Tag Archives: behaviour management

The Sticker Chart

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Abigail Batchelder

In my first year teaching, I remember having one of the BEST ideas (in my head).

What I was going to do with the kids was really encourage them to be “good” in the classroom, and I was going to reward them by having a “sticker chart” in the classroom.  Everyday that they went through my class without incident or behavioural issues, they would get a sticker, but if they did something bad, the sticker would be replaced with an “x”.  If they lost three stickers at the end of the month, they would miss out on the class party where we would bring junk food in and watch movies.

As I write this, I can’t believe I used to do that.

This came up during the week at ISTE where we were talking about a behavioural management app that basically is the “sticker chart” on your phone.  It allows you to do things like anecdotal records, but there are many elements that are essentially the same.

Here are a few things that I remember from this practice.

Some of my students (grade 4) would have a tough time making it through the month and at some point, that third sticker was gone and they were crushed.  It led to more tears than improved behaviour.  In the way that I used to try and “manage” my students, if they lost those three stickers in that first week, I was going to have a really long month with that student.  Why be good?  The reward was no longer attainable.  It kind of reminds me of when sports teams know they won’t make the playoffs, so they just kind of pack it in for the season.

Even when a student was acting up, all I had to do was point to the chart (why talk to them when I can solve the problem by pointing to a chart!).  I would remember making side deals with students to do anything for them to NOT lose that third sticker, so if they only were a bit of a problem, that sticker would stay.  The problem was, the students that were acting up (but only a bit), were now held to a different standard than other kids.  If the kids that were always good had one slip up, they could lose that sticker and they would be devastated.  They would still make the party, but it was the black mark on the record.  I remember students crying profusely from this happening once.  Looking back, I am ashamed that was the way I dealt with students.

I really believe that we don’t turn a blind eye when we have incidents in the classroom, but there are much better ways of working with students to understand there are consequences for their actions than making it a totally external reward/punishment that is visible to others.  Obviously we all grow as educators and I would NEVER do anything like this again.  Talking with students and trying to understand what is going on in their lives, building relationships with them, helping them to solve their own issues as opposed to using the “carrot and stick” to correct behaviour, are much better ways in working with students as opposed to trying to control their behaviour with some external reward.  I may have been able to have an easier time that year because of the “sticker chart”, but I wonder long term, what they did to those students.

With the new technologies that promise to “award” students for improved behaviour, it is pretty easy to see that they are the new “sticker chart” but have some of the same consequences.  If I am using an external award system to manage the behaviour of the students, am I serving myself or the students?  I think there are much better ways to work with our students to help them be good people.

Lessons from Shaq

The fear of thunder

Shaq..waiting for the thunder to stop.

Spending the last few weeks in Adelaide, Australia and spending a great deal of my time on the road, I have struggled with missing my dogs.  I am lucky that I have a great friend who is making sure that they are taken care of and loved as I am gone, while also getting to stay in their house (they have been there more this year than I have!).

Often I have written about my dog Kobe, who had passed away a couple of years ago, and Odom, who is finally growing out of the puppy stage, but have said little about Shaq (yes, they are all named after people that played for the Lakers at one point).  I always wondered about why Shaq has had little face time in my online world, and I guess part of it is that she is extremely camera shy (she literally runs when you get a camera out sometimes) and has always been timid.  But as Shaq grows older and starts to move into the final stages of her life (she is 13), I have missed her more than ever on this trip.

You see, Shaq was not really what I ever wanted in a dog when I first got her.  She was extremely shy and as Odom and Kobe were extremely affectionate she was always somewhat despondent.  Rarely would she enjoy being petted and she was extremely weary of new guests.  She is all bark, with maybe a touch of bite (if you try to cut her nails) and has stressed me out on several occasions.  As Odom and Kobe would often want to sleep on the bed, Shaq would often sleep beside and just want her own space.

I struggled with this for many years, but I just kept giving her love, giving her love, and giving her love.

