Kindergarten Teacher

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Be Brave: The Only Rule In My Kindergarten Class

Be brave

This year will be my third year with a one rule classroom. Be brave! That is our only “rule.” I wish I could put into words how powerful this rule has been in my class but really there is no way to for me to articulate it. Be brave is the perfect theme, motto or “rule” for any class. It helps with bullying, friendships, tying shoes, monkey bars, missing Mom, touching worms, tasting new food, etc. Be brave is exactly the type of attitude needed for young kids. Every day they are faced with challenges as they grow up into this big world. If the only thing I teach them is that they can “be brave,” I have succeeded. (Find the logo and name tags I created here)

Without rules my room must be a crazy mess, right? Well maybe sometimes but that isn’t due to the lack of rules. I have expectations in my class. I expect the kids to treat each other with respect. I expect them to carry the iPad correctly. I expect them to clean up their messes. I don’t have rules. What is the difference? Rules are restricting and demanding. In my mind, rules tell the class that I am in control of their behavior and my goal is they realize they are in control. Beyond that, I have learned that by removing the rules I have the freedom to handle every situation and every child in a unique way.

I also do not use any rewards or a behavior management system in my class. I have written about my reasoning and journey to remove rewards from the class (read here) and it really has been a journey. I started with sticker charts and a treasure box just like most teachers. I also have used many different forms of behavior charts. My friend Miss Night does a great job of articulating the reasons I avoid using these systems on her blog post “Too high a price: why I don’t do behaviour charts.” If you liked that post make sure and check out her follow-up post “Behavior management: relationships not systems.”  The big “light bulb” moment for me was when I realized that most behavior management systems are a form of control. The teacher is the one in control and I want my kids to learn to be in control. They learn by practicing and through mistakes not by being managed. I think Miss Night sums it up perfectly, “I have relationships, not systems.” I may have to work a little harder without stickers and treasure digs but in the end the relationships built and ability to customize how I handle every situation has led to a much healthier environment and happier classroom.

I might just add these words from Christopher Robin to our class this year: “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”

47 Responses to Be Brave: The Only Rule In My Kindergarten Class

  1. Barb says:

    Another great post! Our one rule is often “Be Kind”. I hadn’t thought of Be Brave. I really like that — it makes so much sense.
    I’m with you. No behaviour chart or rewards. The kids are fine and it’s less stress for everyone.

  2. Roberta Daniels says:

    Never had a behavior plan, chart, red light, green light or yellow light. And never had problems in 17 years of kindergarten. Like Barb, I’m with you!

  3. I love this rule. We have 3: Be kind. Be safe. Try your best. I can see how Be Brave is so perfect. I have found myself using the word “brave” with my kids on several occasions.

  4. Robert Groberman says:

    I couldn’t agree more. In 20 years of teaching, i, too, have been through class rules, behaviour charts, prizes, punishments and none of it fit what i wanted to create in my classroom. Now, in grade 1, 2, or 3 we all respect each others’ needs, practise kindness and now, with your help, “be brave.”
    I love it. Thanks.

  5. Catherine Rutkoski says:

    Love this, Matt! I could not agree more. I have never used a behavior reward system. I believe that the children should learn to be in control of their behavior. I think many times they are so dependent on the rewards and never internalize why they need to behave in a certain way.

  6. Seriously. Do you ever write a bad post? Every post I read of yours makes me so excited to begin this year again. Love your one rule and no behavior management system! You rock Matt!

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thanks Todd, really enjoy having you in my network. Surrounding myself with smart and passionate educators like yourself constantly pushes and inspires me. I can’t wait to start the new year!

  7. I LOVE “I have realationships, not systems.” YES!!

    Thanks,

    Erin Klein

  8. Ignacio Valdez says:

    Awesome blog! I am a behavior “specialist” in my district and I put specialist in quotation marks because i was a teacher first and have only been out of the classroom for two years. Basically, somebody saw something in me and encouraged me to apply. The district has done a really good job of providing training for us on a variety of topics and strategies including using sticker charts and treasure digs. I personally, never used stickers or treasure boxes in my special education classroom. I taught in a Lifestrides highschool setting and in a preschool program for children with disabilities at an elementary setting, but I have seen how they’ve helped some teachers focus more on the positive.

    Oftentimes, I get to work with teachers who have very poor classroom management and instead choose to ignore misbehavior, as if it will just go away or as if kids who have never been taught social skills, will some how, through osmosis, “get it.” I talk to them about relationship building and they roll their eyes…literally roll their eyes. Handing out stickers helps teachers to focus on the positive. My hope is that as they become more comfortable focusing on e positive instead of the negative, they can do away with stickers and build stronger relationships.

    Thank you for sharing

  9. Mike Bass says:

    Great idea, high school students might not get the right message, have narrowed my rules down to three: do not keep others from learning, me from teaching, treat others respectfully .

