Is It Time To Rip Up Classroom Behaviour Charts?

Is It Time To Rip Up Classroom Behaviour Charts?

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Classroom behaviour charts have been used for decades to help support positive behaviour in class (and discourage negative behaviour). But are they actually doing more harm than good?

In today's episode, we look at the pros and cons of using behaviour charts to manage whole class behaviour. We'll be asking if charts are a great way of providing recognition for good behaviour - or do they just publicly shame kids with behaviour needs?

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

So what we're saying is we've got to be careful not to publicly shame or label children because then the bad behaviour becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It's like the old saying, give a dog a bad name and it sticks. You know, some children are really searching for their identity within the class and some children quickly realise that they get lots of attention if they're the class clown. For example.

Simon Currigan  0:23  

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to school behaviour secrets. I'd like to start the first episode of 2022. by referencing the words of Abraham Lincoln, he said "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt" and mark my words in the next 25 minutes or so we intend to remove all doubt. I'm joined as ever by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi Emma

Emma Shackleton  1:28  

Hi, Simon. Happy New Year 

Simon Currigan  1:30  

And a happy New Year to you, Emma, I'd like to stick slavishly to our podcast format in 2022 and ask you a question.

Emma Shackleton  1:38  

I was kind of hoping that your New Year's resolution would be to stop asking questions. But hey ho. Go on.

Simon Currigan  1:44  

In a recent survey, what were the top three most embarrassing social situations that people fear?

Emma Shackleton  1:50  

Embarrassing social situations? Okay, how about falling over in a public place? Being told off by the boss in front of your colleagues? What about freezing or forgetting your lines in a public speaking event? Enlighten me.

Simon Currigan  2:07  

These are smaller, smaller scale than that. Actually, the answers were coming in number three for getting someone's name, which is embarrassing. Yeah. Number two was saying something stupid in front of your boss. And number one was coughing in a quiet place. And for those of you that are wondering, farting came in at number four.

Emma Shackleton  2:24  

Go on then why do you ask? 

Simon Currigan  2:25  

Well, today we're going to be debating the question, is it time to rip up all our classroom behaviour charts? But I'm going to be a little bit cryptic today. And I'll explain the link a little later in the episode. I promise it's relevant. So keep listening to find out why.

Emma Shackleton  2:42  

Okay, so before we get into the detail of that debate, please do share this episode with three of your friends or colleagues who just like you are committed to improving children's lives and experience in school, and who you think would benefit from hearing this podcast, all you've got to do is open your podcasts app, hit the share button, and you'll be able to send them a direct link, it takes only a few seconds. And as we mostly rely on word of mouth recommendations, it really helps us out too. So thank you.

Simon Currigan  3:14  

So let's sit on a park bench open a steaming bag of chips and throw a morsel to that dirty pigeon we call behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  3:23  

Okay, so we're going to look at some pros and cons of why we should keep behaviour charts, we're going to give you the fours and we're going to give you the against. So we should start off by describing what we actually mean by classroom behaviour charts because there are different types and schools use them in different ways. So we've got things like happy and sad face boards, which often is a board with a happy face emoji at the top and a sad face emoji at the top and children's names are written on the board. On the happy side when they're doing good things on the sad side when they're doing not so good things. Then you've got more graduated boards things like traffic lights, so you've got red, amber and green. Sometimes there are sun and cloud boards. You can also have behaviour tracks or zone board types, where you can actually move up and down and then there are things like ClassDojo or points based systems where children can be awarded points and points can be removed or negative points can be allocated for poor behaviour choices. Okay, so these types of systems are super popular in schools in the UK and beyond. And to play devil's advocate today I'm going to be leading the arguments for.

Simon Currigan  4:41  

And I'm going to be putting the arguments against classroom behaviour charts.

