Saint-Didier primary school


summary > school > cycle 2


Behaviour belts

Co-operative council

Discipline is a major concern for trainee teachers. I fully understand why: they do not have the know-how to ensure that their pupils work in silence, do not insult or fight with one another, be tidy, walk in line safely, raise their hand for permission to speak, respect the work of others, work in groups without making too much noise… The list goes on!

If no thought has been given to this matter beforehand, the novice teacher will encounter problems very quickly in class. He/she will handle misbehaviour using emergency measures: punishments, shouting, exclusions, etc. It is obvious that with such a strategy the situation will go from bad to worse.

I like to see things differently: my starting principle is that only a comforting and clear framework can promote the development of each child. My thinking is directed at achieving such a framework, which, when in place, will solve problems related to class management.


Before proceeding, I present the key principles that underlie my convictions:

• My aim is the development of every single pupil. This development is manifested through the acquisition of knowledge, but also from better self-control, increasing awareness of others, the joint management of the class, and, especially, the desire to grow. The children must want to make progress in their knowledge as well as in their behaviour. I have to stimulate these two desires.

• In analogy with the law, no one is above the framework. All I want to do is to enforce the law, so to speak, as objectively as possible. For this, I have to ignore any emotions when I sanction a pupil, who must not feel 'picked on' but, rather, that the law is the same for everyone, from the 'swots' to the most boisterous pupils. The framework must be constant, even if another teacher is taking the class.

• I want every child to know the boundaries and what they can and cannot do, and that this be put into writing and understood by everyone.

• Some points are non-negotiable, and are summed up by the phrase, "That's just the way it is". For example, there will not be any discussion on whether one can hurt someone else. This is a universal rule that pupils need to be reminded of from time to time, in a forthright, firm and serious manner.

• The school must not be seen as overrestrictive. If it were, children would react by breaking the rules at any price. The regulations must be fair, thus they must show evidence of common sense and must not be added needlessly. The school must be a place where children develop a respect for the law, and the legislative process.

• By handling them control of their class and allowing them to change its functioning, the children develop a special affinity. A mothering instinct emerges, and children want to nurture 'their' class. They become partners with the teacher. The new dynamics mean that it is in the interest of everyone that the framework be respected.

• There must be no ambiguity about what is negotiable and what is not: the negotiable consists of that which bothers the pupils and that they would like to change. The non-negotiable consists of fundamental restrictions, and that which, according to the teacher, impedes learning or endangers the pupils. The negotiable is discussed with the pupils. The non-negotiable is stipulated by the teacher and the pupils have no power to change it.

• Sanctions must be applied immediately. If a pupil is repeatedly warned, he learns that he can try to break the rules without fear. A system of sanctions must be immediate if it is to be effective. This is particularly hard for beginners. In short, teachers must not want to be nice or to keep the children happy. The teacher sets the tone, and, therefore, sanctions must be applied without fail, in a detached manner.

• Rights must be genuine rights, ie with real value and empowering. They must be closely related to duties.

• One must avoid handling problems as soon as they happen. When a child is angry, it is better to wait (except if it's urgent of course) and discuss the grievance in a setting designed for this.

• While at school, children must feel safe, in a non-threatening environment. To achieve this, it is our duty to guarantee their psychological security. The children must not feel in danger.

Here are the devices used in my class:

Behaviour belts

The principle is as follows: there is a gradual scale of pupil duties. Performance of a duty leads to the granting of a right, to which it is directly related. It is a system of trust.

Here is the grid for this year:


White belt

Orange belt

Blue belt

Black belt

I tidy my belongings and take care of collective equipment.


I can move about in the queue safely.


I respect the class regulations.


I do not bother others.


I have the right to use the collective equipment without authorisation.

I have the right to manage the queue.

I have the right to leave the class without authorisation.

I have the right to stay in class without an adult and to work outside the class.


To obtain the white belt, the child must tidy their belongings and take care of the collective equipment for a week. If the child fails to do this, even once in the whole week, the opportunity is lost. The system is hierarchical: the white belt is needed to obtain the orange belt, and so on.

I have a grid on which I mark each instance of misbehaviour with a dash.


