#SOL16 Ditch the Dojo?

Last week, Dr. Mary Howard posted this on Facebook. My initial response, which I wrote as a comment, was this: 

 I also dislike public shaming systems but I've used Class Dojo and don't find it to be like that. I don't publicly display the points. I've tied the dojo dollars into a class economy where kids get paychecks and can purchase brain break coupons or the right to sit in the rocking chair at reading time. Paychecks were given privately so students weren't aware of how many points the others received. I did give a certificate to the high dojo scorer of the week and many times it was a student who put forth a lot of effort, despite academic challenges. Class dojo makes it easy to be in touch with the parents and send them pictures and class happenings in real time. They also have a great video series on growth mindset that my students enjoyed and sparked good discussions. There is no public shaming in my classroom and class dojo has been a positive 
way for me to share with parents. 

The truth was, entering the conversation, I really believed I was right about Class Dojo. When I taught kindergarten, I had been guilty of the clip system. In my early days of teaching kindergarten, I used color cards- green was good, orange was like a warning, yellow had a small consequence (like missing 5 minutes of centers) and red was a note home or a phone call and the loss of center time (a major deal in kindergarten). If you "stayed on green", you would get a star on your card. 5 stars meant a sticker and 10 meant a prize. 

I'm ashamed of this now. At the time, this type of behavior system was what was recommended to teachers. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought the visual display was what students needed. I thought rewarding students who showed "good behavior" was the right thing to do and the students who acted out deserved a consequence. In later years, I changed the color card system to the clip up, clip down system. Everyone started their day on the green paper plate. Positive behavior meant you could move your clip to blue then purple, negative behavior took you down to orange, yellow, and, for the truly naughty, red. This was a system that others advised me to adopt- a way for students to "move up" and still a way for them to move down, if they were not behaving. I uncomfortably realized that some students always moved their clip down and everyone knew it. 

Why didn't I see this as a public display of humiliation? Why didn't I acknowledge that some students were always, always, below green, while others- the "good" students frequently found themselves on purple. Why did't I see that I was creating identities for students and not really teaching them much about changing their behavior- just labeling it, rewarding it, or punishing it.  After reading posts by Pernille Ripp, I decided to scrap the clip up, clip down system when I made the move to third grade. I recognized that publicly posting students' behavior was unkind, unhelpful, and nothing I would want for my own children.

But then I heard of Class Dojo. It was a way to integrate technology with classroom management. Each student had their own avatar and could earn points, or lose them, based on their behaviors. I could communicate with the parents as a whole class and on an individual basis. Students could earn Dojo dollars, which could be used to buy classroom privileges like sitting in the rocking chair or selecting the Brain Break we picked on Go Noodle. At the end of the year, I would do a Dojo Auction and give away books and materials in exchange for Dojo dollars. I never publicly posted the students' points and would give out the paychecks individually so students did not know what other students received. I would give a certificate to the "High Dojo Scorer of the Week" to recognize those students who were working hard. I felt very good about all of this. 

So, when I commented on Dr. Mary's post, I believed Dojo was doing no harm. I knew my students were very eager to get Dojo paychecks and it added an element of excitement to our week. I knew their parents liked the way Dojo opened communication and was an easy way for us to share information and reminders. But then, the conversation continued. Ryan Scala responded to my message very respectfully, but also raising questions about compliance and if students should receive paychecks for kindness and hard work. He also pointed out that it doesn't seem to work well with a growth mindset and only rewards successes. Mary commented as well, pointing out that the research shows extrinsic rewards do not  further intrinsic learning or offer strategies for students who have difficulty "behaving" (such as our ADHD students). 

This made me think of one of my students, who struggled with ADHD and often received the lowest Dojo paycheck each week. Was this really fair? When peers without this issue are able to attend and focus, is it really right to give them more Dojo bucks when they biologically can attend more readily? We know our students do not come from the same situations or backgrounds. Is it fair to award some and punish others? Should that even be my role? As a teacher, shouldn't I be TEACHING my students how to appropriately manage their own behavior instead of giving them points for sitting quietly? 

Dr. Mary asked, "Would something else work better?" And that got me thinking...how could I still keep the things I like about Dojo, but stop giving and taking away points? For this coming year, I settled on Remind as a way to send messages to parents and keep communication open. I can still show my students the Class Dojo growth mindset videos, which are fun and open up conversations about persistence and failure. Instead of Dojo paycheck day, what else could I do to add an element of free choice and fun into our week? Might makerspace be the way to go? Or genius hour? Maybe I could try a period a week where students could sign up to be the teachers, like an Edcamp feel. 

And what about discipline? Behavior management? What will I do without a rewards and consequences system? Confession- I'm a little scared. This will be the first time in my whole teaching career that I haven't had a "plan" in place. I'm thinking we will talk a lot about what a community is, what it looks like, and feels like. I might need to have private behavior conferences with students. I will need to teach students strategies. I'll have to work to make class  more engaging so they don't need the promise of a point to stay on track. It might be a disaster. But my heart tells me I'm on the right track by changing course, ditching the points, and trying to create a community without dollars and clip charts.

Some scoff at the idea of being a "connected educator", saying they don't "do Twitter" or don't have time to have these conversations.  But how do we revise our thinking and stay current in our field if we don't connect? In an extremely contentious election year, having civil, respectful conversations where we start from different viewpoints and can end up changing our mind is really what we want our children to know about debate and differences. Sometimes you agree to disagree. But when you listen with an open mind and heart, sometimes you move to another level of understanding, and you just might change your mind.  

Thank you to Pernille Ripp, Dr. Mary Howard, Ryan Scala, and all who helped me understand why I should rethink Class Dojo. This year, I'm ditching the Dojo dollars. 


The The 
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  1. Yes! I am sending this piece to a friend this morning--we had a similar conversation about clip up/down practices this week. Thank you for your courageous sharing about how you rethought your practice.

  2. THAT is courage!
    I must confess, I'm not sure that I could do it but I do like to think I could try.
    Bless you and your children.

  3. I'm just learning about Conscious Discipline by Rebecca Bailey. If you haven't read it, you might want to. It is right up this alley of thought in the classroom.


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