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Weeelll…I’m going to cause a stir…I’m just going to say it…I do not think the flip card (color card) system for classroom management works! There! I said it! Classroom teachers, stay with me…
Here are the systems I’ve seen: Each student has 5 colors in order (often blue, green, yellow, orange, and red) in a pouch with his name. When he misbehaves, the teacher tells the student to flip a card. When the card gets to red, it’s a trip to the principal and a call home. Another system I heard about had rainbows, sun, raindrops, storm clouds, and even lightning bolts. Whew! Some teachers attach rewards/consequences to the various colors…trip to the treasure box if you stay on blue, walk at recess if you are on orange, etc.
Now for the huge majority of students, the flip card system works. However…and here is the problem…it does not work for the student with chronic misbehavior. You can add the whole range of ROY G BIV and it still won’t work. I know. I’ve tried it. I have tried multiple ways to make the teacher’s current flip card system work for the student with chronic misbehavior. It was frustrating, and a huge waste of time. Also, for the majority of students, a simple redirection is all that needed. The leveled system, such as the flip cards, is not necessary. So why use a system that doesn’t work with students that have the toughest behaviors and the other students don’t need?
Let me introduce you to Thomas Phelan’s 1,2,3 Magic! I absolutely love it! It is a behavior management system designed for children 2-12 years of age. By the way, I am NOT affiliated with this company. I get nothing from them. I just absolutely think it is the best system I have ever used, and I want to share it with you!
I have used 1,2,3 Magic with my self-contained elementary students with severe behavior. I’ve used it with my resource students who have learning disabilities. I’ve help regular elementary teachers implement it in their classrooms very successfully. I’ve used it with my three children! I even used it with a 14 year old with the maturity level of a 12 year old to teach him to stop talking back—it worked!
I was watching the 1,2,3 Magic video to refresh my memory with my teenage daughter. She said, “I hate that!” I was shocked and asked why. She replied, “Because when you said ‘That’s one’, I knew you meant it and I HAD to follow directions.” She was correct. When I followed the guidelines of 1,2,3 Magic, I did mean it.
The system sounds simple, but you must fully understand the potential pitfalls in order to implement it well. When the child is doing something you want him to stop, look at him and calmly say, “That’s one.” You continue teaching/washing dishes. You are giving the child the opportunity to comply. If you stare at him, the child may perceive that as a challenge and misbehave more. If he stops, you may thank him. If he continues to act out, calmly say, “That’s two.” Again, give him the opportunity to comply. If he continues, say, “That’s three. Time out.” Dr. Phelan says, “That’s three. Take five (minutes of time out).”
The absolutely hardest part of this system is getting the ADULT to STOP TALKING! You cannot say, “See I told you if you continued, I’d count” or “I’ll count again if you don’t stop running around” or “2 and a half, 2 and three quarters….” When I found myself too emotional or too talkative, I stopped immediately and tried to remember the rules Dr. Phelan outlined.
One time, I was talking with a contractor in my house and my 9 year old daughter was being a bit of a nuisance. After one minor disruption from her, I quickly looked at her and calmly said, “That’s one” and continued talking with the contractor. My daughter quieted immediately and after a few minutes wandered off to play. The contractor asked what that was. He knew something happened but could not figure it out. That is what I like about it. I did not embarrass my daughter. I did not engage her in a power struggle. I simply gave her an opportunity to behave. She did. My daughter is now working in day care and guess what system she is using? 1,2,3 Magic! Love it!
When I taught in the classroom, I had a designated spot for time out. It was often a beanbag on the floor behind a file cabinet or a 3-sided wall partition in the corner of the room. It was always where I could easily supervise but not visible to other students and away from distractions (manipulatives, window, doorway, etc). Outside the time out spot, I had Time Out Notes. This was a way to keep data on who was in time out, when and how long. It was also a learning tool for the child. When the child felt he was ready to follow directions, he stepped out to get the Time Out Note and a pencil (of course, I noticed when he did this). I would request the student to come talk to me. The Time Out Note was the basis for our 2 minute conversation on the misbehavior. I filed the note for future data use.
When people say time out doesn’t work, it’s usually adult misuse that causes its failure. Check out 1,2,3 Magic (I now give it as a baby shower gift!) and Time Out Note.