Emma Shackleton  4:45  

Okay, so my first point in favour of using behaviour charts in school are that I think children find them motivating it's exciting to be moved up the board for good work, and children often get a little boost from that public recognition and used well, it's an instant way of reinforcing expectations. So encouraging good behaviour, discouraging negative behaviour. A visual system like this is also a great prompt for the teacher to remember to issue praise and move children up or give out points. If it gets to 3pm, and loads of kids are still languishing at the bottom of the chart, the teacher clocks this and is prompted to pick up on some positive behaviours and draw attention to them before home time.

Simon Currigan  5:32  

Yeah, but isn't the truth of these systems that some kids just get stuck at the bottom of the behaviour chart and they just never move, you know, they do something wrong, and the teacher asked them to go and move their name down on the chart. And then they have to go and do the walk of shame across the classroom, as all the other kids are watching you, watching you take your name from green down to yellow down to red isn't going to create resistance in the child, they're not going to see it as a positive thing they're gonna see as a shaming thing. And also another issue is when your name is constantly at the bottom, that becomes your label, you might be like, you know, Darren, who's always on red, and that label that being on the red on the traffic light, or the sad face, whatever you're using in the classroom, that becomes a label a self fulfilling prophecy. Darren's now been labelled as the boy who's always on red, always on the sad cloud, and then it's going to start engaging in behaviours that live up to that label.

Emma Shackleton  6:28  

Okay, then. But by saying that, aren't you actually saying that just because of Darren, or a few small number of individuals, all of the buzz and the excitement about moving up should be taken away from the rest of the class, then? How do we get that balance between meeting the needs of the many and the needs of the few? That's kind of the million dollar question, isn't it? It is. So behaviour charts are also really simple for staff to implement. So this is another case for for and a good reason to use them. Teachers can use them to give instant feedback. And we know that short feedback loops are really important for changing behaviour. So children need instant and immediate recognition when they've done something good. So that they link the thing that they did the behaviour that they did well, with that good feeling of being rewarded being recognised. The trouble when we get over complicated systems, is that staff go off at a tangent, they end up doing their own thing, and you actually lose consistency. So even though it might say in your school behaviour policy, that we all use a particular system in every class, where teachers find those systems too complicated, actually, they're going to not use them after a while, and they're probably just going to invent their own thing and go off on their own track. And we know that it's really important to get consistency across classes, and through the school.

Simon Currigan  7:52  

Okay, I'll give you that they are really simple for staff to implement. It's a carrot and a stick. Hopefully, nowadays, it's not an actual stick around because of Healthy Schools, you know, it probably is going to be a carrot. But isn't this solution, better trained adults, adults who are better asking questions and being curious about what's causing the behaviour of the child is finding it difficult? What's underlying, you know, what's really driving the difficulties with behaviour they have in class? Are they asking you that classic Toyota five, why's? You know, they're seeing the behaviour in class, the child shouting out? So what do we do, instead of just admonishing them or moving them down the chart, what we need to be doing is if it's a consistent problem, we need to be training adults to say, why are they seeing that behaviour? The child's putting up their hand because they have a need for attention Right? Okay, so why do they have a need for attention? Maybe they don't have enough attention at home? Maybe they're insecurely attached to their caregiver, we keep asking why and why and why until we get to the deeper underlying cause, and suddenly addressing that deeper underlying cause or identifying a skills gap or an unmet need, that we really ever get to the bottom of the behaviour and do something practical about it. And also, when you think about moving a picture from a sunshine to a cloud, or from the happy side of the board to the sad side of the board, and then that results in a consequence, like you know, staying in a play for five minutes or something like that. These are artificial consequences. being kept in a play logically has nothing to do with the original offence, which might have been consistently shouting out through the lesson or being disruptive or how it is being kept in at playtime related in any way to the offence? Does the punishment fit the crime to use the old record title? We're not using natural consequences and we know that when there is a meaningful link between the behaviour and the consequences, then kids are more likely to learn from their behaviour moving forwards,

Emma Shackleton  9:48  

okay, but in the case for, most children, for them, the threat of the consequence is effective. So you know, laws are there to keep the honest people honest, and they are effective in society for the majority of people. And we know that if you remove those rules and reminders, it actually harms whole class management. So it affects how we keep the majority of the children on track the majority of the time.

