Knowing Your Students As Individuals to Help Them Grow Forward

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Elisabeth Bostwick, author of “Take the LEAP; Ignite a Culture of Innovation,” recently shared this post on “behavior charts.” She opens her post with the following:

Early on in my career, I didn’t realize that spending an abundant amount of time creating behavior charts was unnecessary. I also didn’t realize that it was a waste of money to purchase all those marbles used to fill a jar when the class demonstrated “quality” behavior- to earn an award. And the pizza I bought as a result of when students all complied? Nope, that also wasn’t what affected how students chose to behave. Fifteen years ago, although I was completely missing the boat, I was simply doing what I knew to do. In fact, I had learned about “classroom management” and all different strategies to “manage” a class. Like most educators, I had the best intentions.

Little did I know at the time that what I was doing was counterproductive. Fortunately, I realized a different or better way to help learners make positive choices. In fact, much of what I now know was influenced as I watched both of my children go through the education system in combination with 15 years of classroom experience.

I encourage you to read the entire post, but I wanted to share this because it sparked two memories for me, early in my career with “behavior charts.”

I used to use a “sticker chart” in my first year of teaching, and here is how it worked. There was a space for a sticker for every day of the month, and if you had a good day, you got a sticker. If not, you got the dreaded “x” mark. At the end of the month, we had an afternoon party that you could attend if you had no more than 3 x’s.  This was a strategy I was taught in university as a good way of classroom management.

The first circumstance I remember was one student who did get into trouble quite often.  He would get a couple of “x’s” early every month, and then, the 3rd “x” was something I would hold onto for dear life because once he got that third, he knew that he wasn’t going to get to the party so who cares anymore.  I hated it, but I was told this was a good strategy.

The second circumstance was a student who was amazingly kind and supportive of everyone having a bad day or moment, and losing their only sticker for the year.  It was devastating, and being honest, I feel like it was something that stuck with her way past that day.

Both of these examples are terrible reflections of my early years of teaching, but anyone reading this involved in education could go back and share stories of things they would do differently today.  About six months into the year, I ditched the charts and focused more on relationships and figuring out the root of the problem with each student as an individual.  When I look back, the “sticker chart” almost ensured that I wouldn’t take the time to build relationships because it was a type of “carrot and stick” reinforcement of compliance in my classroom where knowing my students and recognizing their strengths and what brought out the best in them was not necessary.

From Dan Pink in his book “Drive”:

…carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.Mechanisms designed to increase motivation can dampen it. Tactics aimed at boosting creativity can reduce it. Programs to promote good deeds can make them disappear.

It is not fair to summarize all “classroom management” strategies as being the same and label them as techniques focused solely on enforcing compliance. Yet, the way I used this strategy was focused more on bringing “order” to my classroom but not necessarily learning.  I know better today.

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