Moving Past Behavior Charts

When I first arrived at the K-2 school where I now teach, 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 our 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'. 

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, this was on my desk.

There was also a sticky note from my principal explaining that it needed to be up and used. 

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 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.


  1. I love that story. I struggle with the same required posting of a chart. They actually consider it to be a prerequisite to getting effective marks for a "positive classroom environment"on our evaluation-believe it or not. I am going to try your method this year and probably feel much better about having to use it! :) Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Not Just Child's Play

    1. Miss Travers, I am a year behind in this revolution. Excited to chuck the chart! Tell me about your year. I teach k and this is scary and empowering all at the same time. No daily reports to parents? No jewels? I feel like this will be a huge step in self regulation I have been reading collaborative classroom material and have used Responsive Classroom stuff a little bit. I would love to hear how it worked in a K classroom. Have a great year.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been struggling with this also. I will put some thought into this and figure out how I will implement it this year. I love how you taught your children about self control and taking responsibility for their actions - much more important than offering a reward or giving a consequence. Maria

  3. You are "that" teacher! Hopefully you start a behaviour chart revolution in your school.

  4. This is a fantastic post! Turning a behavior chart into a bigger lesson on personal accountability and community. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I also love what you are doing. Have you ever read Stephen Covey's book, The Leader In Me? It's about using the 7 habits of highly effective people in the classroom...very powerful and timeless principles. You have done a great job teaching your students habit # 1: Be Proactive. I am going to use the 7 habits in my classroom this year and will hopefully have the success you had. Keep it up and you might want to investigate the other 6 habits.

  6. I was wondering what grade this was done with. I think it is terrific and I know it is a k-2 school, but I have a hard time seeing my brand new kindergartener's being able to do this. First grade sure, but I'm not sure about my K's.

  7. Wow! This is seriously great stuff. I don't use a behaviour chart either...but I love your "self-control" language. Very impressive, Kimberley.

  8. I love this, too. I hate charts and rewards and "bonus bucks" and punched teddy bears and all of the other inauthentic stuff we use to reward or punish kids. This was a great post and confirms what I am already doing in my own classroom.

  9. New teacher here. I am not a fan of behavior charts and these treasure boxes that kids get to choose from...I think it teaches them to behave for the wrong reasons. Can I ask you to share some of the ideas and activities you used with your kids on how to self check and be aware of those actions?

  10. Ditto...I wonder how this would work for Kindergarten. We have been in school a short time now and I would love to move past the clip chart because it is not working with my current group. It causes more trouble than help. :-/ We are in desperate need of a change.