As she got older though, I always appreciated that although she would not sleep in the bed, she was always near by. Always.  If I was in my office, she was in the office at my feet.  If I was in the kitchen, she sat close.  When I would watch TV, she would be sitting on the couch beside me (yeah, they have the run of the house).  Once in awhile though, while I was sleeping, Shaq would sneak on the bed and lay close.  Although it was always on her terms, she was always there. As I said, she was sometimes tough, but I just kept giving her love and her presence in the room was aways amazing.

Always close…but not too close.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

I truly believe that you can learn a lot from animals, and if you let them, they can make you better people, so as I thought about Shaq and how much I miss her, one student popped up in my head over and over again.  For the sake of the story, I will call him Sam.

Sam came to my school when I was principal and I knew that he had a special heart but struggled as well.  I had known that he had some issues with his temper and often would get into trouble.  At one moment he was the kindest boy ever, and in the next, he would be yelling and swearing.  Too often we focus on the second part, yet I always try to find the positive in every kid and knew that if you kept working with Sam, he could be a good kid.

One time Sam was extremely upset in a school assembly and for the safety of others, he was sent to my office.  He came in and he was extremely escalated and was swearing a great deal.  10 years ago I would have yelled at him as he escalated as I didn’t know what to do but I have learned that is about as effective as yelling at a class when you need them to be quiet.  I wanted to model the behaviour that I would expect out of Sam so I calmly said, “when you are ready to tell me why you are upset, I will be ready to listen.”  He kept swearing and I sat there doing work on my computer.  I just kept telling him that I was going to wait for him to calm down but I wanted him to stay in the office with me.  Again, 10 years ago, I would have asked him to leave, but I have learned that often times with kids like Sam that when you actually cut off that physical proximity, you teach them that when times are tough, you will easily abandon them.  Now I just wait and make sure that we are in the same room.

Shaq taught me this that even when it seems tough, keep giving love, keep giving love, keep giving love.

So as Sam calmed down, he talked about what was upsetting him and also talked about how he was sorry about the language that he used.  I told him how much I appreciated everything that he had said and he had done some work with the custodian and myself so that he could help around the school.  This was not the last time Sam had one of these temper tantrums, but he got better and better over time and I felt that he knew that I wouldn’t ditch him when times were tough.  When I moved onto a different position and left the school, I promised Sam that I would come back and check in on him and I smile every time I see him still.  In a farewell, Sam said, “Every time I get in trouble, I will think of Mr. Couros.”  His wording made me laugh but I knew exactly what he meant and was glad that he knew that I had cared for him.

The reason that I think of Sam when I think of Shaq is because no matter how tough they seem to be, they are always there.  Shaq is always in the room near by, while Sam was the first kid to school every day and one of the last ones to leave.  This was a happy place for him and the proximity for both was something that they each craved.  We often overlook the fact some of the kids we struggle with as teachers and show up every single day, are the kids that need us the most.  Anyone can teach the well-behaved kids; the ones that we struggle with are the ones that make a great teacher.  Sam pushed me to get better and taught me to be patient, calm, and caring when it was sometimes hard to do so.  People show their true worth when times are tough, yet when we go through those things together with someone, we come out with a much stronger relationship.

I still see Sam every now and then and he smiles and is excited to see me and I him.  He still gets in trouble now and then, but I know that he is in good hands and is cared for.  As he becomes a young adult, I am so proud of how much he has grown up and I will continue to watch him grow and develop.

After 13 years with Shaq, she is now crawling into bed and nestling right beside me every single night I am home.  It has taken a long time but I appreciate it a great deal because she taught me that if you keep giving love, eventually that love will be returned in spades.  Dogs have a funny way of making us better and teaching us to be kinder people to all those that we encounter.

As Shaq and I her deal with her cancer and she slowly goes into the night, I will always be thankful that she was and will always be close to my heart, no matter her physical distance.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros