instead and just over reward them, I am not sure. Does anyone have any ideas?

mshertz said...

I heart this post. My school has a 'traffic light' system in every classroom and students are expected to leave 'on green' each day in grades K-4. 5th and 6th graders earn dollars, up to 5 dollars a day. It's preposterous and I pretty much ignore the whole system. I have that luxury as a 'specials' teacher.

I even tell the students that I don't change colors and I don't 'do the dollar thing' because they should just act the way they are supposed to without being bribed.

For the most part, the kids nod in agreement. One of my 5th graders expressed how she's not 'a little kid,' so she shouldn't have to earn dollars like that.

I have slipped my administrator Responsive Classroom materials (I have used the model in a limited fashion in the past), hoping it will stick.

I, too, fear that my classroom is not as strict as other teachers' and that I 'let things go' that other teachers would make a big deal about. For years I thought the problem was me, that I wasn't strict enough because I didn't write out detentions or submit my students to punishments.

Yet, I find that I take time to talk to my students, I try to be fair and listen to them and I do make phone calls to parents when necessary.

Bottom line: I can only teach in a way that is congruent with my personality. My students are learning, they enjoy my class, and they have a healthy amount of respect for me as an adult and their teacher.

I think you may have inspired a blog post on the matter.

I will definitely be sharing your post with some of my colleagues.

David Ginsburg (Coach G) said...

Absolutely. People mistakenly use discipline and classroom management interchangably. In my teacher induction workshops, I don't even use the word discipline. Check out my post, As a Rule, Forget About Rules for more thoughts on this. http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coach_gs_teaching_tips/2010/09/as_a_rule_forget_about_rules.html

Alan - South Africa said...

Not a teacher. But I'm really impressed with the whole idea of asking kids to figure out why things are right or wrong instead of teaching them the implicit lesson of normal discipline: respect authority because it's there, or because you may be rewarded/punished if you do/don't.

I know there was a study done in New Zealand in which kids were give classes on the notion of rights: their right to learn, the teacher's right to teach and all that stuff.

Well, it seems not only did study participants' grades improve significantly compared to controls, and incidents of poor behaviour were way down, but also these effects were still significant *many years later*.

I may be overstating things, but I think you're helping to create good people, not just well behaved students.

Mr. Ippolito said...

Great post! I have been following your blog for some time now, and have enjoyed your reflections. Building an atmosphere of mutual respect is the best form of classroom management. Keep up the great blogging, Mrs. Ripp!

Educated Exchange said...

I noticed that you mentioned your expectations several times in your post, and I 100% agree that those (along with follow-though) are potentially the strongest driver in determining how the students act!

Being a second-year teacher, a very structured system where I can check myself against what I "should" do is really helpful, but I imagine that a less formalized system with extremely high expectations can cultivate a great learning community.

I outlined my system and what I do at http://www.educatedexchange.com/topic/12/Dealing-with-Difficult-Behavior-Issues. I'd love if you had time to take a look and respond with any tips or advice!

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Hi Vail,
Thank you so much for the link to your post, I wanted to comment right on it, however, I would have to register for that, so I hope you get this comment instead. I must admit I am little overwhelmed and scared by your system, but I also know that people run their classrooms in very different ways because they have very different students. While I love the idea of speaking to your students about expectations, the moving of the clip frightens me, because it is a public "punishment." If you ask yourself honestly; would you be able to predict pretty accurately which student would move their clip in a lesson? I would have been and that is why i got rid of it. My students could have predicted it as well. I needed them to want to behave because the learning was so much fun, not because I would punish them if they didn't. So while discipline systems such as the one you describe do work for some people, for me it would be stifling. Maybe baby steps can let you explore moving away from such a system? Could you try a day where no one moves but instead you discuss expectations for the day?

Jill Mirza said...

I love Alfie Kohn and I absolutely LOVE this post too! It is all sooooo true! If we want to teach kids to make good choices we have to allow them opportunites to make choices......not expect them to just follow directions. It's a little messy and it takes time, but it's well worth it in the end. It is all about creating responsible people. That SHOULD be the goal for all of us. However, too many people just want to "be in control". That is not helping kids...in fact it's hurting them. They need to learn how to get along with others just because - not for some reward!

Lisa said...

I totally agree with this post. I taught for my first several years and a positive behavior school and we were not allowed to use these types of behavior plans. I moved to another school and all of my teammates use the cards. I decided to try it last year (it seemed to be working for them, right) and was always curious about a system like this because I thought it my help me be more on top of things. I absolutely hated it! I hated all the negative attention these systems give to those certain students. Also I think different behaviors need different consequences. My colleagues can't understand why I'm not using it this year, but I'm so happy!

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot like the Responsive Classroom philosophy. check it out at http://www.responsiveclassroom.org

Maria said...

Totally agree with your post. Years ago after reading Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards, I changed my classroom management and let the 4th graders know why. Then added methods from The Responsive Classroom. A third ingredient that I also use is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I read snippets to the students (now teaching 6th grade) and have them create a personal illustration for each agreement.

Jeff Wolfsberg said...

"How do we individually and collectively bring about useful change in circumstances where the past, and established ways of thinking, are not good guides to the future?" from Presence - a wonderful book I"m reading. I'm a consultant, so I come into schools as an outsider and conduct extended seminars. I rarely have problems with behavior. Like you, I just establish a few shared agreements and say "we'll work the rest out together". Cell phones are a big school rule thing, but my rule is "please put the phone on mute or vibrate, if you get a call, you determine whether you should take and please step out quietly and take the call. You are responsible for what you missed when you stepped out. I've never had to take phones away, or tell someone to stop looking at their phone. Just my experience.

myra brand said...

