Recently a parent was talking with me and telling me how her normally happy 5-year-old daughter Mary did not want to go to school. It turned out that Mary couldn’t sleep because she was so anxious. Her mother thought Mary had been shamed at school. Apparently, Mary’s teacher had said she wasn’t sitting still in class so her name, written on a peg, was going to be attached to a picture of a dark cloud on the classroom wall. The parent had gone to see the teacher about Mary’s anxiety, who explained that it was school policy for each classroom to have a picture of a happy face and a picture of a cloud. The children were told that if their behaviour were not acceptable then a peg with their name on it would be put on the cloud. They all started off on the smiley face. Also, in this classroom, if the child continued to misbehave then the peg was moved to a storm cloud with lightening!
Some reading this may think that this is a reasonable way to teach the children about behaviour. Indeed, some behaviour support teams throughout the UK recommend it. You may guess that for me such behaviourist structures cause concern. Why?
In the values-based classrooms that I promote, a culture is developed that is based on the children learning about, experiencing and living a set of positive values such as respect, patience, honesty, responsibility and trust. These words give the children a vocabulary that creates a compass for life that develops ethical behaviour and intelligence. They are helped to understand what behaviours support the words. For instance, when thinking about respect they learn to sit respectfully and give their attention to the teacher. The teachers and support staff model the values and encourage the extended school community to model them too. Such classrooms may have a classroom charter of agreed behaviours, which both adults and children sign – everyone being held to account.
What is the difference between this method of encouraging good behaviour and the cloud method? The difference is that the process shames no child. Research evidence shows that children learn best when they are in trusting relationships with both peers and adults and that feeling shame is a destructive emotion that is often remembered into adult life. Also in this method children are developing the capacity to be self-led, behaving well because they understand the reasons for it. The cloud method does control children, in that they appear to behave well, but it doesn’t help them to develop an altruistic character. For instance when the teacher is not looking their behaviour will not necessarily be acceptable.
Teachers tell me that a values-based classroom promotes good behaviour, quality learning and positive character traits. It also makes the work of the teacher easier as everyone can get on with learning. If you would like to know more then visit www.valuesbasededucation.com