Teachers are expected to notice everything that’s going well as well as calm what isn’t going so well. In graduate school, I was presented with a ton of theory about behavior management or classroom management, but I never felt I truly understood how to achieve it before I became a full-time teacher. I was warned about how easy it is to constantly correct and redirect students and how important reinforcing positive behaviors is. The idea behind positive reinforcement is so logical… but how do I do it without making myself crazy? Without providing a practical way to manage a classroom of different personalities, I was sent off into the world of being a teacher. The way it’s presented in graduate school is that if teachers constantly reinforce positive behavior, then they won’t feel frustrated, annoyed, confused, or have any kind of negative feeling– and if you do have those feelings, then you must not be doing it right. Trying to verbally praise every child for every positive moment is nearly impossible, unless that is your only duty. So, here’s my story of how I came to discover the idea of green and red moments in my classroom.
First, I had a card system with four levels (green, yellow, orange, red). Each level had a meaning, and each child started off with green each day. Green meant best behavior, yellow meant first warning, orange meant second warning, and red meant a phone call home or the principal’s office. We would try to remember to switch it back to green if the day got turned around– not surprisingly, that never really happened. What this system missed was the times between the hard times when children were kind to each other or made an effort to try something that might be particularly hard. Worst of all, the children became color-coded, the behaviors escalated, and there was no room to fully understand the child or the root of the behavior. Obviously, it needed to be tossed– it needed a replacement.
Using what I have learned from the wonderful children, speech pathologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and other professionals I have worked with, my co-teacher and I developed a green moments versus red moments system.
How we presented it:
In the beginning of the year, there was a lesson where we taught the children the definitions of red and green moments. A red moment is a negative thought about a peer or a negative behavior that might upset someone– all people think these thoughts all the time, but we don’t say them out loud. A green moment is something said or done that makes someone feel great. Once the categories were taught, students wrote down red moments and green moments. We walked around the classroom with the large red construction paper and had the children place their red moments inside. We folded it in half like a hamburger, and each child stapled the paper closed. We recognized that the thoughts are there, and they need to be talked about– just not to the whole group. We gave them options like quietly talking to a teacher or talking about their red moments during private social work or speech appointments. The green moments are, of course, out in the open and on display.
How to maintain it:
This year, my co-teacher and I decided to add another layer… Now, the children have individual charts so they can visualize the green moments they dish out all the time. The classroom community is quite amazing and they love giving each other green moments.
I’ve gone through a few behavior systems in my years of teaching, and I feel I’ve found the best one yet. Even so, it gets tweaked a little each year. This is a simple solution to reinforcing positive behaviors in class and putting the power in the child’s hands. Each year, it has changed slightly to make it more concrete, more accessible, and more exciting for the children in the class. To be completely honest, it also makes my job so much easier– I hope that writing about this will be helpful to someone else!