Red Light, Green Light

March 29, 2016
Judi Andersen

Traffic-Light-1I would like to think that this post is completely irrelevant to Humboldt County educators and nobody out there is still using tools in their classroom such as writing names on the board, color-coded behavior charts, or demerits.  Unfortunately, my colleagues and personal experience tell me differently.  I know the educators using these techniques are well meaning and think they are helping to change the climate of their classroom.  Well, they are, just not in the way you hoped.  These types of behavioral systems only serve to make children feel bad about themselves, and children who feel bad about themselves are more likely to act out and do poorly in school. The environment created in these classrooms is not conducive to learning.

Let me tell you a personal experience I had with my daughter.  I had picked my daughter up after school and as soon as she got in the car she burst into tears and said “Mom, I got a yellow card” and I asked her what that was and she described it as the teacher thinking you are a bad kid, but not bad enough to get a red, if you get a red you are really bad.  She was crushed, she did not see this as a way to remind her of her classroom behavior, she thought the teacher thought she was bad.  I reassured her she was not. I know this was not the teachers intention, but the result was a child who no longer felt she had the support of her teacher and saw her as bad. To this day, my child dislikes that teacher.  Learning happens in the context of relationships and when those relationships are poor, so is the quality of the learning.

If you still work in an environment where this is still going on, do not despair.  Here in Humboldt County we have been working hard to create a more positive environment for children, recognizing their unique differences and supporting them in their efforts.  As Gillian Wadsworth pointed out in her post, Community Schools are taking a trauma informed approach.  Meg Walkley and Beth Heavilin are also doing much to shine the light on trauma informed schools.  Cindi Kaup has brought Second Step to many programs throughout the county and Peter Stoll and Haley Jones have been instrumental in bringing PBIS to area schools.  If you would like to know more about any of these efforts, I would encourage you to contact them and ask them about their work and how you could bring it to your school.

In the meantime, there are simple steps you can take to create a positive classroom climate.

  • Try incorporating more time for active play, children are not being squirmy to irritate you, they aren’t designed to stay still and need to move.  Having more active time will allow your students to focus when you need their attention.
  • Let children know that you appreciate how much effort they put into a particular task.
  • Recognize each of your students have individual strengths and needs and create activities and lessons that allow them to show their strengths.
  • Talk to your colleagues and find out what they are doing in their classroom, your peers are one of your greatest sources of information and support.

by Judi Andersen, M.A., M.O.M.

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