Color Systems & Behavior Management

Feb 1, 2016 | by Janice Smith

One of my former students is getting ready to graduate college this year and is in the process of applying for teaching positions.  This, alongside her student teaching experience, has led to some great conversations about teaching and classrooms over the past couple years, and most recently the topic of ‘color charts’ came up as a method of behavior management. What I told her most recently was that I actually think the actual behavior management system is the smallest part of the equation, though this is what we spend lots of time talking about.  In all the lower elementary classrooms I’ve observed, the success of a behavior management system most often has to do with the implementation of the system, and the culture built around it.  (Though this doesn’t mean we’re not sure about whether or not you should have one… you should DEFINITELY have one.)

Mr. Bray, a second-grade teacher at KIPP STRIVE Primary in Atlanta is one of our favorite examples of what strong implementation looks like.  In his classroom he uses a color chart, but this is not the only piece of his system.  Take a look at the first clip, where he describes his system and the steps that are part of it.

The pieces we love most about his implementation…

  • Proactivity.  While Mr. Bray has a solid system, he is also ALWAYS circulating the room to identify and prevent misbehavior before it begins, to offer nonverbal correction and redirection, and to check in with students individually and off-stage.  While the existence of a consequence system is important, it’s even more important to do all the small things that prevent students from needing negative consequences in the first place.
  • Consistency.  Mr. Bray was constantly using his behavior management system, and was consistent in issuing consequences.  He also was consistent about not going directly to a color change, but offering quick redirects first.  Students are the first ones to pick up on inconsistency, and not only will this lead to them inconsistently meeting your expectations, but when you do issue consequences you’re bound to be faced with conversations about fairness.
  • Positivity.  While poor choices are met with negative consequences, he’s just as quick to offer positive recognition to good choices.  You saw an example of this in the clip above, after he spoke about what his system looked like.
  • Transparency.  Transparency and publicity with a behavior management can be tricky, and I would not recommend this to everyone.  Once you’ve built a strong classroom culture, like you see in Mr. Bray’s classroom, I think this becomes an important part of a successful system that centers around growth and constantly improving your choices.  In this clip we see an example of a midway check, where Mr. Bray checks in publicly on their color chart, and has students show their support of teammates who are working to make better choices.

The moral of the story, and these videos, is that while we spend a lot of energy thinking about which behavior management systems are the best ones, I would argue that we should spend as much time thinking about what your daily implementation looks like, and how you build a strong classroom culture grounded in a growth mindset and the idea that we are all in it together working to make the best choices.

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