Neither the original post nor any of the material that follows it is meant to blame or shame teachers. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve spent my entire career working to be a teacher and support teachers. Teachers enter the field because they care deeply about children and want to make a difference. It’s a wonderfully noble profession and one for which I have enormous respect.
But that doesn’t mean that every practice being used in classrooms is good for children. Teachers are human. We make mistakes, and if we’re reflective, we work hard to do better the next time around. This site is designed to help teachers and parents rethink a questionable practice, explore alternatives, and work to support and nurture all children in a classroom.
In the comments at the end of my original post discussing why the stoplight is problematic, many people asked about alternatives to the stoplight and similar systems. Each idea on this list will eventually be turned into a full piece elaborating on the concept, but for now, we’ll start with an annotated/hyperlinked list. Here are ten alternatives to the stoplight:
1. Make it private. If you absolutely feel as though you must use a stoplight, the very best piece of advice for eliminating the public shame it can unleash is to make the stoplight private. Instead of having one chart in the front of the room for all to see, share results with children privately on an individual basis. It isn’t anyone else’s business what color a child is on. Making feedback private helps eliminate embarrassment and avoids the constant comparison against peers. This doesn’t address all of the issues with the stoplight by any means, but it’s a good place to start.
2. Talk with students. Ask your students (both present and former) about their views on the stoplight system. Talk with students whose names hang out on green and the ones whose popsicle stick often moves away from it. Listen to children talk about what they learn from the stoplight, how it makes them feel, and what ideas they have for alternatives.
3. Talk with parents. Because sometimes the fallout from school is felt more deeply at home, ask parents how the stoplight affects and works for their child. What messages do children carry home about your classroom? Does talk of the stoplight dominate their reports? How are stoplight results handled at home?
4. Talk with educators who do things differently. What do they use instead of a stoplight? Do they have resources to share? Would that work in your room? How might you tweak their idea? Did they ditch the stoplight? If so, what effect did it have on their class? On their relationship with students?
5. Build a Responsive Classroom. This approach helps teachers and students form nurturing and engaging classrooms for elementary children. Because so much work is done up front building classroom community through practices like Morning Meeting, Shared Rule Creation, and Guided Discovery, there are fewer events that call for Collaborative Problem Solving and Logical Consequences.
6. Adopt Positive Discipline. Positive Discipline is designed to help children feel connected, construct mutually respectful and encouraging solutions, be effective long-term, teach important social (and life) skills, and empower children. One of the most tangible components from Positive Discipline (handy for teachers who are required to use a visual system like the stoplight) is the Wheel of Choice.
7. Implement Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is effective in so many different fields because the concept behind it is so essential. Using restorative practices, students work to repair hurt or harm caused. Circles, routines, peer mediation, check-ins and conferencing allow the school community to build lifelong skills and work through issues in a positive, relational way.
8. Build a Democratic Classroom. We live in a democracy. Allowing children from a young age to negotiate, share power, make decisions and solve problems will prepare them well for society beyond the playground.
9. Establish a Social Skills Curriculum. For children, the social curriculum is every bit as essential as the academic curriculum. Children who struggle with empathy, impulse control, and aggression benefit enormously from reading about, brainstorming, problem-solving, and role-playing situational issues. Social skills curricula like Second Step not only help children who struggle; it benefits the entire classroom community.
10. Explore Positive Psychology. Rather than focusing on the maladaptive behaviors, Positive Psychology focuses on how people thrive. Emotions, individual traits, and institutions are all examined as lenses into understanding ways in which we can create healthier outcomes, spaces, and communities.
While this list is far from exhaustive, it will hopefully serve as a useful starting place. Please share your thoughts below or visit us on Facebook.