Goodbye Clip Charts, Marble Jars, and Stickers for Behavior

Goodbye Clip Charts, Marble Jars, and Stickers for Behavior

by Kristi Mraz, a member of The Educator Collaborative

Ah, Fall!

Leaves are piling up on the sidewalk like the stuff in our office mailboxes that we keep saying we will bring up later.

This season, Christine Hertz ( and I are taking on a blog series about holding strong to your beliefs through these first hectic months. (You can see the previous posts here and here.) The Educator Collaborative is the perfect place to share this next one, since our vibrant thoughtful community will surely have lots to share in the comments.

Today we take on….

(drum roll please)


Aka behavior management systems… Aka the thing no one taught you how to do… Aka the hardest part of the job

Belief: Classrooms can run successfully without relying on stickers, clip charts or rewards and punishments

Reality Strikes: The classroom down the hall with the clip chart seems to be running a whole lot smoother than yours, and you aren’t sure what to do with the near chaos in your room.

I have written on this before but since those days of yore, I’ve learned a whole lot more.

First What is a Behavior Management System?

For our purposes, a behavior management system is anything that relies on rewards or punishment to shape behavior. A clip chart accomplishes this by moving a child’s clip up or down- down usually results in consequences like sitting out or phone calls home. A marble chart accomplishes this by having kids earn marbles with certain behaviors and when the marble jar is filled up there is some reward- like extra choice time or a pajama day.

Now here is something that it physically pains me to admit: these things work.

And they often work quickly.

Why wouldn’t we adopt a method that seems to pretty quickly get a class in smooth shape so that we can get to the real work of guided reading, and writing instruction, and math routines, and everything else on our already so-full-it’s-practically-wobbling plate?

Reasons why people might use a clip chart/stickers/marble jars:

  1. It’s how we learned to manage a classroom.
  2. It seems to work.
  3. We are afraid what will happen if we don’t use something like this

Reasons why we should rethink that:

  1. It runs counter to developing a growth mindset
  2. It tends to work primarily on shaming or bribing, not teaching new behaviors
  3. It starts with a deficit assumption of behavior, as opposed to realistic expectations

It Runs Counter to Developing a Growth Mindset

A behavior management system has a hard time co-existing in a classroom that values growth, because a growth mindset is all about knowing there are skills and strategies and people out there that can help you learn. Most behavior management systems rely on the idea kids know the behaviors and need to be prodded into using them.

A growth mindset is a belief you can change and grow. It is an understanding that there are no such things as bad kids or good kids.

If you want to help a child become a better reader, you teach them about that word “yet” and you teach them the skills and strategies to tackle the hard parts. You compliment their strengths and build on them, while giving tools and techniques to navigate the new and unknown. You do not judge them or shame them, you do not take each miscue as a personal attack. You do not think to bribe them to read the word correctly because you believe they would if they could.

That is a growth mindset at work.

Now let’s do the same for behavior.

If you want to help a child become a better community member, you teach them about that word “yet” and you teach them the skills and strategies to tackle the hard parts. You compliment their strengths and build on them, while giving tools and techniques to navigate the new and unknown. You do not judge them or shame them, you do not take each miscue as a personal attack. You do not bribe them to act correctly because you believe the would if they could.

This is our REAL work.

Whenever teaching a behavior, ask: “What are the steps?”
All behaviors can be taught, including the ever elusive “self-control”

Growth mindset as it relates to behavior is all about setting goals for how we will act, having strategies to use in new and challenging situations, and reflecting on our actions and their outcomes.

Let go of this…

And try this…

Clipping down, changing colors, writing name (etc)  for interrupting Make a plan with the child:

  • Can he or she write thoughts on a post-it and put them on the easel for you?
  • Does a fidget help the child maintain self regulation?
  • Can the child have a visual “raise hand” that you can tap as a reminder?

It Tends to Work Primarily on Shaming or Bribing, not Teaching New Behaviors

Finding examples of the behavior is one way to learn about it and replicate it

Well, what’s wrong with that you might ask? First of all, do you know my parents? Just kidding.

But for real, let’s play back what happens when we change a color or move a clip:

From a teacher’s point of view it might look like: child interrupts on rug- move clip down- child stops. Success.

But from a child’s point of view it might be more like this: I have something to say and I am still working on self regulation and self control. I have no strategies for stopping myself when I am dying to do something, I shout out the idea that is burning me up, my teacher is going to be so excited to know this. Wait, what is happening? Why is my clip going down! Everyone is looking at me. I am so embarrassed, what did I do that was wrong? Am I wrong? Why is my clip in the bad color? I must be bad. I still don’t have any strategies for self regulation so chances are I am going to do this again and again. (We will come back to this scenario in a minute.)

