I ask my Kindergartener how her day was. She says, "Blue!" Sometimes she makes a helpful side comment, "I'm not sure why, but BLUE!" or "Awful! I got a yellow!"
The local school district uses a color coding disciplinary system. Excellent behavior is rewarded with a blue mark on the calendar, then green, then yellow, then orange, then GOD FORBID--red.
In the first month of school I would hear what her color was, as well as the colors of her classmates. The kid with the perpetual "red" has ditched the school [in favor of a more color blind homeschool setting. Correction: This kid has left the school for unrelated reasons and is not being homeschooled]. Other kids aren't so lucky.
I haven't heard of any parents who are excited about this system. It is effective for the kids who love school and are eager to please their teachers. But to what end? What does this system actually teach children?
I taught a once-a-week Spanish class to children at a private Christian school in Minnesota over a decade ago. The 1st and 2nd graders could not handle my usual class structure: singing, jumping, playing, learning while having fun. Any bit of "play" and the kids were nearly climbing the walls and shouting uncontrollably. These kids were constantly told, by their usual teachers and the principal, that Jesus didn't want them running in the halls or screaming. They were shamed into compliance; it was horrifying. So what could I do about it? How could I get the kids to settle down and learn some basic Spanish words? And how could I demonstrate to the staff that I had some level of control over the classroom?
The kids needed to govern themselves. I could not personally restrain or quell the voices of the whole classroom, so they would have to do it themselves.
I returned the following week with folders and worksheets--something more familiar to them. Inside each child's folder was a chart to track their progress for the 8-week course. The chart asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and "What do you want to learn in Spanish class?" The chart gave kids a place to jot down their personal behavioral concerns. The kids filled in the information with a little prodding. Every student had to really think about it. The "well-behaved" kids were terrified of this exercise; the questions revealed their guilty consciences, their fears. Normally these kids could skate through a class by just being "better" than the other kids. NOW, they had to look inward and admit that they had room for improvement. The student at the top of the class was in tears in this exercise as he realized that his biggest fear in the classroom was "asking for help." I didn't expect that!
The student who was the Disruption King struggled with the exercise, too, but eventually was able to think through what his concerns were, instead of just repeating the mantra of authorities around him.
And then the big reveal: Now, students, at the end of each class, you will give yourself a Smiley face or a Frown face or a Star or whatever means something to you--to indicate how you did in class.
WHAT?! WE are going to grade ourselves?! But what if we lie? What if we just write in stars across the chart right now?
I reminded them of their goals and what they wanted to be when they grew up. I reminded them that this was for them. Spanish class was to HELP them in their goals and their dreams! I didn't care what their behavior was; but they should!
The revolution was immediate. The students were attentive, helpful and excited about learning for the rest of the course. The Spanish class went so well that the school asked me to return to teach an additional Music course. The kids matured in a powerful way. Instead of looking at themselves as shameful people who would never be able to prove their goodness--they saw themselves as people who had the power to make improvements, and be the beneficiaries of the changes.
I want this for my daughter, too.
Each night now, during Reading Time, she pulls out her calendar and draws a face. The face she draws is generally influenced by the color she was awarded that day at school, but on the weekends we get a more accurate picture. She'll review her day, "Well, I was really mean to you at the park, but then I solved a bunch of problems and had a lot of fun.... I'm going to draw two faces!" Kids are capable of measuring their behavior and improving it. My daughter has also recognized a pattern between her behavior and certain foods she eats. Some foods cause meltdowns, while others bring balance to her day. Wow! Kids are capable of being a part of the solution--they see a perspective that we might be missing. Since recording her behavior she has made healthier choices, even asking, "Hey, can we eat [balancing food] before going to the carnival? So I have a good day there?"
Kids have the ability to SHOCK AND INSPIRE us. Especially when we remove ourselves from the role of Judge and Jury, and just play the part of helpful Guide and Observer.
LIKE and SHARE this post if you would like to see your school district upgrade to a Self-Government Disciplinary system. Email a link to this post to your child's teacher and principal. This system requires NO additional funds and no additional effort for the teacher. Teachers will even win back some time and energy! Instead of teachers marking the colors, hand the magic wand over to the kids--they deserve to hold the power of their own actions, and the power of fulfilling their futures in their own hands!
Angela's Musings about Public Education, Web Design, Business.