Any counselor that works in an educational setting—elementary, middle, or high, private or public—and has worked for more than one day knows that a schedule should be written in pencil. There will be interruptions. There will be unexpected crises. The one constant is that the day’s scheduled events will change. Many days our door seems to be revolving with a variety of student needs. “My boyfriend broke up with me between classes!” “She invited all the other girls to her birthday party, but she didn’t invite me.” “Every time I take a test, I feel like I’m going to throw up!” And then there are the BIG DEAL issues that come through the door as often as those that might appear trivial. “My dad threatened to kill my mom last night.” “My friend showed me her arms, and she has cuts on them.” “My mom left us last night.” “I want to run away from home.”
There have been days when I have provided counseling services, large and small, to no fewer than a dozen students. These are exhausting days, with a pizza delivered to my home and a long hot bath in my future that night.
When it is time to document all of these contacts in a quick, effective, way, I use COUNSELING NOTES. LuAnne, another Square Peg, developed this format using Microsoft’s Excel Pivot Tables. She designed it, and I have implemented its use for the past four years by keeping my counseling notes using this terrific program. You get to decide how simple you want it to be based on the amount of detail you put in the “Comments” section. Best of all, it tracks the number of contacts you have by date AND by student. I print it out at the end of each year both ways, alphabetically and chronologically. I can quickly see that I saw “John Doe” 11 times when referring to the alphabetical printout. I can easily find that I counseled 47 students during September when I arrange it chronologically. And, there’s MORE! At the end of the year (or whenever desired), pivot tables allow me to see how many students I have seen by counseling category (family problems, anger management, social skills instruction, grief, etc.), the school or grade level with the greatest need for my support that particular year, and how many consultations I provided. Separate graphs and charts quickly show this information in such a way that I see my counseling services during the school year. It is much more than a spreadsheet!
In a nutshell, this tool allows me to keep sole-possession counseling notes in a quick, simple manner AND is excellent documentation of my time…proving time and time again that I am a needed member of my school community. It is not unusual for me to have 400+ student contacts across an academic year. Using COUNSELING NOTES keeps my counseling notes organized in a way I have never previously been able to accomplish. I am NOT, by nature, an organized person (ask anyone who works or lives with me!), and this is simply the best tool for counselors I have ever personally used. Want to prove your worth in a statistical, data-driven way? Use COUNSELING NOTES.
Remember, there are legal and ethical guidelines when keeping counseling notes as they relate to student records. See my post STUDENT RECORDS: Yours, Mine or Ours?
I work daily with a great team of seven guidance counselors and four school psychologists. Each is highly skilled. It is not unusual for us to discuss, or even debate, a variety of counseling issues. One that resurfaces on a fairly routine basis is the issue of student records, particularly concerning our COUNSELING NOTES. I’d like to take a minute to quickly review what the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends regarding our records on students:
- First and foremost, make sure you are keeping educational records that are required by your school board policies, as well as state and federal laws/regulations. This extends beyond counseling notes and refers to all student records. Be familiar with FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, 1974) and how this impacts educational records.
- Keep your counseling notes, referred to by ASCA as sole-possession records, separate from educational records, per state laws on this issue.
- Remember that sole-possession records are designed to be a way for you, the counselor, to remember your sessions with students (e.g., what the topic of discussion was, what strategies for coping may have been taught, what the student’s reason for seeking support was, what day you saw the student, etc.). Here are potential limitations to sole-possession counseling notes:
- Even though they are not typically part of the student’s educational records, they could become so if shared with others or if they are available to others in written or verbal form. So, keep your counseling notes private, period.
- Sole-possession records could also become part of a student’s educational records if they include information beyond your professional opinion or personal observations.
- Likewise, be advised that individual student notes can possibly be subpoenaed. What you are required to disclose may depend on your state laws, your credentials, and the situation-at-hand so it is advisable to consult with your school board’s attorney if subpoenaed.
Bottom line, your sole-possession counseling notes are for YOUR EYES ONLY. Keeping these notes in a confidential, secure location and keeping them only for your individual reference in order to document student contacts by date, name, and reason, is paramount in protecting your counseling notes from becoming public. My rule of thumb is that I create these notes with the expectation that they will stay private but with the knowledge that they COULD become public. Thus, I only put information in my counseling notes that I am comfortable having someone else know should that happen.
Following are two excellent articles by ASCA that further discuss counseling notes:
The American School Counselor Association’s Code of Ethics is found at: