Should You Use a Behavior Chart?

If you look around the internet, you’ll find vast & varied opinions on classroom behavior charts. From “they’re evil” to “they’re the best thing in the world” and everything in between.

A few articles (like this one) discuss how teachers who used to use behavior charts decided to ditch them and are so glad they did.

So all this has me thinking, and I’m guessing it has some of you a little confused.

My goal today is to clear up a little bit of the confusion (and the guilty) surrounding this question. I don’t have time in this post to go into all the pros and cons of using a behavior chart, but I do want to hit a few highlights before offering what I think is a unique perspective on this whole thing.

Should you use a behavior chart in your classroom?

A few thoughts about behavior charts

  •  They can help keep your class under control. If you’re having trouble keeping your class in order, this can be a great tool. Students have a visual reminder that they need to change their behavior, and you have a plan in place & the confidence that you know how to work your plan. 
  • They are not the end-all be-all. Any teacher will tell you that behavior charts do not solve all classroom problems. That’s because all they can do is track behavior, not help kids confront the root issues. They’re a tool, but they’re not a perfect solution. 
  • They have their downsides. I don’t really buy into the whole “Johnny’s self-esteem is hurt by having to move his pin on red” thing. And I believe the whole “public humiliation” argument is blown a bit out of proportion. But these charts really can cause some serious stress for kids – or make them feel frustrated or defeated. This post gives a pretty funny/sad scenario of how we as teachers would feel if we were rewarded/punished by this type of system. It’s thought-provoking. (Although we should keep in mind that what’s appropriate for a child & what’s appropriate for an adult will clearly be very different.)

So maybe behavior charts aren’t the best solution after all. They don’t really help us build relationships or reach the students’ hearts. Should we just ditch them altogether?

Should we just ditch them altogether?

My answer…..It depends.

I know, not much of an answer….I’m trying to get there….But first two important truths.

Truth #1: You can’t build strong relationships with your students if your class is out of control.

The most effective teachers have strong relationships with their students – there’s no doubt about it. But if your class is out of control, you’re going to have a hard time building those relationships – not to mention you’re going to feel like pulling your hair out every day.

New teachers especially tend to get themselves in trouble by trying to get their students to like them before they establish any authority. It sounds good in theory but it doesn’t work well in reality.

In order to have strong relationships with your students, you have to first be able to control & manage your class.

Truth #2: Teaching is a Journey.  

What I mean is that the teacher you will be in 5 years is not the same teacher you are now. And that’s okay. From my point of view, it would be an excellent goal to one day have a classroom that runs efficiently without a behavior chart.

But I have to tell you, most first-year teachers are going to have a seriously hard time managing their classroom without some type of formally structured behavior plan. There are just too many nuances and they don’t have enough confidence.

Take me, for example – when I started teaching I was really nervous about dealing with discipline problems. So I didn’t deal with them, and before long my students were running the show. I was not effective. How could I be? A structured behavior plan (including writing names on the board – I explain it here) pretty much saved me. It was definitely the right call.

A few years later, however, such a formal system wasn’t as important. I used it the first few weeks of school and then pretty much phased it out for most of my classes. Why the change? Because I had the experience & was confident that I could deal with whatever happened. My students could see I was on top of things and responded much better.

So my point is that whether or not you should use a behavior chart might depend on where you are in your teaching journey.

Whether or not you should use a behavior chart might depend on where you are in your teaching journey.

If you’re a brand new teacher just starting out (or if you’ve been struggling with classroom management), this tool might be just what you need to start the year off right. Pair it with compassion, in-depth conversations, and a focus on building strong relationships, and you’ll likely be good to go. In a few years you can reevaluate and see if you still need it.

If you’ve been using a behavior chart for years and years, maybe it’s time to take a second look. Maybe the experience, confidence, and wisdom you’ve gained can be better put to use under a different system. Or maybe you should start the year with a behavior chart but phase it out after a month or two.

As you make your decision just keep in mind that it’s better to be an effective, behavior-chart-using teacher than an my-class-is-out-of-control, non-behavior-chart-using teacher. But if you can be MORE effective without one, maybe it’s time for a change.

So what do you think? Will you use a behavior chart this year? Those of you who have ditched them, can you please share what you do now instead?

And for those of you who are considering ditching, here’s a few posts I found that might help give you some ideas. (New teachers, can I once again please advise: proceed with extreme caution.)

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Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

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