Some Thoughts on Clip Charts

Some Thoughts on Clip Charts

Have you ever been publicly shamed?

I have.

It stinks.

It was in first grade. Our desks were arranged in a U shape, one next to the other, and we were supposed to be silently reading.

“Who is your best friend?” whispered Kerry Latzah (name changed to protect the innocent) who sitting next to me.

I started to answer, but before I could finish the teacher swooped down upon me and the public shaming began. Listen, I was six, so don’t quote me on historical accuracy here, but there are two things I remember very well:

  1. My only thought was, “But she asked me a question, what was I supposed to do?”
  2. My desk was pulled out of  the U into its own satellite island because I could not be trusted not to talk.

Here is what I else I remember, this is around the time I started hating school. And I hated it for a long time.

As an adult, I think there must have been much more to the story, either I was constantly talking and I don’t remember it, or the teacher was having a really hard year, but the personal experience remains- I felt unwelcome, I felt incapable, and I felt embarrassed. I did not work harder to earn back her trust and my way back into the U of community. I worked harder and harder to fight the teacher and what she wanted, it all seemed so unfair. There was Kerry, right in the U, here was me, back corner, by myself. Not to mention, all I wanted to do was answer a question, what kind of person just stares straight ahead and ignores a question? Where in humankind is that the way we want people to interact?

When I started teaching, I learned all about this color system, you moved a child’s card from green to yellow to red with each infraction. The idea is that a child has a visual cue to see that they have broken a rule or something to that effect. I tried it, and soon after, a child whose card had been moved to red, walked over to the chart and systematically ripped it to shreds. The hatred directed at the chart gave me serious pause as to what it was actually doing.

How was it any different than making one child sit outside the U shape that contained the whole class?

How is it any different than posting teacher rankings?

I have come to learn, under the tutelage and mentorship of many great teachers that teaching is not about control and compliance, not if we see our classrooms as a microcosm of the world. What are we doing making our classrooms versions of a police state? Teaching is about mentoring children into a larger community. They may know how their family unit runs, but now its learning how to interact with people that are different than us and many many more of them then they have ever seen before. It is our job to aide children in understanding how the world works, not punish them for not having that information. Shame doesn’t work, it breeds embarrassment and resentment. It hurts a child in ways they don’t forget, and it keeps us, the teachers, from helping shape a better world than the one we have today.

I think all teachers, at their core, want to do right by their kiddos.

I also think teaching is hard, and I will be the first to admit that there are days when I feel like I cannot find one more ounce of patience.

Yet it is our duty and responsibility to not just do what the people around us do, or what we were taught, if there is a chance we can do something better for kids. So if you use a color change chart, its not enough to suggest you stop, what’s more critical is figuring out what to do instead.

  1. See your role differently, you don’t enforce, you instruct. View all behavior as a child’s best attempt to exist in the world (see more on that mind shift here:
  2. Have reasonable expectations. Expect young children to want to play rough, expect everyone to talk, expect sharing to be difficult. That doesn’t mean you won’t have conversations about it, but be reasonable!  Don’t make rules that forbid children from being children. “Sit still on the rug” is an impossible task for a small child, “listen the best you can” is achievable goal. I don’t know who decided listening and moving were incompatible but that person is nuts.
  3. See everything as an opportunity to learn. It is a slower and longer process to talk to kids about why they did what they did, and what might work better, but its better than just flipping a color. One action (talking and teaching) tries to help the child be a better community member, the other (flipping a card) is a penalty with very little chance to learn. Not to mention, we are not omniscient, sometimes we are wrong when we assume a child is acting in a way that goes against expectation. Trust that your children are trying to do right, and make all decisions from that viewpoint
  4. Have class conversations constantly, role play solving problems, reflect on actions and how they went, make being a better human part of your curriculum.
  5. READ BOOKS ABOUT THIS! Get smarter to teach better!
    1. The Whole Brain Child 9
    2. A Mindset for Learning (
    3. The Explosive Child (


This is a much bigger conversation. Its just I got a new student, he is 4. He went to a school with a color change chart and ended up on yellow or red every single day. He told his mom that he thinks he is “bad”, but really, he is four. That’s true for all our kids- they are four, they are six, they ten. They are growing, they are changing, they deserve opportunities to be treated the way that we want to be treated.  See your classroom as the world to come, choose kindness, choose optimism, choose better for kids.

  • erinbakerreadwrite
    Posted at 01:18h, 04 September Reply

    So beautifully said and written! I have not read the books you mentioned. I now have them on my “to read” list. But I have read a lot of Conscious Discipline. I think you would like what it says. It made a difference in my classroom. Where do we get the idea that we shouldn’t have to teach behavior? Why do we think teaching only academics is acceptable? I thought we were teaching children. I have yet to meet a child that did not come with some sort of behavior. Love this thinking!