  10. I was thinking of having three rules, but now I might just go with one.

  11. bigfoot62 says:

    Love your one rule. My one rule which I got at the I teach K conference is make good choices. I like the idea of kids learning to control themselves. I teach in a low income school where kids have no sense of control they come from chaotic households doing whatever they like. I did do a little self control last year but am definitely going to make it a focus this year. Keep blogging as everyone here says- do you ever write a bad post and the answer is no. Hey we are always learning right and your teaching us

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thank you @bigfoot62. Self control is an important skill for kids and they can only learn if we let them practice.

    • Lisa Marshall says:

      Bigfoot62, I work for a nonprofit providing RTI services in a low-income area. We currently use a “color system” but I would LOVE to move away from that. I really do not want to use extrinsic rewards. I’m working on a mindfulness thread for our curriculum and would love to learn more about how you incorporate self-control work into your classroom. Care to share?

  12. Melissa says:

    Our school has a school wide management system. The kids get to buy prizes with “loot” they get during school. I have tried to voice my opinions to move away from this but so far there has been no change. I am not sure what to do if all other students are getting prizes….I have to let mine do it too. Thoughts? I plan to do away with rules this year as well as our color chart in my own classroom. I have been teaching K for 9 years and I am just now waking to the reality of what I really should be doing with my kiddos. Thanks so much for your ideas and posts. They have been inspiring for me!

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Melissa, my school has something similar and I don’t participate. I tell the kids up front that rewards are not part of our classroom. Our currency is hugs, high-fives and smiles. The kids seems to do fine with that. Each room can be unique. On my team we each seem to handle rewards with varying degrees and it works fine because we respect each others choices. Communicate why you want to do things a certain way and be respectful if others do something different.

  13. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the reply! I have been unsure how to approach the situation in my school as my principal really supports our system. Although I feel I have not always been on board but have followed along. I plan to take a stand this year and do what’s best for my kiddos. I do enjoy reading your blog. You have many great ideas! Have a great school year!

    • mollyg2011 says:

      What if you had a marble jar and every time your class got a complement from another adult in the building (it happens) a marble is placed in it. Then when its “loot” time your students all get that many points for the store, that way they don’t miss out on the prizes, but its not contingent on everyday routines.

      • Matt Gomez says:

        MollyG, I don’t have major issues with class incentives. They don’t tend to punish kids like the individual ones do. However, my philosophy is to avoid all rewards in my class. I don’t want the focus of the compliments to be the rewards. Extrinsic rewards tend to take the focus off of the good deed itself. I have seen class incentives used great ways they just don’t fit with my philosophy. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Great post Matt! I think I will adopt “Be Brave” as a great rule for myself. So often I have beliefs that are not the same as other teachers, but I am hesitant to say too much because it is like I am speaking a foreign language. It is so nice to hear you speak my language. Thank you for always being willing to tread into areas that others may disagree with. I am moving down to kindergarten and am very nervous about having 26 kinders to teach. “Be Brave” also works for me in that aspect. I need to be brave and then in turn help my kiddos learn to be brave. Thank you!
    Camille
    P.S. Your brave sign is very CUTE!!! (Sorry, but it is true!)

  15. Roxanne says:

    I’ve always wanted to negate all the many rules inflicted on kinder students their first school experience! Going to be brave and do it this year!! With that said, what do I tell little Johnny when he refuses to join reading group because he is mad that mom left him at school- all year until 9:00. I had another that screamed and cried loudly until being removed from room when someone else picked the color manipulative that was wanted, or anything else that didn’t go his way. Reasoning didn’t work!! Love the child!! But, . HELP! Will appreciate any ideas!!! Rewards and behavior systems certainly didn’t work but suggestions needed!! Oh, and my Principal loves the behavior charts!:(

  16. Leslie Davison says:

    I have used four rules for my Spanish classes over the past few years. (Elem and HS) 1-respond to my ?s 2-Use a time out or other gesture if you don’t understand (this takes coaching) 3-have fun 4-speak Spanish. I like BE BRAVE because it incorporates the other four. Plus, it sends a more powerful message as well. It takes bravery to practice kindness. It takes courage for one student to tell another that their comment or action wasn’t kind and/or could be considered offensive. Building relationships as well as a caring, safe and risk-taking environment is crucial to kids acquiring another language. Gracias, Matt.

  17. What a wonderful post and attitude! So true. Your class is lucky :)

  18. Debby Beacham says:

    I love the “Be Brave” attitude! It reaches farther into life skills than specific “rules” do and gives the child or adult a positive thought to live with. I am putting this phrase on my mirror to remind myself to model this attitude in everything I do. Thank you for sharing this idea!

  19. Moira says:

    I love this idea but am wondering…if you say rules are demanding and restricting isn’t your rule of “be brave” then demanding and restricting?

  20. Klara says:

    Matt – we have 4 rules from Tribes, mutual respect, no put-downs, the right to pass and and attentive listening – amazing that your 1 rule encompasses them all, and then some!!!! I hope u don’t mind if I adopt the Matt school of classroom management and share your rule with my class. We will try the one rule approach this year! Tx!

