Firsties Go Zen - Positive Behavior Management in the Classroom, Part One

Before reading, please note: I realize that many amazing teachers have found great success using behavior charts in their classroom. This post is simply to share my experiences and to offer an alternative form of behavior management. 

This year, I went rouge and ditched my traditional clip chart. I know...some of you are in shock and the other half are screaming, "It's about time!" As a student teacher, clip charts were the main form of behavior management I saw in classrooms. From inner city schools to rural districts and every type of school in between, I knew I could walk in any elementary classroom and see a clip chart hanging quietly in the corner. The colors may change, but the lesson is always the same: do good, and move up. Do bad, move down.

Of course, when I set up my own classroom, it seemed natural to utilize a clip chart. I created my very own using cute, printed scrapbook paper and my trusty laminator, proudly printing each student's name neatly on a clothespin. I clipped them all on "Ready to Learn!" and eagerly awaited for my students to funnel in for their first day of first grade.

And it worked...for the most part. So why change something that still fit so easily into my classroom? This past summer, though, I realized something. The clip chart wasn't failing my classroom, but it sure was making my students feel like failures.

Sure, the clip chart (or most of them, anyways) offers redemption. Students who clip down to a "bad color" early in the day can be clipped up if they show improvement. But those minutes spent shamed on a bad color can stretch into eternity for our little ones. I also realized that the clip chart wasn't changing behavior, it was only tracking it. It was offering absolutely no support to my students who desperately wanted to be good, but had trouble following the rules.

Upon realizing this, I felt disappointed in myself as an educator. Still, I was determined to find an alternative. I searched the internet, talked to fellow teachers, and read lengthy research papers. Finally, a visit to my dear friend's classroom in Texas offered the perfect solution: the Zen Zone.

The Zen Zone, as I informed my students and parents alike at the start of the school year, is not a place for "time out". It is not a punishment and it is not a place a child should enter and feel shame. It's simply a place to take a break. The Zen Zone is where my students go to decompose, to think about wiser choices, or to just breathe for a moment.

For students (and teachers!), school can be frustrating, angering, and even saddening at times. These feelings sometimes make us act out in ways that might break school rules. Students also bring their worries from home to the classroom, which can have a strong effect on their behavior during school hours. Studies even show that children today bear more stress than ever before! Enter the Zen Zone...

A student may be asked to visit the Zen Zone, or they may visit by their own choice. They can stay as long as they need - though my average student needs less than three to five minutes to regain their composure and return to their seat or place on the carpet.

My classroom Zen Zone is by no means fancy. It does not take up a large amount of space, and was supplied using mostly dollar store items. I stapled some butcher paper to the back of an ugly bookshelf, slapped up a border, and hung a beyond adorable pennant from Instruct and Inspire's Editable Banner on TpT. I added two spare foam floor tiles that had been hiding away in storage and a pillow from my old couch for some comfort (I plan to spruce up this part of my Zen Zone in time, but this girl's on a budget!).

The most important tools in the Zen Zone can be found in a simple blue bin resting in the corner. Again, all of these are DIY or dollar store items!

I have various different calm down jars in the Zen Zone, which I made myself using these directions. I also included a stress ball and an old pair of headphones that I snipped the cord from. I turned a small photo album into a "Feelings Book," to assist my students with expressing themselves. The album also features photos of each of my students and their families. I have found the family photos to be especially helpful this year, as I have many students who don't get to see their parents often or just get homesick. I also have a clipboard and supply box in the Zen Zone (not pictured) for students who simply wish to work in a more secluded area of the room.

Perhaps the most useful tool in the Zen Zone, however, is the check in journal. Students may choose to journal their feelings while in the Zen Zone. Though it is not a requirement, most students do doodle or journal. Their writing offers me a lot of insight, especially for my students who are hesitant to talk to me about their feelings.

I also include some great children's literature that centers on feelings. I rotate them out fairly regularly, depending on how often the Zen Zone is being used and what students may be using it for.

This is my first year utilizing the Zen Zone, and I can't imagine going back to a clip chart. Having this additional "extra safe space" in my classroom has completely changed my students' daily behavior. I have noticed that they are more self-aware of their own emotions. They also are able to self-assess, choosing to visit the Zen Zone before poor behavior even occurs. My firsties are always telling me things like, "I almost made a bad choice because I was angry, but the Zen Zone helped me calm down." Easily frustrated or upset students are learning cooping mechanisms from repeated visits. Parents are even reporting that their child has created a Zen Zone in their room, and that it benefits their behavior at home. Success! 

Of course, chronic or severe behavior issues are not always solved by using the Zen Zone. Stay tuned for "Positive Behavior Management in the Classroom, Part Two" to learn about how I manage these types of behaviors in my classroom! 


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  2. How did this year go? Anything you would keep or refine? I am thinking about doing a Zen Zone next year. I love how your blog made it seem so simple!

  3. Hi! I highly suggest it! My kiddos used the Zen Zone from our first day to our very last. I will be making a slight change for next year...I am moving my Zen Zone to be in between two filing cabinets and adding a sheer curtain! I think removing students from stimuli even more will make for shorter Zen Zone visits, as they'll be more removed from whatever may be bugging them! I'd love to see photos of your's soon!

  4. did you have any students that took advantage of going to the zen zone? how did you introduce the zen zone or explain the term zen to your students?

  5. Hi, I have two students in particular that I think could really utilize this. I have two fears though...
    1. One of my students behavior has sky rocketed (in a bad way) this month and I feel the parents are afraid that I haven't contacted them enough and am not doing enough. How do I explain this to them?
    2. What about my other students who may not need to go to the zen zone as much as others? How do I explain this to them?
    Thanks! (from a first year teacher :) )


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