If you don’t think this is the narrative going through a child’s mind, I urge you to recall a time you were publicly called out for something negative- accidentally cutting the line in a store, talking during a meeting, not being prepared for something. Did you feel ashamed? Did you feel embarrassed? Maybe you stopped the behavior then, but did you stop it forever?

I have a friend that is chronically late. No matter how many times I got mad she was always late. She doesn’t WANT to be late, but she does not have any strategies for being on time. For real. We worked out a plan where I would text her when she should start getting ready. Now she is more likely to be on time.

I am terrible at keeping secrets. I don’t want to tell them but I do it before I can stop myself. I used to tell people their gifts before they opened them. I would feel so awful. Now I write them in the notes section of my phone to relieve the pressure of knowing it.

Shaming is not teaching.

Bribing is not teaching.

If the method will not work for teaching reading. It will not work for teaching behavior.

And when we shame people, they are more likely to HIDE what they do, not CHANGE what they do.

Let go of this…

And try this…

Giving a marble for compliments Name the greater good the compliment points out: “Ms. Hertz just complimented our quiet line! We are helping the other members of our school community stay focused to do their best work! We can even say that to ourselves as we walk: ‘Friends are working! Quiet feet!’
Saying “I like how Isla is sitting on the rug quietly” as a way to change another child’s behavior.

(The kid rolling around on the rug has no idea what you are trying to do here)

Let’s do a body check! Touch your ears! Are they listening? Touch your feet! Are they in your space? (etc)

It Tends to Start with a Deficit View of Behavior, as Opposed to Realistic Expectations

Please ignore the scraping sound as I pull out my soapbox for a minute here.


People, I love you all. I do.

But when in the ever loving world did we decide the only thing kids are born knowing is how to exist in a complex social sphere with ever changing rules and expectations with a brain that is still developing and a total lack of experience in the situation?

We don’t give kids a copy of War and Peace and bribe them or punish them until they get the words totally right.

We say: “where are you at?” Then we find a just right challenge and we help them through it.

Sitting still for 45 minutes is not a realistic expectation. It is the War and Peace of behavior.

Solving a problem with calm and measured words is even harder.

The fact ANY kids can navigate school is the real shocking fact.

Having a safe body can look different for each child. Have the expectation you will need to calibrate the idea of “safe” within your community.

Let’s have realistic expectations of what a 5, 10, 15 year old needs to be successful. Lets teach them how to navigate sharing, managing when you feel left out, gossip and peer pressure. Let’s not punish for not knowing, let’s take that as our baseline and work to get better.

Let go of this…

And try this…

Getting angry when your expectations don’t feel met Analyze your expectations:

  • Is this something they have done before with ease?
  • Are there smaller steps you could give? For example, don’t say clean up and come to the rug, but first ask the kiddos to stop. Then put caps on markers. Then put markers in the bin.
Blaming yourself or the kiddos for community mishaps Repeat after me: “Learning takes time. What can we do differently next time?”

What is our Actual Desired Outcome in a Classroom? How Do We Define Success?

Christine and I have lately been rethinking what it means to say we teach the whole child. We have been thinking that teaching the whole child can’t mean “I address behavior as it arises in my classroom and use developmentally appropriate methods to accomplish my classroom goals. “

Not any more at least. Now we think teaching the whole child means, “Does this help the child, not just in my room in this minute, but in his or her life to accomplish his or her goals?” Maybe we should move away from thinking about teaching with the whole child in mind and instead think about teaching with the whole child’s LIFE in mind.

This is the work of teaching children how to come together, navigate differences, explore social confusions, and think critically. There is no guided reading lesson in the world that is worth more than the time it takes to help a child learn to solve problems with others productively and with empathy.

Who cares if kids can read at level Z in first grade if they grow up to be narcissists, seeking rewards for kindness and masking shame behind bravado and cruelty?

This work is hard, but SPOILER ALERT, we write at length about it in our upcoming book. In the short term there are other powerful resources out there:

Back to Our “Child Interrupts on the Rug” Scenario

What do I do now when a child shouts something out on the rug? I do the teacher thing and run 90 million questions through my head at rapid fire pace to make a decision just like I do when I am in guided reading and a child makes a miscue.

  1. Am I doing something that is going to inspire a lot of shouting out? Like reading a highly engaging read aloud or modeling a story about Chuck E Cheese? Does the shouting out REALLY distract from what we are doing? Can I roll with it?
  2. Is this a pattern I know from this child? What function did the shouting out have? Attention? Anxiety? Anger? If so, I have to find a way to address the function of the behavior that feels more productive than interrupting a lesson
  3. Have I taught a strategy for waiting? Can I reference a visual or give a gesture that reminds the child of the alternative behavior?

