How Your Classroom Management Practices Lead to Counseling

Startling statement:  Whole class behavior management plans cause your students to need counseling.

Let me state that again.  When a teacher chooses to use a whole class behavior plan — move the clip, flip the card, Class Dojo, beans in a jar, table points, class points, etc., etc. — it can impact a student so much that they need to seek the intervention of counseling.

You think I am being dramatic?  Up until a month ago I would have thought I was being dramatic, too.  Unfortunately, this is pure truth. I am the counselor providing the intervention services to students who have been negatively impacted by their class-wide … umm … “intervention.”

In the last month, I have been approached by three different parents who have students at our school.  These students are in different grades, different classes, and in no-way are connected to each other — friends, family, classmates.  Each parent has sought me out to share their concern about their child and the student’s outlook on school.  While each situation is unique and different, there is commonality — the fact that a whole-class behavior system has negatively impacted their child.  In fact, each student is so impacted that the parent requested individualized counseling to help shift the student’s self-perception and school-perception from negative back to positive.

Example 1:  My child lost all of his friends

A student was in a class where a behavior clip-chart was used.  The teacher made it clear that the students could move up the chart when an individual’s behavior was above and beyond the expectation.  The students could also move down the chart when the individual’s behavior was off task or not meeting the classroom expectations.  Often, this one student was moved all the way to the “bottom” of the chart where his name was placed on the red circle.  This meant the student had reached the bottom and his behavior was so “bad” that he could not possibly get any worse (well, according to this teacher and this chart).  

After a while, the mother started noticing that her child no longer wanted to go to school.  Her son would often cry in the morning and try to come up with any reason he could think of to stay home.  Mother also noticed that her child was not getting invited out for playdates anymore.  Her son also reported that no other student would play with him at breaks.  When mother and child began to ask past friends why they stopped playing with him, the response was always similar.  “(Name) is always on red and getting in trouble.  We don’t want to be friends with him because we will be ‘moved down’ too.”

So now, a new year and new grade and this same student still finds himself without friends and not being invited to playdates.  The social shaming that occurred was due to this child always being labeled as “bad” in public and then — through the power of repetition —  perceived as true by his peers.  This student now meets with me to help rebuild his self-image, belief in his ability to demonstrate positive behaviors in school, and to build social-skills around how to make new friends.  Thanks, whole class clip chart.  You helped alienate this boy from his peers.

Example 2:  A girl would rather be alone

The teacher uses table points as a whole class management strategy.  Be on-task, the quietest table, the quickest to clean up, the group who finishes their work first.  Your whole group does this — you get a coveted point.  What are the points used for?  A party, a treat, free time.  It does not matter but your success or failure is tied to 3 or 4 other individual’s success or failure.  Once again, after experiencing this for a few weeks, a girl’s parents approached me very concerned that their daughter always seems to be anxious about coming to school and upset when she returns home.  When they asked why, their child shared all about table points.  This student gets so anxious, frustrated, and upset by having to wait for her 3 table mates to do what the teacher expects/asks (ultimately never doing good enough to get the “table point) that she does not want to be in class.  She told her parents “I would rather just sit alone.”  The parents asked the teacher if this request for an individual table could be granted and the teacher reported that learning to work in a group is a needed skill.  Therefore, no, their daughter would be expected to continue in the group setting (and for her behavior “success” to only be depended upon the behaviors of 3 of her peers).

Now the student meets with me to help her with her anxiety and build some stress-release skills she can use in class.  We talk about the perceived importance of table points and how she can re-focus on her celebrating her choices, behaviors, and ability to follow teacher directions and try to not worry about her peers.  This is hard to do, though, when a carrot of a party, free time, or treats is being dangled.  So, the counseling continues.

Example 3:  From Engagement to Disengagement

This student is a model of engagement.  He loves everything about school.  He actively inquires,  makes meaning, participates, and takes action to apply his knowledge.  His is vibrant, passionate, and radiates zeal for learning.  Or maybe I should say, that was him.  Now, thanks to a whole class behavior strategy of all being penalized for the actions of a few, this student is different.

Parents report he no longer wants to get out of bed in the morning.  He has faked sick three times to go home.  He becomes grumpy and moody when his parents try to ask him how his day was.  They suggested he talk to a counselor.  Here’s where I enter. After meeting with the student, he finally disclosed that the real issue is that “he is always in trouble.”  However, this is for nothing he does but rather, the fact that the teacher has a whole class management strategy that when a few students are off task, all students’ heads go down on desks and lights get turned off until ALL students can settle.  

Even at this young student’s age, he can articulate that this strategy does not make sense.  When many students are demonstrating expected behavior, why are they being “punished” like the ones off task?  Why, when he always does what is expected, does he have to stop his learning/inquiring/exploring to put his head down?  He feels embarrassed.  He feels shame.  He feels tired of being lumped with the other students. He feels frustrated the teacher never comments on his positive behaviors.  He feels like giving up.  Guess what?  He is.

I share these examples not to guilt people or embarrass their strategies.  Rather, I encourage teachers to examine what whole class behavior management strategies they have in place.  Switch the lens and ask yourself:

If I were the student, what are all the ways I could be impacted by this whole class intervention?  

How would I feel to be the student always in trouble?  The student always on task?

How would this impact me socially?

What message about behaviors do I want to promote to my students?

How does my plan change undesired behaviors to desired behaviors?

Most importantly, ask yourself, “Do I want my ‘management’ strategy to be the reason a student might have to see a counselor?”

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