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 20:30h, 04 September Reply

      sounds like something I need to get!

  • paxgirl
    Posted at 10:12h, 04 September Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. I did an inner cheer for the kid who tore up his card 🙂

  • Susie
    Posted at 12:19h, 04 September Reply

    Expecting kids to act like kids is such a healthy, happy place to start a day, a week, a lifetime of teaching whether in the classroom or as parent or grandparent. This post is a gift to all of us. Thank you! I’m forwarding it to every teacher I know!

  • Stacey Shubitz
    Posted at 15:52h, 04 September Reply

    Your intro drew me right in, Kristi. For me it was second grade when I added, instead of subtracted, 108-9 on the blackboard. I was publicly shamed by my teacher causing me to think I was no good at math. (And maybe that is why I landed up in the land of literacy. Who knows?)

    Your post is spot-on about the expectations we should have for children. We have to do better than stoplights and banishing kids from our communities.

    Great post. Cannot wait to share it!

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 20:29h, 04 September Reply

      Thanks Stacey- thats such a sad story, but so true. We have so much power as teachers and sometimes (When we feel powerless) we act in ways that hurt. Here’s to changing that!

  • Kristy Godbout
    Posted at 03:35h, 05 September Reply

    Thanks for this post! Love your thoughts in traditional uses of clip charts. I’m wondering what you think about a modified version where the language used was specific versus colors. For instance “I’m ready to learn” or “think about it” or making good choices” a system where kids visually see that that are responsible for their choices and their choices impact their learning and other, a system that is fluid and students can work back up to making good choices, a system that is used as a tool for visual cues, taking points on behavior, a stance that sometimes we don’t make the best choices but we always have the power to turn it back around… The last thing it is used for is a tool for shaming. Thoughts?

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 23:25h, 07 September Reply

      Hmm, I would question any classroom tool that is shown publicly. I think having all names shown, and being publicly adjusted, despite the best of intentions, is going to cause some children to see themselves (or others) as not fitting in. Private tools serve a different purpose, but why make it whole class? And public? Imagine something like that for adults and if it doesn’t feel totally comfortable, then its probably not the best choice for kids anyway. Hope my thoughts seem clear! Thanks for reading and pushing th thinking!

      • Kristy
        Posted at 12:58h, 31 October Reply

        I’ve been meaning to follow back up with you. I really took to heart what you said. It took me a few days, but I really reflected on the purpose and effectiveness of having the clip chart. I did have the best of intentions. I did feel like some of my students needed that visual accountability, but at the end of the day there are better methods. My clip chart is no more. I have to say the behaviors are virtually the same with or without it… having it didn’t really encourage better choice making. I have more meaningful conversations now and privately share one on one similarly to conferring during workshops. I share what I’m noticing, how it is impacting learning and involve the student in goal setting; publicly praising and celebrating good choices that impact our learning and are helpful to others all along the way. It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but these conversations are how we grow one another. Thank you for your honesty.

  • tcrwpliteracycoach
    Posted at 16:18h, 05 September Reply

    So many teachers are struggling with this new day for behavioral constructs in classrooms. Not one of these teachers would intentionally humiliate students, and it’s hard for them to believe that a long held practice (like moving a clip or changing a color) would be “humiliating” to students. I am thinking it’s the absence of a student’s perspective that drives this misunderstanding – children are resilient and it may appear that they are not humiliated but in truth we just can’t know if they are – or are not. I think putting language in place of these devices is an important step to clarifying the shift away from these behavioral techniques. Kristi, the way you described it is essential. My training for behavioral RTI has not included this kind of dialogue. Thank you for sharing an important post.

  • Kristina Kyle
    Posted at 11:36h, 06 September Reply

    This is beautiful. I know whole school systems/networks that need to read this–super important. Thanks for sharing, kristi! 🙂

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 23:25h, 07 September Reply

      Thanks Kristina! Hope all is well in Hong Kong!

  • Jamie
    Posted at 23:23h, 07 September Reply

    Thank you Kristi, for this post. My colleagues and I had a conversation about this exact topic a week or so back. I only wish that during our conversation I could have articulated my feelings (they echo yours) as thoughtfully as you have here.

  • Julie Diamond
    Posted at 17:54h, 17 September Reply

    Recommended reading: “Teaching Children to Care” – Ruth Charney’s excellent book, which highlights respectful and ethical strategies for teaching “children to care.”.

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