This post originally appeared on the blog Sarah Plumitallo.
I will never get rid of my clip chart. Ever.
I’ve read so many thought-out, well-meaning posts on clip charts — on both sides of the spectrum. I don’t know what’s right for you or your classroom… no one knows that but you. This post isn’t about what YOU should do. It’s about what I’ve done and will continue to do until I pack up my classroom for the final time. Should you get inspired, invigorated, and motivated to do the same? Well, that’s just a bonus.
My clip chart helps to shape my classroom — and my beautiful students — into a caring community of productive citizens. Without it, I have no doubt that counselor and office referrals would rise, I’d spend a greater portion of my time on the phone telling parents negative things about their children, and the teacher-student relationship would suffer miserably.
I teach in a school of children in transition. Children that come from low socio-economic status households, many with both limited English language skills and limited educational attainment. Children that may change phone numbers, homes, and/or caregivers multiple times during the school year. We are a PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) school, which means we spend a lot of time front-loading expectations and use a tiered system of interventions. For many of my students, the only constant is me and my classroom.
I’m sure many of you reading this can relate.
It can be hard. Emotionally draining. Mentally exhausting.
It has been for me. It was almost too much.
Until my clip chart saved me.
Saved my classroom. Saved my kids.
Last year I spent the first month of school tying my clip chart into each and every language arts lesson. Every read aloud. Every writing assignment. We spent hours discussing our clip chart.
Caring, Fairness, Respect, Responsibility, Trustworthiness, and Citizenship are big words for children. For any children, but especially children whose primary concern is where their next meal is coming from, whom they are going home to, and where they’ll sleep that night.
They’re big, important, tough words.
But my kids? My kids lived them.
I have to tell you that as a teacher, no moment will ever be as important to me as the moment last fall when one of my kiddos was having a hard time. He felt inadequate. Nervous. He felt stupid because he wasn’t sure he could finish an assignment.
One of my sweet little girls leaned over to him and said, “Remember that learning is a great responsibility, like Mrs. Plum says. Part of being responsible is trying. Just try. Put your heart into it and try. You’re going to do it — just believe in yourself. I believe in you and so does Mrs. Plum.“
As I (tried to) cry quietly in the darkness of the back of the room, I watched my sweet little boy try his hardest. And though he didn’t get it all right, he did his best. He was proud of himself. And I was too.
He came up to me later and said, “She really made me feel good about myself. She made me feel cared about. Can I put her clip on the chart and give her a tag for her necklace?“
Yes. Of course you can.
That was just one of dozens upon dozens of moments last year when my kids recognized each other’s character on our clip chart. There were many more moments when I did too. Small moments — helping someone up when they fell, sharing a piece of technology when their friend missed out the day before, turning their full attention to the speaker — and bigger moments, too.
Moments like the one when we had a few rough days. When we just weren’t in sync. When we sat down on the carpet, talked about what we wanted to do with our lives and then figured out a plan to get there. A plan that involved six little traits hanging on our wall, put into action.
Moments like that, that seemed almost too big for an eight year old to grasp… and yet, they did.
This isn’t your average clip chart, by any means. Students don’t start on the chart each day — they earn their way on. Each day is a new day, and not every day will end with a student’s clip on the chart. There were, of course, moments where we used our clip chart as a reference to talk about something they did that didn’t meet their expectations, their classmate’s expectations, or mine.
But it wasn’t about clipping up or down — there wasn’t any of that.
In particular, there was a time last year when one of my girls lied to me — as kids are sometimes prone to do. Instead of clipping down, or calling home, or sending her to talk to the counselor, we talked privately during recess.
She and I had a conversation — not a lecture— about why we value trustworthiness. She understood what it meant and why it’s so important to our classroom family. She was sorry. She apologized to me. She apologized to herself. We hugged. She ran off to play with her friends who gave her hugs too.
And that was that.
She didn’t take her clip off the chart (she had earned her way on earlier that day for demonstrating caring with our part-time inclusion students).
Taking her clip off the chart would send a message to her I didn’t want to send: you’re only as good as your last mistake.
Her breach of trust in lying to me did not erase her actions earlier in the day. It just showed us both that it’s an area we need to work on… together.
The culture that our clip chart developed in our classroom is one that I will always look back to for the rest of my teaching career. We are a family because we have a core set of values that we think about as we interact with each other day after day. I can hold myself to those same values and reflect on whether or not I’ve met my obligation too.
I am immeasurably blessed to get to spend another year with my kids, this time in third grade. I’d spend the rest of their days in school with them if I could — we’re that bonded.
I know I owe so much of it to our clip chart.
I’ll never get rid of it.
Sarah is a passionate educator currently teaching third grade in a Title I school located in Northern Virginia. In addition to teaching and creating resources for other teachers, Sarah runs an afterschool program that serves 150 students in grades K-5. She is particularly invested in character education, enriching the vocabulary of English Language Learners, and meeting the needs of diverse student populations. You can find Sarah on her blog, Facebook page, Instagram, and of course her TpT store.