Choose Your Management System Carefully

Over breakfast this morning, my Flipboard journey helped me stumble upon Pernille Ripp’s (@pernilleripp) great post on giving up “traditional” classroom discipline systems.  It appears, we share similar views on leaving behind regularly implemented management systems for something more effective for our teaching styles.

For the first four years of my teaching career (sixth and seventh grade kiddos!), I was, for the most part, in situations where I had the freedom to do my own gig.  My “system” was simple:

Follow these four rules:

  1. Respect Yourself
  2. Respect Others
  3. Respect the Teachers
  4. Respect the School

We spent the first few weeks of school revisiting these guidelines regularly and constantly discussed what it meant to “respect” each of these groups.  When problems did arise, I always tried to bring it back to its respective rule.  Not gonna lie – it worked pretty well.  I had the occasional infraction that required a little more itnervention, but I loved that the rules weren’t beat into kids and they had some ownership of defining what each “rule” meant to them and their class period.  If I remember correctly, I think I eventually got rid of #3 and “covered it” in #2.

Then I moved to Elementary Land.

As I met with my new departmentalized team, we discussed what we wanted our team’s manamgment system to be.  Our building, unofficially, seemed to all use “card” systems.  We purchased overpriced mobile pocket charts, printed labels for each block, and filled them with a rainbow of slick, laminated color cards.

I have three gripes with this system.

First, it was a system – a heck of a system.  It had to be explained and maintained.  It had to be transported and documented and reset and noisily picked up in the hallway by twelve helpful kids when Steven or Alex or Mackenzie would accidently carry it upside-down!  The last thing I needed was something else to take time away from…you know…learning.

Second, the way we implemented it, once your card was “turned” (Did lightening flash and thunder just boom outside your window, too?!), it was turned for the day.  That means, because Rachel made a poor choice in the gym twenty minutes before the first bell even rang, her card was turned for the day.  At 1:55, when she walked back in the room from Specials, ready and enthusiastic to have a positive learning experience, there was that reminder up on the wall for everyone to see: Alert!  Alert!  Rachel is having a bad day!

Finally, I don’t like the message on respect that it sends.  If Eddie is sitting at his desk and looks up to see that he is “still” on green, what message does that send?  I contend that it says, “Eddie…you haven’t messed up…yet.  But when you do, there’s a yellow, red, and blue card just waiting to make an appearance for you!”  How about we trust and respect kids (or in the least, let them think we do) that they won’t “mess up”?

The first year I used this clearly defined and organized system, I had the the most discipline problems I’ve ever had.

Now, I’m sure there is lots of statistical research out there that supports the value for this type of system.  And, I’m sure it totally works for some educators and can be used to run very managed learning environments well.  What I’m saying is that it didn’t work for me.  Maybe I wasn’t implementing it correctly.  Maybe I needed more professional development on it.  Or maybe I needed a system that was more aligned to how I taught.

What happens when we spend more time preparing and implementing engaging lessons than on managing management?

Long story, short (thanks for sticking with me up till this point!), the next year I reverted back to modified version of my original management plan.  I asked the kiddos to respect three stakeholders, we revisited what that means, we practiced, we discussed, and most importantly, instead of managing and documenting complex systems, we were engaged and we learned.

I began to walk through some of the classrooms of my new building this week, exploring the walls and bulliten boards and yes, management systems.  I’m really excited to watch the school year unfold and see how teachers use some of these very creative-looking systems!

I’m not at all saying my system will work for everyone.  I’m also not at all saying the card systems don’t work.  I’m saying that as we are all preparing for the upcoming school year, choose your managment system carefully.  Make sure it reflects your beliefs about management, learning, and kids…and not necesarily in that order!


2 thoughts on “Choose Your Management System Carefully

  1. Ryan, you make a lot of great points in your post. As a new principal I’m wondering how you’ll be helping your teachers and staff rethink their ideas about behavior and management. Is that something you’ll be tackling?

    I appreciate the four guidelines that you used with your students. They are very similar to what I have always used in my classroom as I’ve taught 3rd, 4th and 5th grades and elementary technology classes. It was interesting to me that you found the card system as you moved to the elementary grades and had to move away from a system that provided rich, real-life learning opportunities. This year I moved to a school where our fourth and fifth grades from elementary schools combined with sixth grade teachers from a middle school. I found that many of the 6th grade teachers, in addition to those from 4th and 5th, had a hard time with the more general guidelines and needed a specific set of rules: No ______, Don’t do_______, No _______. It’s always so interesting to see things from a different people’s perspective. I prefer to run my room like you said:

    …I loved that the rules weren’t beat into kids and they had some ownership of defining what each “rule” meant to them and their class period

    One big thing I’d like to add, in addition to choosing your management system wisely, is for teachers to choose their words and attitudes wisely. The golden rule says to treat others the way we want to be treated yet I see teachers who do not follow that rule when working with kids. Perhaps if we all choose our words and attitudes towards our students wisely, and if we make each student feel like a valued, capable and important part of the class we’ll be able to end the big business behind pull card systems and marble jars once and for all!

    Thanks again for making me think today!

  2. Becky,
    Thanks for the comment!
    I think my first step is just to listen and watch. So much about the success of classroom management is held within the delivery and personality of the staff member. I can try to make sense of posters and charts, but the real success comes down to what gets carried out to (and from!) kids! From there, I share what’s in my toolbox and hopefully add to it along the way!
    I love your final thought. I hate when we teach kids about “irony” by the staff member yelling at students in the hallway to, “…be silent in the halls!” Our students are way more perceptive than we remember sometimes.
    Again, in the end, there is no Perfect System. As long as the “right” motives are driving the development of the system, there will be successes in effectively managing the classroom.

    Thanks again!


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