Simon Currigan  10:17  

Ok so I'm not advocating removing consequences, removing the rules completely. What I'm talking about is using meaningful consequences, consequences that are a natural outcome of the behaviour that you're engaged with. I'm not advocating a free for all at all. And I think it's all about how we present this and teach appropriate behaviours to kids, and give them reminders of expectations, but also dig down into the underlying problem and help them understand the impact of their actions on their peers in the classroom and the adults in the classroom. Because most kids do care about the impact on their actions on other people. They might just be in a to heightened state to take account of that, or might not know the socially appropriate way of engaging in class.

Emma Shackleton  11:00  

Yeah, agreed. But we also have to remember one of the biggest things that children and parents complain about is the lack of recognition for kids who consistently behave well. So they feel overlooked when they behave well. So if all of the focus is on those children who can't do it, what about all the children who are coming to school and making good decisions every day? What about those children who like being moved on to the sunshine or onto the smiley face, because they know then that they're getting noticed, and the adults are spotting them when they are trying hard to follow rules and routines.

Simon Currigan  11:35  

I'd just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our inner circle programme. The inner circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos resources on behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety, support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole class, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions, step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an inner circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of inner circle but just one pound, get the behaviour answers in, you've been looking forward today with inner circle, visit And click on the inner circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

Okay, here's another case against and this is a big one, public shaming. And want you to imagine as an adult, you're at work, would you want to be publicly shamed by your boss in the middle of the staff room? Would you let your head teacher or your line manager you know, to suddenly stand up in front of everyone and say to you, Emma,  Simon, whatever your name is, your reports were late, I want you to walk across the room and take a little picture of your face or name and move it from the you know, the privileged happy side of the board. To the sad side of the board, we would feel crushing embarrassment as adults. And that's where the survey comes in. At the start of the programme. It's all about things that people have done that made them feel embarrassed. But actually, as adults in the classroom, we need to think about does public shaming help our kids learn from their behaviour? Or do they just become more entrenched and batten down the hatches and stopping engaging in reward charts because they feel that they're not for them, that they're excluded from them? And that everyone is looking at them? Interactive systems, you know, things like ClassDojo even alert everyone else, that someone's being shamed in class with sound effects and animations. It's almost like getting a big whaa whaa, you know, like on a game show when you get a question wrong. And we really need to be thinking about is using public shaming, effective at changing the behaviour of children. And I think the experience of the last 20, 30, 40 years it isn't.

Emma Shackleton  14:15  

I would agree, actually. And we do always talk about giving praise in public and criticising in private. So I think we have moved a long way in our education systems. So maybe it's actually more about how the charts are used. Perhaps we should give positive reinforcement, but remove the negative elements and use private feedback when we're dealing with the negative so we can have the chart for moving up and for recognising the good stuff. But actually we don't move children down and instead we use relationships and conversations to deal with negative behaviour. What about that?

Simon Currigan  14:52  

I completely agree that's the way to tackle negative behaviour. But then you still have the problem of that big class display chart. have the same names and faces stuck at the bottom of a board. So imagine I saw one once in a classroom that was like a racetrack where children moved around squares on a racetrack. Poor old Darren will still be on the starting line while the other kids are lapping him over and over every day. So it's still very public and obvious which kids are facing it and which kids are struggling to meet the behaviour expectations in class. 

Emma Shackleton  15:23  

But teachers do have the option, of course of using individual charts to support individual children. And these can be really motivating and effective when they're used in the same way, but it's done more privately. So rather than that public display, it can be helpful to have an individual race track for a particular child with a really clear target, and really clear, taught behaviours. So the children know what they need to do to move along that track. And then we're setting the children up to be successful, that can be really helpful. But I get what you're saying. It's not then on public view, where everyone can see who's crushing it. And who's really struggling.

