Behavior Charts: What’s the Point?

I want to first disclose the fact that I am a high school teacher and mom of a (relatively) well-behaved first grader. With that said, I fully support all of my child’s teachers as I realize (from personal experience) that it is one of the toughest jobs out there. 

Since the beginning of time (or at least since I’ve been in grade school) there have been behavior charts. They can be color-coded, have smiley faces or other cute themes, but the premise is the same–every child’s name or number is posted on the chart and moves up and down the chart throughout the day.

Honestly, I’ve never really thought about behavior charts until my child entered kindergarten. His first day of school he announced he was going to be on “Outstanding” or “Off the Chart” every day! I thought to myself Good luck, buddy. He lasted a week. Does that mean he wasn’t good every day? Well, no.

The way the behavior chart works is every kid starts in the middle. As they make good decisions, they move up. If they make bad choices, they move down. At the end of the day the teacher reports which color the child ended up on.

While I understand the idea is to promote good behavior and reduce bad choices in the classroom through accountability, I have a few issues with this system.

The Behavior Chart Gives No Indication of What My Child’s Day Looked Like

How many times did he move up or down? Or did he only move down once? Or move up twice then down twice? I have no clue if he made one bad choice at the end of the day or if he made several then compensated with enough good choices to move up. I just end up with the color at the end.

You might think “Who cares what color it ends up with?” which I did, too. Until he started coming home with a string of “unacceptable” colors.

“Good Choices” and “Bad Choices” are Unclear

Most days he comes home with a report that he was in the middle–exactly where he started. Did he clip up or down at all? Most days he says No. So, he made ZERO choices the entire day? He just…sat there? I’ve asked him what he needs to do to clip up, and he says he has no clue, just that it’s impossible. If ‘not listening to directions’ gets a clip down, wouldn’t ‘listening to directions’ get a clip up? Not necessarily.

Some of the reasons why he clips down don’t always make sense either. Yes, I get that it’s easy for me to deem something “not a big deal” when I’m not in the classroom with 20+ elementary school students, but sometimes I’m left scratching my head at the notes that come home. Yes, I reinforce that he needs to listen to his teacher and that what she says is law in the classroom. But, do you ever feel like sometimes things are blown a bit out of proportion?

The Behavior Chart Can Be Crushing

The first few times he came home with a bad note, he was a wreck. Full of tears, he tried to make sense of why he clipped down. Sometimes the teacher would leave a note to explain, but other times I’d have to send an email to find out what happened.

I realize this makes me sound like “That Parent” whose “Precious Angel Doesn’t Do Anything Wrong” but to see your child fall to pieces, hours later, because they clipped down on the behavior chart is a terrible feeling.

Does it Really Manage Behavior?

Or, does it just track it? Think about every decision you make at work or even at home. Can you imagine having someone tell you to move your name on a publicly posted chart for every mistake you made? Imagine if you knew that everyone else knew if you had a string of bad days because it was posted in front of everyone. How would you feel walking into that room? Anxious? Defeated? Defensive? That behavior chart immediately establishes that students are going to make mistakes and it’ll be there to showcase it.

Here’s a Solution

If there’s a behavior issue, address it with the student one-on-one. Talk to him/her about what’s appropriate and what isn’t. If it’s something serious, send a note home. If it was easily addressed, let that child move on with his/her day without feeling like that mistake is hanging overhead. I do it with my students (all 115 of them) and I find having a talk with them does more good than publicly berating them.

At the end of the day, all I want is for my kid to feel like he’s a good kid without the pressure or uncertainty of a behavior chart.

Jaime Mackey
Originally from Florida, Jaime has lived in Southern Louisiana for most of her life (so, that makes her a local, right?). She currently resides on the Northshore with her husband and son and teaches high school English. An enneagram 5, you'll most likely find her doing hot yoga solo, on her phone researching a random topic or sitting in the comfort of her home with coffee and a book within an arm's reach.


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