Deconstructing the Star Chart Moving Towards Equitable Classroom Participation - Sensational Inclusion

Let’s delve into that infamous star chart – you know, the one that had me daydreaming about stealing my classmates’ stars just to salvage some semblance of respect. Picture this: a classroom adorned with a chart, celebrated as a gauge of a child’s unwavering compliance within an oppressive behavior management system. Let me be Swarovski crystal clear, there is no such thing as a “bad” kid (I’ve yet to encounter one). However, that star chart made me feel like I was Chucky himself. 

I lost stars for the smallest infractions, like “not listening” or “talking too much” (BTW, in all my years of working with little humans, I haven’t met one who listens or knows when to stop talking, but we love them anyways!). You see, I’ve always operated on my own time zone when it comes to processing information. So there I was, attempting to grasp what the teacher was saying, and poof, a star vanished into thin air. Those stars might as well have come with voices saying, “Tyana, you’re falling short, you’re not good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough.”

That star chart loomed over us like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, only far less forgiving. I always had one or two stars while my classmates’ stars seemed to defy gravity by cascading off the chart. I’d often daydream about orchestrating a star heist (and, between you and me, I might have attempted it once or twice). I even entertained the idea of accidentally toppling the whole chart. But beneath it all, my struggle was with self-perception – accepting that my worth was unequal to my peers. That star wall served as a daily reminder that I was an outsider in need of fixing.

But guess what? That star wall was FAKE NEWS. I hold a Ph.D, I’m an exceptional educator, and I always return my shopping cart. So the artificial classroom stars (and my teachers) were as wrong as Kylie Jenner’s Pepsi commercial. Yikes..

Let’s Deconstruct Shall We?

Since we have the time (and you are still here reading), let’s dissect the layers of the classroom management system that you or your child are subjected to. There are numerous injustices that lurk behind those glittery behavior cards, the gold-embossed star stickers, or the daily classroom challenge or “earning” five extra minutes of recess (if your child’s teacher is doing this, stop reading and call the actual cops). 

For example, suppose a child happens to be neurodivergent, gendered, Black, and living with a disability. In that case, their collection of stars often mirrors the ways in which they, within their intersectionalized bodies, are constrained by racism, ableism, and biased stereotypes. Don’t believe me? Check out “Punished For Dreaming” by Dr. Bettina Love. So, yea, that behavior management system is upholding white supremacy, multiple -isms and state sanctioned violence. 

Another thing to consider is, what do these stars truly signify? Do they genuinely reflect a child’s brilliance, unique talents, or genius? Absolutely not. They’re society’s oppressive way of saying, “Hey there, little one (yeah, you, the one with the developing brain), if you raise your hand, you’re on the fast track to greatness!” Even though the chances of you ever raising your hand as an adult during a meeting are slim to none. If you ask questions (but not too many), I will give you a star, but once you start questioning me, well, now you are noncompliant, and we simply can’t have that in this classroom.

If the goal is to nurture autonomous, tenacious, wild, and critical little humans (which I think it is), then what is the use in a system that produces the opposite of that? And if your goal is to indoctrinate the next generation into benign submission through oppressive reward-based systems, then chances are you still watch Roseanne, you were very busy on January 6th and use ranch dressing. We all can’t be great.

Let’s Rebuild Something Better

Now I am never going to engage in the mental gymnastics of deconstructing a system without participating in the rebuilding of a new and more humanizing one. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a couple. Here, I present my solutions for classroom management practices through my Classroom Support Equity Model:

The Equity Model of Appreciation

  • Traditional recognition systems often focus primarily on academic achievements, neglecting the diverse talents and contributions that students bring to the table. The Equity Model of Appreciation, on the other hand, places a spotlight on diversity and acknowledges the multitude of ways in which excellence manifests within the school community.
  • In this model, students receive recognition not solely for their academic accomplishments but also for their active involvement in extracurricular activities, acts of kindness, and their overall contributions to the school community. It places a high value on the unique gifts and qualities that each student possesses and ensures that every voice is not only heard but celebrated. This equity-driven approach contributes significantly to cultivating a more inclusive and affirming school culture.

The Equity Model of Participation:

  • Imagine an elementary classroom where students are encouraged to actively engage in discussions. Instead of adhering to conventional behavior norms, such as raising hands, the Equity Model of Participation celebrates the diverse range of voices within the classroom. It places value not only on the quantity but also on the quality of contributions, recognizing that not all students feel comfortable expressing themselves in the same way. This model creates an environment that embraces multiple forms of expression and values the richness of different perspectives.
  • In this framework, students are not penalized for introverted tendencies or the need for additional processing time. The Equity Model challenges the notion that “raising your hand” is the sole valid way to participate, fostering inclusion and highlighting the unique strengths each student brings to the classroom.

The Equity Model of Support:

  • Conventional disciplinary approaches in schools can disproportionately affect marginalized students. The Equity Model of Support  shifts the focus from punitive measures to restorative practices, which aim to repair harm and cultivate a sense of community. It challenges the belief that punishment is the most effective solution for addressing behavioral issues.
  • In this model, educators and students collaborate to address conflicts and issues using restorative circles, conflict resolution techniques, and peer mediation. The primary objective is not simply to maintain order but to nurture a sense of responsibility and empathy among students. By doing so, this equity-driven approach contributes to a more inclusive and supportive school environment.