Simon Currigan  16:04  

I want to talk about now, the issue around behaviour tracks in particularly, these are behaviour Charts, where if you do something wrong, you get moved down the chart. And then if you do something positive, you get moved back up the chart, and this sends the message moving up and down, sends the message right that a good action cancels out a bad one. And that's just not how the world works. If you do some harm, you have to repair the harm. But it kind of says message. Imagine a situation where if I went out now and I assaulted someone in the street, you know, did something awful and robbed their money. But then when I went to court, the judge said, you know, you've done this terrible thing, do you own up to it? Yes, I assaulted this person, it was a bad thing. But if I then said, you know, I've donated 1000 pounds to charity, the judge doesn't go, Well, you know, those two actions cancel each other out, everything's fine. You know, there are consequences for bad actions. And we have to repair the harm. But it's not like a tit for tat thing. You see this in class, you'll see some kids, you know, engage in some really difficult, disruptive, challenging behaviour for 15 minutes, they get moved down the chart, but then they feel like, well, if I do a couple of good things, at the end, in the last five minutes, I get moved back up, and everything's reset, everything's good. And that's just not how life works. It gives a false representation of the day.

Emma Shackleton  17:17  

Okay, but one way that is useful to use a behaviour track type system is to help those children who sometimes feel like when they've made a mistake, then the rest of the days are right off. So maybe children with quite fixed thinking traits, perhaps children with autism, sometimes they might get told off, or they do something wrong at quarter past nine. And the rest of the day feels like a write off because they don't recognise that actually, they can put things right and they can move on, and they can earn rewards in the rest of the day. So sometimes a chart type system, particularly an individual chart, broken down into chunks can be a really great way of helping children to understand, okay, that behaviour happened, or that lesson was a bit of a disaster. But you've always got the chance to turn it round, we can put it right, we can start afresh. And using charts that are actually chunked into sections. Maybe lesson by lesson, for example, is a great way of giving multiple opportunities for a fresh start throughout the day. And that can help those children who feel like the days written off when they've made their first mistake. So what we're saying is, yes, there was a mistake, yes, something happened or something went wrong. Let's think about how we can put it right, let's start afresh, let's move forward with the rest of the day, we're giving children the power to turn their day around, they don't just need to be a victim of their mistakes.

Simon Currigan  18:47  

I think for negative behaviour, what we really have to ask here is, is the child in control of their behaviour? Look, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? Are they making behaviour choices? In which case rewards and consequences are the way forward. Go for it, but if there's something more if there's something underlying if the behaviour to some extent is out of their control, is it fair to approach their behaviour in this way, if they're experiencing high stress or high anxiety, they're being pushed towards fight or flight? They've stopped using that logical part of their brain. They're firing on emotion and automatic behaviours. Is it fair to approach that kind of behaviour in the same way as someone who is making you know, cold calculated decisions about their behaviour or maybe pushing social boundaries to see what's acceptable in class? So, you know, take someone who's swearing with Tourette's or in attentiveness in a child with ADHD, if that's how they're physically wired, we need to address the behaviour with support strategies. We shouldn't be punishing kids for behaviours that are physically beyond their control, and even kids with underlying conditions bring a mix. I do appreciate that. So we have to be using our professional judgement to think about is the behaviour we're seeing in class driven by underlying need? or is the child making choices at the moment? and react appropriately.

