Behavior management can determine whether your classroom will run smoothly – or not! Though there are many different types of classroom management, as an educator, a fluid behavior system really sticks out to me. As always, not all systems work for all classrooms, or even from year to year. Here’s why a fluid behavior system might be a good idea – especially as we approach back to school 2020, a time when many children will likely struggle with behavior.
The Issues with the Traffic Light Behavior Management System
Most teachers (and parents!) are familiar with the traffic light behavior system where children are moved from green, to yellow, then eventually to red. My issue with this system is that once a student is on red, they’re basically done. I worked in a classroom one year as a substitute, and the teacher used this system. Don’t get me wrong – she was a great teacher, in fact, one of the best in the district. As a substitute, I followed what she had in place.
Each day, students would log what color they were on a calendar in their homework binder. Each night, parents would sign off that they saw the sheet. The students had to look at this calendar each night and be reminded of their negative behavior as long as that red mark was visible.
Depending on how much value students place on behavior charts, constantly seeing that one red mark can continue to upset them even if they’ve had green marks every day since then. It locks students into their negative behavior without giving them a chance to fix it. The other caveat was that if you were on red even once during the week, you did not get a prize from the prize box on Friday.
One Monday in particular, a specific student was having a hard day. Before lunch, he was on red. On Tuesday, he came into class acting particularly ornery and silly. Again, he was quickly on red. As I sent the other students off to lunch, I kept him behind to chat. I asked him if there was anything wrong and that I noticed his actions seemed unusual. He simply stated, “I am already on red, so why should I be good the rest of the week? I can’t get a prize anyway.” I hate to say it, but I wasn’t too surprised. That reaction was the main reason that I knew I didn’t like the traffic light system, nor did I ever use it in my classroom.
The Benefits of Using a Fluid Behavior Management System
With the traffic light system, a child who is on red doesn’t have the opportunity to focus on why their behavior is wrong and think of ways to improve it. Instead, they are focusing on the fact they are on red and any consequences associated with that, such as not getting a prize at the end of the week. They have no incentive to behave better because being on red is already a done deal for them. With a fluid behavior system, we can change that.
What I used in my classroom was a fluid behavior system like this one:
I have many reasons for loving a fluid behavior system. Instead of everyone starting on green and going down, everyone starts in the middle. This addresses not only the behavior problems, but the role models as well. You see, each student moves fluidly throughout the system. Students can be moved up or down, depending on what is happening. I love being able to have a student move themselves up by showing good behavior. With a traffic light system, you’re only ever moving students down, and good behavior often goes unnoticed.
In fact, when I saw a negative behavior, I would often find another student doing the right thing and point that out. This oftentimes fixed the unwanted behaviors of other students, and I could avoid having to automatically move the first student’s clip down. It’s a great way to correct negative behavior without drawing attention to the student who is acting out. Example: Student one is crawling around the reading area instead of reading. Student two is reading nicely and is fully engaged. I would say, “Bobby, I love the way you are reading so nicely, move your clip up.” This oftentimes fixed the unwanted behaviors of other students.
For students with continued undesired behaviors, I would have them move themselves down on the behavior chart. I did not see this as a negative thing, but a chance to converse with the student. One day, a student demonstrated repeated undesired behaviors and was on the bottom of the chart before lunch. As I dropped the other students off at lunch, I held this particular student behind to have a discussion with them. It turns out, by simply asking what was going on, I found out that the student had lost a baseball game, had a crying baby sister who kept them up all night, and could not find their shoes in the morning, which led to a yelling parent. This was my opportunity not only to tell them that I understood, but for the student to know they could come to me with problems. I also reiterated that the student had the chance to turn their behavior around and move up from the lowest level. I told the student to think about how they could improve and that I believed that they could, and that I would see them after lunch. Needless to say, that student’s behavior improved and they were able to move up the chart that afternoon.
Sure, we teachers wish that students would just know how to behave and always want to behave well, but good behavior is something that children must learn. Most young children are selfish and display behavior for any attention, even bad. A fluid behavior system gives students a way to reflect on what they’ve been doing, and self-correct. It also allows teachers and students to recognize those students who always do the right thing, which is often overlooked!
Here is another fluid behavior system that works the same way, but runs side to side instead of top to bottom!
By Angela French
Angela French is the Senior Product Development and Content Manager at Really Good Stuff. She has worked for the company for nearly seven years and has created hundreds of resources for the classroom. She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Her classroom experiences include teaching grade levels K–5 and inclusion, special education, literacy intervention, and gifted and talented programs in three different states.