When I first arrived at the K-2 school where I taught for several years, I learned it was a school-wide rule that everyone use one of those clothespin behavior charts. Several teachers and administrators asked me if I wanted them to make me one since it was obvious that I hadn’t put one up yet. At this school the rooms line up like a train car. The only way to get through the school is to walk through everyone’s room, so people noticed classroom decor or lack-there-of.

I politely declined.

Apparently many people thought I was going to make one later, so it was brought up again when I still didn’t have one after Open House. In fact, several children attending open house were also quick to point out that they couldn’t find my behavior chart. “You know Mrs Moran? Like we had in Kindergarten?” I told them that we would be talking about something called self-control. “Just wait,” I said, “you’ll love it!” The kids looked worried. This was the system they had all learned. This was the system that kept everyone in line.

When I arrived at school the first day students were to attend, a behavior chart was on my desk. It was very pretty with several animals at each level. Someone had even laminated it for me. There was also a sticky note from my principal explaining that it needed to be up and used.

So, I changed my tactic and flipped the concept around.

I introduced it to the kids by explaining that this was not a reward/punishment chart. It was a reminder chart. I showed them how I kept notes on how they read, what they loved, mini-lessons I wanted to teach. I explained that this behavior chart was a way for them to keep notes on how they were exhibiting self-control. We did lots of activities on what self-control means and how when we catch ourselves and get control over our behaviors, we can be proud.

I also told them that I wanted this class to be the one that did the right thing even when no one was watching.

In this way, I couldn’t be the one who moved clips because then you might forget to monitor yourself. You also couldn’t rely on other people to tell on you because they aren’t in control of you either. The kids began to use the clips after each activity. We would complete a lesson, gather on the rug and talk about what kind of self-control we might have needed to use during the past lesson. Kids were invited to put their clips where they felt they should go…no judgment, just a simple reminder to work harder at self-control or keep doing what you are doing.

They LOVED it.

They were so surprised that the grownup wasn’t going to be moving the clips.

They HATED it.

They couldn’t believe that the grownup wasn’t going to keep the ‘bad’ boys and girls in check.

I smiled and kept insisting that my goal for everyone was a class who did the right thing even when no one was watching.

As the clip system became less of a focus because it wasn’t about me in control, it started to run in the background. Some kids loved their clips and some kids forgot about them. When the principal came in, she saw the clip chart and smiled. The kids were in order and peaceful, “that chart system must be working!” I invited her to ask the kids how they use the chart. Their conversations astounded her. Here were kids who discussed how they self-monitored, how the kids not the teacher were in charge of their own clips, and how they loved to show their self-control. She shared her experience with the guidance counselor.

By then we had moved to quick thumb check ins. At the end of each mini-lesson kids showed thumbs up, to the side, or down to share how well they exhibited self-control. The behavior chart began to gather dust.

Then one day, the guidance counselor came to see me to ask if she could share a story about my class. She talked about one of my students who had a great deal of impulse control issues. He had been arguing with another student at recess and eventually slugged the other kid. When the recess monitors were figuring out the situation, the boy said somewhat hysterically “I didn’t do a self-check. I wish I’d just checked in with myself before I hit him. It’s my fault. I am responsible for what I do and say.” She wanted me to know that she had never witnessed a child so aware of what had occurred and ready to take responsibility. She felt my self-control method was working.

Other teachers began to ask me about what I was doing. I invited them to come in and talk to the kids about how it worked. They invited some of my kids to come in and share the process with some of their kids. The behavior chart went in the recycling bin.