Stop the Stoplights!
With school starting up again, I’m sure to see more of the latest behavioral management fad: Large stoplights in which the children’s names start out on green, then move to yellow and red for behavioral infractions. These are used with good intentions, of course, but fail miserably to improve children’s behaviors. The basic problem is that they draw attention to negative behaviors. Remember that the first principle of a positive classroom is:
What you pay attention to you will get more of.
When using such a stoplight, the entire class is encouraged to pay attention to the negative behaviors, while the positive behaviors go unrecognized, sitting unnoticed on the green light. What we need is a system for drawing attention to the positive behaviors, so that children who use those behaviors learn the value of them, and children who don’t use them begin to learn what these desired behaviors are, and the positive effects one gets from using them.
The second problem is that the stoplight publicly humiliates a child. It is a form of punishment, and I hope I will eventually convince you, (if I haven’t yet) that positive feedback is ALWAYS more effective than punishment. Imagine how it feels to have your name on the red stop light day after day for all the world to see. After a while, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and children act out because of their emotional shame. Once a child’s name is on the red light, he or she probably thinks, “now I can do anything I want since I’m already on the red.”
Instead of hoping that a stop light will solve your behavior issues, consider creating lessons that teach the children exactly what behaviors you’d want them to use – such as saying kind words, apologizing, calming down, or giving you their attention. Teach these in a fun, joyful way, and give plenty of positive feedback when you see children start to use them. I think you’ll find yourself creating a positive classroom more successfully than with the stoplight!