I've never made up rules with the children (4th grade) or created a system of discipline. I begin each year with the expectation of certain appropriate behaviors, as well as typical 4th grade behaviors. The kids rarely disappoint me, and almost always live up to my expectation. It's so nice to read that there are others who believe in the same type of classroom management.

Helen said...

After teaching 30 years, I feel the last few have been the BEST because I've gotten rid of the "system" and replaced it with my own hyprid of Alphie Kohn, Love and Logic, Responsive Classroom. Compassionate Communication etc. I've been reading anything that encourages children to live in a community where they control their lives with assistance from adults. The simple act of replacing "flip a card!" with "Let's conference later," changed me as a teacher and my classroom became a much healthier place to live and learn. I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to sit with my fourth graders as the give "Wishes" and "Thanks yous" and talk directly and specifically to each other in attempts to solve problems in our "Problem-free classroom." Thanks for sharing your ideas...I will pass your blog on to some young teachers in my school who are beginning to find their own way.
Helen

phyllis ain said...

There's a book that's been around for years called Positive Discipline. The crux of the process involves class meetings which evolve following a set of mutual rules that we expect all to honor and follow. The system worked for me. The Class Meetings were particularly valuable because they afforded a way for kids to identify areas they wished to discuss and rely on group members to help, and not hurt, each other. I have never used a card system because it seems pointless -- why give a child several chances to repeat a behavior that is unacceptable at the outset? Anyway, there is another book titled Positive Time Out that works well.

Anonymous said...

I started my first year of teaching believing I could just "build community" and that would be my discipline system. I soon discovered (day 2, in fact), that I didn't have the skills to pull it off yet, and then I resorted to a reward system. Like you, the system made me crazy because it didn't help the kids who perpetually struggle. Like you, I read Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards and knew I would never be the same again. I finished the book during my second year of teaching, and I sat my students down for a class meeting. We had a heart-to-heart about all of the conflict I was feeling related to discipline, and they were very wise in helping me to better understand their perspective. We went cold turkey. No more rewards, but plenty of celebrations. No, it wasn't perfect, but I, too, was amazed by the students' capacity to solve problems together. They often came up with brilliant solutions that I never could have dreamed of myself. Other books I recommend, if you are interested in moving away from "doing to" students and toward "working with" students are Alfie Kohn's Beyond Discipline and Ralph Petersen's Life in a Crowded Place. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and reminding me of my own almost 20 years ago!

Mrs. Doring =) said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your experiences in challenging "the way" to run a classroom. I'm in my second year teaching kinder, and while I'm not yet ready to give up "time out," I, too, have given up rewards in the traditional sense. After teaching a class of over-rewarded fifth graders who did not do one single thing all year without asking, "What are we going to get if we do it?" I am paranoid of prizes! In my kinder class, the rewards kids earn are something I want them to do or have: more responsibility, the privilege of helping me or a peer, or (my favorite) "Wow! I love how you walked down he hall! Guess what you won--math centers! Yay!"

Keep up the great teaching, and the conversations!

Nancye said...

Thank you for sharing about your experiences. I'm so glad that it's working for you in your classroom. It's amazing what kids can do when we show them that we respect them and believe in their abilities.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I actually have never done the reward/punishment technique, solely due to the fact that I couldn't be bothered with keeping track of everything. I also just "expect" my students to do and be their best and they always rise to the occasion. Kids like consistency and with those reward techniques it is almost impossible to stay consistent and on top of everything. Classroom management is the most important part of teaching. If a class runs smoothly, everything else just falls in to place.

David Warr said...

I've read this book too, and wholehertedly agree with it. Well done indeed for having the courage to carry it out, and to blog about it with such honesty. I've written a couple of posts on this, inspred by the same book. http://twurl.nl/dk1yfk

David Warr said...

And here's a great video which says it all! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G59KY7ek8Rk

Golda Rigaud said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

My first year teaching the Head of School insisted on one of those systems ... it was a disaster. I couldn't keep track of all those checks and the rules. And the students would often argue with me if I was following the system or not. (It was school-wide.) After that, I ditched it. I give a firm talk at the beginning of school and set up rituals and expectations. I speak to students individually after class if they are disruptive. That works.

Anonymous said...

This is such a fabulous post that I stumbled across. I am a professor of education with a specialization in classroom management. I just wanted you to know that tonight I used this post as my final exam. Students had to support or criticize your decision and defend their choice with 5 points drawing on information learned during the course this semester. Their answers were fabulous! I wish I could share them with you. 13 out of 14 defended your decision to ditch the discipline system and had great arguments to support that decision. Even the person who disagreed (although I disagreed with her) clearly articulated a strong case. Thanks for the great material. Just thought I would share this experience with you.
Tracey - tgarrett@rider.edu
www.ClassroomManagementEssentials.com

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Anonymous said...

Iteach 2nd and do not have a behavior chart in the classroom. We spend the better part of the first month of school working on expected behavior and modeling correct behavior. It seems when you have a behavior chart it is always the same students whose name gets moved. I discuss off task behavior with those students who have trouble (2nd graders are still learning) and will ask for time back during recess if have chosen to take it throughout the day. It works really well and my students display a expected behavior without any effort on their part.

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