  21. Martha says:

    I will also adopt your single rule. Here’s one of mine: Laugh and then stop. I teach young second language learners, and of all the rules and systems I’ve tried to implement, the students respond best to that one. I told the students that I like to laugh, but when we’re ALL learning, we can’t be laughing all the time. So we laugh at something funny, and then, stop and get back to work. Thanks!

  22. Rob says:

    I’m intrigued by your only one rule idea. It’s simple and powerful at the same time!

    Now, you also mentioned that you have expectations for the students – how do you explain your expectations to students without them turning into de facto rules??

  23. Thanks Matt, I agree with your philosophy and have never been a big fan of rewards / sticker charts etc either, however it was only this year I tried your phrase “Be Brave” and wow…it has really resonated with my class. Being in an International School in China there are many diverse cultures / countries within one class that by using just one phrase it didn’t have the same confusion that a variety of ‘rules’ has had in the past. It also allowed for the various cultures to have their own interpretation of “Be Brave” without having to ‘think’ about translation. Through visual explanations it has been easy to incorporate and use on a daily basis. The children have even started saying it to each other….and parents have found it easy to use at home, therefore linking home and school! To be honest….I find ‘myself’ even thinking of it when I am faced with a challenge!! Thanks for sharing!

  24. janine says:

    I was just placed into a kindergarten classroom (my first year of teaching) and have been musing about this topic all week. Our school’s assigned reading for teachers was “Beyond Discipline” by Alfie Kohn, which expounds upon your exact sentiments. I’ve been mentally working on this all day and could not have stumbled across your post at a better time. Love, love, love your explanations. Thank you for modeling what a no-rule, high-expectation, inclusive classroom actually LOOKS and
    SOUNDS like. I am all about this. Thanks for sharing your voice!

  25. I’m glad to see this is working for teachers. I am a pre-service teacher who wants to teach kindergarten. I’m taking a class management course currently, and I’ve been studying Alfie Kohn’s work. I’ve been reading his parenting work too. It is really making sense to me, so I hope I can avoid the rewards/punishments too. Thanks for sharing.

  26. I think that I am addicted to your blog. I have spent a lot of time over the past few months thinking that there is so much more out there to our profession-so many more opportunities, experiences, relationships, teachable moments, etc. that get overlooked by all the “fluff”. Thanks for your brain stimulating post, Matt.

    -Sarah
    A Rocky Top Teacher

  27. Cathy says:

    I see you do this for kindergarten, would this work fir 4th graders also?

  28. Marsha Short says:

    Wow. I have used “Be Brave” in my middle school classrooms for years. It works. Great minds think alike. :)

  29. Heather Langley says:

    I also ditched the prize box years ago, it simplifies life in the classroom. This post articulates that perfectly! I’m saving this post to share with friends when they want to know why I don’t do a prize box. I love your “Be Brave” rule. I teach at an IB school and one of our learner profiles is to be a Risk Taker, I use that in the same way. It is very effective!

  30. Sheila says:

    Do you communicate day behavior with parents? How does that look?

    • Matt Gomez says:

      We have a communication calendar in their folder. Every day I add a smile face to that. I tell the parents a happy face means a typical kindergarten day. If needed I will leave that day empty and add a sticky note for issues. That happens very seldom. Of course I can email, text or call parents if needed.

  31. jen ii says:

    I also always put my theme in first tense so we practice positive thinking. I am nice and kind or I am brave.

  32. Sheila Gonzales says:

    Do you share behaviors with parents daily? If so, how?

    • Matt Gomez says:

      We have a communication calendar in their folder. Every day I add a smile face to that. I tell the parents a happy face means a typical kindergarten day. If needed I will leave that day empty and add a sticky note for issues. That happens very seldom. Of course I can email, text or call parents if needed.

  33. cquong says:

    My one “rule” used to be, be respectful. I think I may have to borrow your “Be Brave” rule instead. I have also been guilty of using reward systems but have recently been questioning that. I find it teaches kids that they should always be getting something for good behaviour. The focus was on the prize rather than the learning. Joe Bower has a section on his blog on rethinking discipline (http://www.joebower.org/p/rethink-discipline.html) that is an excellent read.

  34. Diane Becker says:

    Thanks Matt. I am a newbie to your blog and I am so grateful for all the wonderful advice. Have you ever come across the book, The Leader In Me by Stephen Covey? It’s about a principal’s journey to implement the 7 habits of highly effective people in her school…amazing story and an easy read. It sounds like you have a clear understanding of habit # 1 Be Proactive. I intend to have leadership as a theme this year and I will be using so many of your great ideas as they all coincide. Thanks again.

  35. Becky Magnuson says:

    I just ran across your blog (during my summer extra morning coffee exploration!). I felt like I had just been hugged. I am so much in agreement with your philosophies and have had frequent administration hassles because of them over my 35 years of teaching. However, my children have excelled and parents have become friends and supporters of developmentally appropriate K. I don’t do sticker charts, etc. I treat my classroom like a family. I don’t need to control and have power struggles. Looking forward to reading more from you. Be brave!

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