It has taken a while for me to shift gears, the same way it took a while to stop saying “sound it out” to every single miscue in reading. It will take time to shift, it will take intentionality to shift. It will take your own growth mindset.

This child set a goal to demonstrate kindness in writing workshop and then recorded how she did it

So what can you do tomorrow?

  1. Get rid of the clip chart, stickers, marble jar. If you have it you will be tempted to use it.
  2. Expect things to be rocky at first, this doesn’t mean it’s not working, it is just a big change. STAY THE COURSE
  3. Tackle one thing at a time. List the behaviors you see your community needs to build: listening, sharing, problem solving. Choose the one that has the most bang and make a plan to teach into it
  4. Think about building a toolkit for that skill: what are the steps? What are the options?
  5. Practice and role play with your class, make a supportive visual


*Yes, of course, there are some research based reasons you might use a short term behavior management strategy with some children for specific reasons. That is not what I am talking about.

** If you are not convinced it is shaming, imagine if the presenter at the your next conference/meeting announced to the whole group when you are talking/looking at your phone/fidgeting/getting up to use the restroom as a way to get you to stop doing those things.




  1. Katie Ray

    Such powerful stuff. 🙂 I agree we should keep in mind how our teaching will help the whole child not just in the clsssrom but in the world. It’s interesting to think about, however, when a child makes a miscue in guided reading, she is working through it independently. She has only affected her learning. In contrast, at the carpet, when students shout out, they are affecting everyone else around them and disrupting the lesson. It’s hard to address this behavior just the same as a miscue since it’s actually hurting learning for everyone around them- not just themselves. Some things to think about for the future.

  2. Kristine Mraz

    This can always be a bit delicate, but since you are already trying to problem solve I think you are on the right track. It never hurts to take an inquiry stance, inviting the teacher along: “I read this interesting thing, I’m wondering about your thoughts?” Let me know how it goes!

  3. Kristine Mraz

    Inviting the kiddos into the organization can help- when they create the system it’s easier to remember. Try asking:
    – where should we keep the drums so it’s easier to put them back?
    – what picture could we draw to remind us to do it silently? Etc etc

    Also it can take as many as 264 tries to make something a habit, so you might still be in the early stages of teaching the habit

  4. Judy Derpack

    This is powerful wisdom. I’m assuming that there needs to be much introductory education and group classroom planning so that the children understand the dynamics.

  5. Pam Brown

    Thank you for this writing. I gave up all extrinsic motivations in my classroom a few years ago after reading Daniel Pink. Growth Mindset!

  6. Annie

    It couldn’t have come at a better time. I will be sharing this article to my colleagues. I can’t wait for the book. Thank you!

  7. Lisette

    Kidding about the last part, of course!

  8. Lisette

    Thank you for your thoughts and work! I teach elementary music and see classes once a week. At the end of each class we reflect and add stickers to a chart for respectful, responsible, safe, and outstanding; now I’m wondering if I should find a different system. I use that language throughout the class (ex. “We’re going to get the xylophones off the shelves. What are the ways that we need to be respectful, responsible, and safe?” I model, the students tell me what they saw, 2 kids model, etc.) They don’t get anything per se for their stickers, and it’s more about pride to show their classroom teacher, as well as a good reminder the following week, “Looking at the chart, you’ll remember that last week we had trouble being safe while singing xyz. How can we fix that today?” All of that being said, do you have suggestions for a new, intrinsic motivation system that still has a visual to remind students of what they’re doing well with and what they haven’t mastered yet? Shockingly, kindergarteners don’t always remember one Monday to the next that they need to be more responsible with the drums. Thank you!

  9. Simone

    Awesome. My son’s school and many others can use this. He would be successful with this classroom.

  10. Tom

    I am a principal now. Bad news: This post makes me wish I could go back to the classroom again to do this work differently. Great news: I will be sharing this post with every teacher and principal I know.

  11. Sara Strom

    I’m not a teacher anymore, but what would be a kind and non judgmental way to present this to my son’s school/teacher? Any suggestions?

  12. Tanya

    Wow! Thought provoking for sure! I would love some examples or ideas on how to start this off at the beginning of the year in kindergarten.

  13. Marci

    AMEN! Stop shaming and teach the desired behavior.

  14. Paula

    Agreed! Let’s teach integrity. Catch them doing the right thing and label it for them but don’t fill the marble jar. Instead build the intrinsic motivation in your classroom by building relationships that are based on trust, respect, and empathy for one another.

  15. Matt

    Thank you for your reflection, insight, and sharing. You always make me think.

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