When it comes to classroom behavior, veteran teachers know that each new batch of students is a little different from the ones that came before. Some years, your favorite behavioral incentives and rewards will work like a charm, and other years, you may struggle to find a classroom management system that really works.

After winter break, your students will need a reminder of classroom behavior expectations, which makes the new year a great time to introduce a new system for behavior management. When second grade teacher Nancy Jang tried out the “Secret Student” system in her class, it had an amazing and transformative effect on student behavior. Here’s how it works.

Introducing the Secret Student

Before the kids get to school, write a student’s name on a sticky note and adhere it to the back of a “Secret Student” sign. Laminate or put the sign in a page protector and place it high up on a whiteboard or bulletin board where everyone can see it, but it’s not easily accessible. The name written on the back of the sign will remain a secret until the end of the day.

During class, whenever you notice that students are a little unfocused, chatty, or squirrely, you should announce that you are looking to see if the Secret Student is being a good listener or if the Secret Student has a calm, quiet body. As the day progresses, mentally take note to see if the Secret Student is doing a good job. You can also look for other students who are listening and paying attention and give them praise.

How Student Behaviors Will Adjust

When the kids hear that you are checking to see if the Secret Student is listening, you will find that everyone will immediately begin to listen attentively! If there are one or two students that still need a reminder, whisper to them that it would be a bummer if they were the Secret Student and didn’t get a prize because they were making bad choices in their learning behaviors. Most students will straighten up quickly since they won’t want to miss out!

Rewarding Good Behavior

At the end of each day, have a quick class meeting to announce who the Secret Student is. If the Secret Student followed directions, listened, completed their work, and was a good friend, then they will receive a reward and a nice note home. Rewards can be a special pencil, a treat from the prize box, or other small prizes that can be switched out regularly to keep kids interested. 

You should also acknowledge other students who were well-behaved but not the Secret Student. These “superstars” normally just get recognition and applause from their peers, but once a week you can choose a random day to add a sticky note with a star on it to the back of the sign. That day, the Secret Student and the class superstars will get a reward!

Another Chance to Make Good Choices

If a child had a bad day while they were the Secret Student, just take the sticky note off the sign and don’t announce their name at the end of the day. Remind the class that everyone has a bad day now and then, and each day is another chance to make good choices. 

After implementing the “Secret Student” system, Jang found that the overall energy of her class calmed significantly and that students were working hard to be responsible for their own behaviors. It turned a very energetic, rowdy group of kids into focused listeners and learners. What a way to start the new year!  

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