  White belt Orange belt Blue belt Black belt
Did not tidy their belongings.
Did not take care of equipment.
Did not form a queue safely.
Did not respect the class regulations.
Bothered others.


At the end of every week, I tell every pupil how many dashes he has accumulated in each column. I also tell him which belt he has obtained, and what his rights are. This is done in front of the other pupils and belt holders are applauded.

There follows a review, during which everyone can express themselves about their behaviour, say whether they are satisfied, whether they are progressing, what they want to improve or what they find difficult.

The behaviour belts are presented to the class at the beginning of each year. I explain their functioning as something which is not negotiable. Every child has the right to decide that he will chatter throughout the year, and thus never obtain the orange belt, but he cannot decide that he has the right to chatter in the class.

The children may be aware of other examples of evaluation systems using belts. So I tell the children that behaviour belts are different because the belt they wear around their waist is not real – it exists in their heads, and can be lost every week.

The co-operative council

In the French Government programmes, it is explicitly stated:

"As soon as he considers it possible, the teacher initiates the elaboration of the class regulations with the class. He makes the pupils understand the conditions for a successful debate and accept the self-discipline required. An hour every fortnight is set aside for this activity, which serves to demonstrate its importance."

I will not discuss further the conditions for a successful citizen's debate as they are described elsewhere, on the page Pedagogy of the debate.

The cooperative council, which takes place once a week and lasts 25-35 minutes, fulfils several purposes:

- to decide plans of action,

- to vote on the class regulations,

- to solve problems.

In contrast to what occurs in cycle 3, I am the president of the council for the whole year. I do not think it is conceivable to give this role to cycle 2 pupils. I draw up the agenda and ensure the orderly conduct of the council.

A shoe-box, called the co-operative box, is made available in the class. When a child has a suggestion or a complaint, he writes it on a piece of paper, which he then signs and places in the box. Children who cannot read can enlist the help of an older child, their parents or even me.

On the day of the council (Monday this year), a meeting secretary is chosen from the volunteers. The agenda is read out by the previous week's secretary. He then reads the summary of the previous council and, for every point, anyone who wants to can say whether the decisions have been respected or not.

As an example, here is the latest summary:

Council of 5 April 2004

Secretary: Marouchka

• Nais will stop following Sιverine

• Nils will swap places with Pao

• Thomas will check the condition of the books he lends to the class

• Corinne and Perrine will fill the glue pots every week

• Etienne's desk will be moved.

Next, the previous secretary reads every note in the co-operative box. Each contributor has to explain why he wants to discuss the topic in council. There follows a very structured discussion (see Pedagogy of the debate), then I announce, "The discussion is closed. What are your suggestions?". No further discussion is allowed from this moment, and I write all the propositions on the board. Each proposition is then voted on. The secretary writes all the decisions taken in the co-operative notebook.

This notebook is permanently available in the class. It contains every summary, in handwritten and printed forms, to facilitate reading in this age group. The notebook can be consulted by anyone at anytime. Everyone is responsible for the effective application of the decisions taken in the council.

The agenda of the first council of the year includes an important item: drawing up of class regulations. The first point of the regulations is decided by me and is not negotiable: do not hurt anyone.

The other points are decided by the pupils. The regulations evolve over the year. We can add, remove or modify the points.

As an example, here are the class regulations of cycle 2.

Class regulations

1. Do not hurt anyone

2. Do not swear

3. Do not fight

4. Do not spit on others

5. Do not open the doors of the toilet while someone is using it. Knock before entering

6. Do not force people to do something they don't want to.

When a child infringes one of the regulations, he has to sit down for 3 minutes.

The regulations are posted in the class so that everyone can refer to them.

Clarity of instructions

I make sure that all pupils know exactly what I expect of them. There is no place for ambiguity. I do not want any unspoken or implicit rules, or for my pupils to feel that they have to fit into a certain mould.

For example, when I want the children's attention, I clap my hands… But, I do this in a certain way: I clap twice, slowly, loudly and seriously, to warn them that they must get ready. After a few seconds, I clap three times, in the same way. After this, I do not accept any noise and any misbehaviours are noted on the behaviour chart.