Emma Shackleton  20:05  

I guess that's it really, when we're thinking about using reward systems in class, the real answer isn't clear cut, it's not a definitely never do or a definitely do do. It's a lot more complicated than that. I think in line with your school policy and expectations, you've got to do what works with your kids. But just be mindful that public classroom behaviour charts can be damaging, and it's probably time we moved away from them. And towards more restorative conversations and practice, where we're actually helping children to understand and learn about the impact of their behaviours on others. So we're moving away from simply ticking the good stuff and crossing the bad stuff. We're moving into deeper conversations with children, where they actually understand that everything that they do has that ripple effect, everything that they say everything that they do has some sort of impact. And that's helping children to learn to take responsibility for their behaviours. And to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again, what we don't want, as we've said already, is the one or two children in the class always failing, always struggling in this system. Because don't forget, for lots of children, it's easy. They can come to school every day. And they're perfectly able and perfectly capable of listening, following instructions, toeing the line, and good for them. They do deserve recognition for that, because after all, they are making positive choices. But for some children, it's going to be harder. So there will be children who have behavioural needs in your class. They're not all at the same starting point, just like they're not at the same starting point with literacy and numeracy. Everyone's not in the same starting point for behaviour too. So we've got to make sure that our system isn't just penalising those children who find it harder to listen to follow instructions to comply, we've got to make sure that we're fitting the needs of the class in front of us,

Simon Currigan  22:07  

I think when it comes down to the problem of negative behaviour here, it's not a reward chart that will change their behaviour. It's a conversation that will. A coaching conversation, lots of parents complain, they use timeout areas and naughty steps and that kind of thing. And some parents tear their hair out and say, you know, that system just doesn't work. And I think it's because they don't realise that the timeout by itself does nothing. The sitting on the naughty step by itself does nothing, being kept in at play time does nothing. It's that conversation about what went wrong, what should have happened and what to do in future that helps our kids cause correct, and engage in more appropriate and constructive behaviour in the future.

Emma Shackleton  22:47  

So what we're saying is we've got to be careful not to publicly shame or label children, because then the bad behaviour becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It's like the old saying, give a dog a bad name, and it sticks. You know, some children are really searching for their identity within the class. And some children quickly realise that they get lots of attention if they're the class clown, for example. So what we want to do is make sure that none of the children in the class accidentally become the class scapegoat. So those are the children who are blamed for everything that goes wrong. And often, that's because the other children have seen and heard that child's name in a negative context, all too often. So the children start to believe that everything that goes wrong in class must be Darren's fault, or whatever that child is called. So we've got to be really careful about that. Sometimes those children get blamed for things even when they're away. And that's a real indicator that the reputation of that child within the class or within the school is really preceding them. So we need to move away from that we need to make sure that we're not labelling children because they will live up to that label.

Simon Currigan  23:59  

Knowing about how to use reward systems effectively is just one part of classroom management, how you manage the behaviour of the whole class. If you want to see how it fits in alongside your routines, your environment and other factors, we've got a free download that you might find useful, called the classroom management score sheet. In fact, the score sheet gives you 37 individual factors that all have an impact on classroom behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  24:22  

So if you want to know what they are, grab a free copy of the score sheet today by going to  clicking on the free resources option in the menu, and you'll find that near the top of the page, it's a completely free download that you can get instant access to. We'll also drop a link in the episode description. 

Next week Simon will be talking to the author Rebecca Brooks, who is an expert on how early trauma can affect children's behaviour. And she's going to explain how trauma informed practice can have a real impact on how children engage, behave and cope with the demands of the classroom

Simon Currigan  25:01  

To make sure you catch that interview, open your podcast app now, click the subscribe button or the Follow button as it's now called in Apple podcasts, and your podcast app will automatically download every single episode for you so you never miss a thing. And to celebrate your tech know how, why not carve out the underside of a raisin and float it on a puddle creating a pint sized boat crossing for ants who live nearby. As they won't have to walk around the puddle to get to work. This will cut their commute in half, truly sharing the joy you feel in your heart. 

Emma Shackleton  25:09  

And remember, if you've got a colleague or friend who you think would find the content from today's episode useful, then don't keep it to yourself. Use the Share button in your podcast app to let friends or colleagues know about this episode. So the classes and students they work with can also benefit. That's all we've got time for today. Thank you for listening to this episode of school behaviour secrets, and we'll see you next time. Bye now. 

Simon Currigan  25:57  

Take care

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)