About Me

I am a single mom of three amazing boys!  All three of my sons entered my family through adoption.  All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Behavior plans

I have given this post a lot of thought, and my goal for writing this post is for someone to tell me where my thoughts are faulty.

In today's schools some of the following are the behavior management plans that I am aware of:
1.  The red, yellow, green system- you move your name down or to a different color for bad behavior
2.  the marble jar- you put a marble in a jar for good behavior, teacher takes one out for bad choices or not bringing in homework
3.  name on the blackboard
4.  loss of recess time for misbehavior

I am sure that there are ever so many more systems like these, but what they all tend to have in common is shaming of our children.  Imagine if you were at a conference with your best friends, and while the speaker was speaking you were talking.  Sure you were whispering, but the speaker had asked for quiet and you had that one more thing to say, so you say it.  Since the speaker heard you, he calls you to the front of the room to puts your name on "yellow".  How will this impact you among your colleagues?  What do you feel as you are being called to move your tag to yellow?  How does your boss treat you later in the day as he sees you are on yellow?  What do your friends say?

As an early childhood educator, I would never allow this sort of system to be used in one of my classrooms.  First and foremost, behavior has a meaning and a reason.  That is not to say that it is all permmissable, but it is to say that there is likely no reason to shame a child for misbehavior.  Determine the problem, solve the problem, the behavior changes.  Move a card to yellow, shame a child, and many children will now just be angry and embarrassed and have learned to simply be more sneaky.

These systems are essentially the new wave version of the Dunce cap.  If you walk into any given classroom 100 times, my guess is the same group of children will be on yellow and red, and many of the same will be on green.  Do you think that as other teachers walk in and out they don't notice those on yellow?  That those children are not seen as the children to "avoid" getting in your class next year?  Who wants a classroom full of "red and yellow" children?

In the past, I ran summer camps for hundreds and hundreds of children.  When I needed a group of kids to do something, often 200-240 kids, all I had to say was I was giving out points for the group that did whatever.  Every group would race to do what I asked.  The kids would encourage each other, the staff would get excited, and in the end all of the kids were doing as I asked.  There was no public shaming. There was no calling out for those who didn't do it.  There were instead high 5's, cheering, name recognition of the kids or groups that acted first.  All positive behavior management techniques.

Now you may be asking, well what did the kids "earn" with those points.  They earned NOTHING.  Let me say that again.  The kids earned nothing tangible at all.  They got high 5's.  They got their group name cheered for.  They got my smile, they got my respect and they got to move on to whatever was next.  It didn't matter if I offered 10, 100 or a million points.  the campers would race to do as I asked just the same. And equally as important, no matter how many or how few points I offered, the result was the same, they got to feel good for doing as an adult requested.

What did this all build?  It built group unity.  It built group spirit.  It created a camp with a positive energy and encouraged children to respond to a large group direction. It built children who were reliant on the value of feeling good about their actions for the sake of doing the right thing, rather than kids who do the right thing for an ice cream party, or a PJ party or some other extrinsic reward.

Probably one of the most exhausting jobs one can have is that of being a teacher.  You have so many little people each with their own wants and needs, and for each child the wants and needs are immediate or at least feel immediate.  Certainly, as the Director of a program, who still teaches at times, but is not spending my day in the classroom, I understand that being in the classroom itself is where the exhausting work is done.  This is where you have to balance needs of little people, and this is where having a system for behavior management makes sense.  Children need structure, and consistency and rules for guidance.  My thought though is that these rules and structure need to be individualized and private.  I see almost no value in public cheering for success, when there is the chance that another child is not having the same potential for success. It has to be more important to ensure that each child's self esteem is protected, than it is to try to motivate children at the risk of publicly humiliating others.

In one of the boys schools, there is Math Madness in March.  As you reach the goal for your age group, you get to sign the Math board in the hallway and have your picture taken.  That is great.  However, for 4th grade the goal is multplication, addition, subtraction and division of all numbers up to 12.  Since David still can't add 1+3 consistently, my guess is he will never make the math board.  For David, this will likely not be a crisis.  However, now think about the typically developing child who is just not catching on to division.  He watches as his friends get their picture posted week 1, and he doesn't get to.  He works extra hard, but on week 2 he still doesn't make it. On week 3 he works even harder, but just misses it.  Does this child still have motivation to work hard by week 4?  Does it matter?  Now all of his friends, and his friends parents, and the whole school know which children know their math facts and which ones don't.  He has been publicly humiliated for a month, and yet still doesn't know his math facts.

Will math madness in April get him to learn them?  Should we give him until May?  Maybe he should work harder?  Maybe his parents should help him.  Maybe......maybe.....maybe.......but maybe there are 100 reasons he doesn't know them......no matter how hard he works, he is struggling.......isn't the struggle enough of a consequence? does he really need everyone to know that he hasn't mastered this task?

In one class this year there is a Bravo board where the children put their initials up because they have done good things....so far I am ok with this.  But then, there is a tag with numbers on it that signify the amount of time that children get for "reward time" when the board is filled.  So basically, if a child doesn't bring in homework or makes a poor decision, the child takes  a minute away from everyone else's reward time.

Using this logic, if Matthew misbehaves, as a parent I should send David and Jacob to bed early as a consequence to Matthew.  Similarly, if we go to the movies, because "everyone has earned a treat", we should leave before the end because of all of the days leading up to the movie when David didn't put his clothes away, Matthew yelled at me, or Jacob refused to do homework.

How stupid does that sound?  Would that really be enough for Jacob do to his homework when I ask?  The threat of losing minutes of a movie?  Would it have stopped Matthew from yelling?  The threat of losing minutes of a fictitious future movie?

Sounds kind of strange when I "implement" this plan at home.  So what is the logic at school?  From what I heard it is for team building, friendship making, and encouraging the children to encourage each other to make good choices.  I don't know about you, but if my time off was tied to me coworker who is always messing up, I wouldn't be too happy, and I wouldn't really feel like encouraging her to do better.  Instead, I would work to get her fired so she could stop messing up my earned time off.

I know that there are other thoughts about all of this, and I welcome people to share them.  So far, I am just frustrated about the fact that public shaming, and group discipline is the best that I am seeing in a world when we have come so far from the dunce cap.  If you change the color of the dunce cap, it is still just that, still just a dunce cap.


  1. Awesome post as usual Amie... I have been thinking a lot lately about the reward/punishment situation. While some of it seems like a necessary evil; it certainly seems to encourage a herd/pack mentality and a desperate urge to blend in from a very young age. THAT is really scary!

  2. Makes sense to me Amie. Nice post. Sending my best to you and your boys.