The pupils had specifically asked that the three claps be preceded by two warning claps. This was accepted and, indeed, has now become an integral part of the functioning of the whole school.

My instructions must be clear so that the pupils know what they have to do, and what is possible or not. Before the children begin any exercises which do not involve me, I tell them, "You can work alone or in twos".

Or, "From now on, you must whisper".

Or, during tests, "You are not allowed to talk, look at others or help one another".

In this way, the children know exactly where they stand, and there are no surprises.

The effect of this system

Let's take a real-life example: Clemence has just come to me in the playground to say that Cecile keeps bothering her. I ask her, "Is this in the regulations?" She replies no, so I tell her that I cannot do anything. I remind her that she can put a note in the co-operative box. She decides whether to do so. If she places a note, the topic will be discussed at the next council, and the class will make a decision if necessary. The topic could eventually lead to a new point in the class regulations. If she doesn't place a note, it is because the problem was not such a problem after all, and Clemence is content with telling me.

Another situation: Clemence complains to me that Cecile has hurt her. Because this is covered by the class regulations, I call Cecile over and ask her if she hurt Clemence. If she replies yes, then she has to sit down for three minutes. If she refutes this, then I ask Clemence if there are any witnesses. If there aren't any, then I explain to Clemence that Cecile will not sit down for three minutes because I have no proof. Alternatively, if someone confirms that Cecile hurt Clemence, then Cecile has to sit down for three minutes.

This system may very well seem complicated. However, it has the advantage of being relatively fair and clear to all the pupils.

Delaying the response to a misbehaviour, after anger has subsided, allows matters to be discussed calmly and impartially.

The pupils also know that I treat their problems by referring to the class regulations. This is an absolute – no other factors come into play. For example, the children know that my mood does not determine my response. The only reference is the class regulations, drawn up collectively and known by everyone.

No one is above the class regulations. All I do is to enforce them.

With such a system, I hardly every shout. Of course, I get angry, but this is very rare. My emotions are pointless since I ignore them completely; the regulations governing the whole group are what matter.

I will not dwell on punishments. Who on earth decided that lines must be given to pupils in order that they improve their behaviour. I have never given this punishment. It does not form part of the class regulations, so there is no reason for me to resort to it. And it's not hard to imagine the effect of this punishment on the child who has problems learning to write. Moreover, it is counterproductive, when one considers that the desired goal is for children to write for pleasure.

The system needs a lot of rigour: one must know how to observe the and, consequently, to know when to be quiet and to keep apart. One must not hesitate to place dashes on the behaviour grid, even if there are several already.

Here is another example:

Simon chattered on 23 occasions this week. I told him so during the handing-out of behaviour belts. He was disappointed, perhaps even angry. At the review, he said how unhappy he was. The following week, he chattered eight times. He still did not obtain the orange belt. At the review he was not disappointed; on the contrary, he was delighted to have made progress. The fact is that he was only aware of his progress because I noted every instance assiduously.

I do not find excuses to let off the pupils. For example, often, Lucile can be a bit dreamy and is humming when I have clapped three times. I place a dash next to her name. She becomes angry; she didn't do it deliberately and I believe her. However, it is this dash that will allow her to progress and try harder to pay attention during collective activities. So, the dash is a way of helping her to grow. If I forgive her, by telling myself that it wasn't her fault, and do not place a dash for her, she has no reason to try to listen to my claps.

In conclusion, I can see that the behaviour of every one of my pupils is progressing. Over the three years of cycle 2, major changes take place. The children learn to tidy their items, and do not bother the class so much. Some pupils, albeit very few, are capable of following the regulations in the first year (Nursery Year 4). The great majority have to work at it though, and, despite occasional setbacks, they are continually improving.

This extremely strict system empowers the pupils. They have a voice, they have the power to change the functioning of their class, they acquire real rights and make use of them. I sincerely believe that they look forward to coming to school, because they take control of their class and do not feel in danger.

Corinne Famelart


This page has been translated from French by Andreas Theodorou.




Your opinion

summary > school > cycle 2

Last Update :11/18/04