MY PHILOSOPHY: Getting along so we can all have fun!
Successful behavior management in a classroom depends on the relationship the teacher has with students. The most important element is trust. Children trust an adult who treats them fairly and with warmth, who respects the needs of childhood, and who sets clear boundaries and sticks to those boundaries. It also depends on a certain amount of prevention. Young children need to move, to talk, and to play while they learn—they need to be allowed to be children. It also helps a great deal to give students choices throughout their day, both learning choices and behavior choices.
My first job in August is to be the warm and welcoming teacher young children need. Next, I must teach routines and encourage students to buy into a community of learners who care about one another. The first week or so of school, even the first hour, sets the tone for the year: “As your teacher, I have high expectations for us as a team, and we will have a great time together while we learn.” We brainstorm together what kind of classroom we want to have and the rules the children believe are important. I read picture books about friendship and rules (Have You Filled Your Bucket Today?, Chrysanthemum, Officer Buckle and Gloria, etc.) to them and build on this all year, but especially in the first few weeks. Beyond that, I use a variety of methods to encourage good behavior, which we hope becomes more intrinsic as the year progresses.
Early in the year, I award badges that give recognition to students who demonstrate qualities of character I want to encourage. Kindness, persistence, helpfulness, peacemaking, patience, and other such traits are highlighted and made much over when I spot them. This both rewards the student demonstrating the character trait and teaches the class what kind of behavior we value in our classroom. The students wear their badges proudly. Furthermore, anyone who can present a badge to me at lunch time gets to sit with a friend, because they have shown they are responsible and can handle a treat. As time goes on, the badges are no longer needed. Simply smiling and saying, “Wow, Katie, you really showed persistence when you finished that assignment,” makes her beam.
THE WEEKLY STORE and other tools
We “have store” on Fridays so that students can trade in their good behavior for a small toy to take home. The students love this! They earn (plastic) coins throughout the week by paying attention during group time, by turning in their take-home folders, by completing assignments, and by cleaning up. I also award nickles, dimes, and quarters when I notice excellent behavior that I want to highlight. I take money as fines when a child chooses to act rude, be disruptive, or disregards routines. The students keep their money cups at their tables, where I can reward behavior immediately. The “store” here is mostly empty now because I’m writing this in summer, before restocking it.
Our card chart has all student names, with a color card beside each name. Everyone starts with a green card, and if you keep your green card all day, you get a dime. Getting a blue card is a warning. An orange card means they walk for the first 5 minutes of recess. A red card means they walk for 10 minutes. Our recesses are 30 minutes long, so everyone always gets at least 20 minutes to play. This chart is primarily for monitoring group time behavior. I do not have a particularly quiet classroom, but I do require students to listen and speak respectfully during instructional time. Young students cannot sit quietly for long, so we break up the day into segments that spread out quiet times between active times.
I also have reward coupons which can be used in various ways. This picture only shows a few. I bought them from first grade teacher Mel. D. whose pompom reward program inspired my coins system. Teachers might want to check out her blog at
When teaching (or re-teaching) routines, I reward the entire class when they wow me with a beautifully-done routine such as cleaning up fast and carefully, for stopping and turning toward me at my signal, or lining up just so. I draw a little part of an animal on the board each time, and when it is complete (in about 5 parts), they get 5 minutes extra recess.
Another group reward is the warm fuzzy jar. Warm fuzzies are examples of kindness and thoughtfulness that make someone feel “warm and fuzzy”. When I see someone being extra kind, or when I see a group work cooperatively together to solve a problem, we put a pompom in our jar. When the jar is full of these “warm fuzzies”, we celebrate in some way. Usually they want to watch a Magic School Bus video during lunch. (Which is also educational for them, so it is a win all around!)
THE PLAYGROUND: Where everything happens
We have rules for safety on the playground, and I make it clear up front that every student gets to choose his or her level of freedom. Students who follow the safety rules and are reasonably kind to others get free run of the playground. Students who are not able to be safe and fun to be with (basic politeness) are choosing to limit themselves to other areas of the playground for a given time. I try to give immediate and natural consequences when possible. For instance if our line going out to recess is loud in the hallway or kids become unruly–oops!–we obviously need practice walking quietly, and we so go back and do it all over again, delaying recess until we get it right.
RELATIONSHIPS: The key to a happy classroom
We do a lot of talking about what a good friend looks like and how a good friend treats people. Building friendships and camaraderie makes school a happy place, and most of the time it is. But mistakes happen. There are always a few children who need to learn new habits. Bullying is unacceptable.
I teach my students how to apologize (and model it when I goof up!): state what you did wrong, say you are sorry and ask forgiveness, state a plan to do better, and make it up to the wronged party whenever possible. I have a little behavior sheet for children to fill out in the office when they are particularly unkind. If a child has been especially hurtful, he or has to give some or all his money from his money cup to the offended person as an attempt to make it up to them. I’m sympathetic when this happens, but I also praise them for doing the right thing (even under duress!) and making it right again. I offer comments like, “I feel so much better when I’ve made things right. I’m glad to see you know how to do that!” They don’t enjoy giving up their money, but it is a logical consequence to hurting another child intentionally, and the hurt child always feels a bit better. Seldom does the bullying continue.
Sometimes, when a child is frustrated, it helps to give him a little cool-down time in the loft, where he can be left alone long enough to calm down.
REGRESSION (it happens)
As any parent knows, young children regress under stress, seeming to go backwards in their behavior. I’ve asked parents, “Hey, so-and-so isn’t himself lately. I’m trying to think what could be affecting him at school. Anything different going on at home?” There often is, and understanding the situation helps me know how to deal with it. Often, under stress, a child simply needs more understanding and more TLC. Sometimes a child needs to cry.
One year we had a child move away suddenly without saying goodbye. Most students cried immediately and then were fine. One boy in particular showed little emotion, even though the missing child had been a good friend. But he acted out aggressively toward the other children. It was a problem for a couple of weeks. His mother and I puzzled over it together and decided it must be the lost friend that was bothering him. So the next day in class, we made a big list of all the things we missed about our friend, and then the children wrote letters to him. (We had made cards for him before, but not with the attention to our own feelings and longings.) After that, the aggressive child was just fine. It was like flipping a switch. I don’t think it was just the letter-writing. I think he also needed a certain amount of time, and then he was ready to close the chapter on his grief. I’m not sure. The point is that part of my job is to try to figure out what a child needs, not just manage his behavior.
GETTING WORK DONE
We have a 30-minute play time at the end of the day which we call Afternoon Centers. Blocks, Marbleworks, Legos, the sand table, housekeeping, art, the take-apart table (shown here), and other such activities are fun, but they also develop critical thinking, spatial reasoning, and social skills. If classwork for the day is finished, you get to play. If not, you will get a little teacher help. I try to avoid making this feel like a punishment, because sometimes I simply need to listen to a child read for a few minutes. My younger students especially need this play time, and I make sure to keep any teacher sessions short. Still, it is so nice to give a reluctant child the option: “You can do this now, or you can do it during afternoon centers. Your choice.” Usually they like to keep their play time free, so they do the work. I also use this time to load take-home folders and jot notes in my plan book.
A FINAL WORD: Learning is the best reward!
Having a classroom library is the best behavior plan ever! It makes transitions easy because while everyone is coming in from recess, going to the bathroom, and students are waiting to start class, they READ. (Looking at books counts as reading!) Or if they finish with lunch early and have 10 minutes until recess, they READ. In our class, we treat reading like a privilege, and I try to bring in new books regularly to keep the library fresh. Sometimes there are little groups of students reading to each other and sharing books spontaneously. (I promise this picture was not posed. We had been on a field trip and students were waiting for others still coming in.)
I believe that if students are excited about learning, half your work is done. Behavior management is all about creating a climate that is safe and supportive of all the fun things we do in class.