The process involves three brief conversations with staff, possibly in the last ten minutes of three consecutive staff meetings.

Meeting one

The administrator or the bullying prevention team talks about one crucial element of behavior management for all staff- our ability to differentiate between student behavior and use different responses depending on the type of behavior. We discuss the idea that all staff- consciously or unconsciously- keep three lists in the back of our heads while supervising children:

1. We all have a list of behaviors that we usually ignore. Included in this list might be students’ politely telling others they don’t want to be their friends for a while. We will be calling this list the GREEN list. Placing behaviors here does not mean we approve of them; it does mean that we do not plan to interrupt instruction or other activities to deal with them. We may sympathize with a student whose friend has broken up with them, but that does not mean that it is our job to tell the ex-friend that she or he must return to the friendship. Deciding not to react to all behaviors we see lets us have time to teach. In addition, parents will not support us if we tell their children who to be friends with. They will object if we do not allow any kind of arguing, low-level teasing, or behavior that people will correctly interpret as “kids being kids.”

2. We all have a list of behaviors that we act on in the moment. Included in this list might be inappropriate language or minor pushing and shoving. We might tell the person that the behavior is unacceptable, use an immediate consequence such as having the person sit away from the group, or act in some other way. We will call this list the YELLOW list. Repeated YELLOW behaviors might lead us to reporting the pattern of actions to the office.

3. We all have a list of behaviors that will lead to a referral to the office for further intervention. Behaviors on this list will likely include serious physical aggression, hate speech, or name calling that is likely to make a person feel unsafe. The most severe behaviors in this category would lead us to send the student to the principal immediately instead of sending a behavior report and having the principal follow up. These are our personal RED list.

Ask staff members what behaviors are on their personal green, yellow, and red lists. Stress two things:

  • Each of us will be more effective if our own lists are the same from day to day and from student to student. If we are consistent, young people will be more likely to learn what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.
  • Our school will be more effective in dealing with aggressive behavior if we all have the same behaviors on our yellow and red lists. Bringing our lists together does not mean that we all have to use the same interventions with behaviors on the yellow list. We all have different styles as disciplinarians. It does mean that we all commit to doing something to discourage yellow-list behaviors when we see them, and to reporting red-list behaviors. Ask staff members to think about these issues between this meeting and the next.

Meeting two

Review the Green/Yellow/Red concept. Post (on easel paper) a list of peer aggressive behaviors. Below is one such list that you might use as a starting point:

  • Punching, kicking, and pushing down
  • Running into others roughly
  • Slapping, grabbing, and pushing
  • Shoving and shouldering
  • Touching or grabbing private parts of others’ bodies
  • Starting or spreading rumors (truthful or false- statements that are likely to embarrass)
  • Low-level name-calling (“You’re mean”; “You’re no good at kickball” “Doofus”)
  • Name-calling related to academic ability, body shape, or appearance
  • Name-calling related to family income or family characteristics
  • Name-calling related to gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnic background
  • Other sexual comments
  • Saying: “I’m a faster runner than you are.”
  • Use of words relating to sexual orientation or race or gender as general derogatory comments not aimed at person (“That test was so gay” “ The Red Sox played like girls this season” etc…)
  • Threatening comments or gestures
  • Cutting in line
  • Taking possessions
  • Saying: “I don’t want to play with you today”
  • Exclusion: Telling other people not to play with someone
  • Mimicking, making faces, following without threats

NOTE: The fact that a behavior is on this list does not mean that that behavior is against the school rules. Some of these behaviors will be included on the school’s GREEN list, which means that staff are likely to ignore that behavior instead of stopping it.

Read staff the list. What aggressive behaviors need to be added? Do not let this question turn into a discussion of how any of these behaviors will be dealt with. The only goal of this brainstorming is to add aggressive behaviors commonly seen at your school to the list. In adding behaviors, edit staff suggestions so everything on the list is described specifically (e.g. “Tripping” rather than “unsafe physical actions”), so no behaviors listed include a description of the person’s intention (e.g., “starting or spreading rumors” instead of “maliciously starting rumors”), and so no behaviors listed are defined by the target’s reaction (e.g. “name calling about health conditions” instead of “unwanted name calling”). Using poorly defined behaviors on the list will lead to confusion. Defining unwanted behaviors in terms of intention or effect will lead to inconsistency, since some students will not tell us the truth about intention or impact. When the list is complete, give staff members either stickers or markers of all three colors (red, yellow, and green). WITHOUT DISCUSSION of which category each behavior falls into, ask staff to place one sticker or marker dot of any one of the three colors next to each behavior. Alternatively, the lists might be posted in the staff room for a week so staff can place the stickers. At the end of either process, the chart will now look something like this:


(Note: this picture is in color. If you are seeing it in black and white, it shows almost all the staff placing red stickers near the first behavior, almost all staff placing yellow stickers near the second behavior, and an even mix of green and yellow stickers near the third behavior.)

In this example, the staff is close enough to consensus about the first two items. As with the third item on this list, there will be divided opinions about some items. In this case, the behavior is not well defined. The other likely possibility is that teachers at a higher grade level are rating the behaviors differently than teachers at a lower grade level.

Meeting three:

Between the second and third meeting, the administrator or team rewrites the disputed behavior descriptions if they seem unclear or mixed. In the example given above, they would list six types of low level name-calling, preparing to ask the staff for a repeat rating of each. If the behavior descriptions are clear, the team would prepare to have (for example) K-2 teachers and 3-6 teachers rate the disputed behaviors separately. In many schools the same behaviors will be on the school’s YELLOW list for grades K-2 and on the RED list for grades 3-6, because younger children are still learning about social expectations that older students understand.

When we are finished with this process, we have three lists of peer-to-peer aggressive behaviors:

  • A RED list of behaviors which all staff commit to report to the principal.
  • A YELLOW list of behaviors which staff commit to dealing with in the moment when they happen. Staff members may want to use their own strategies ranging from a request to stop through consequences for dealing with these behaviors. When staff become aware that a student is exhibiting one of these behaviors habitually they will report that pattern to the principal for action.
  • And a GREEN list of behaviors that staff will not usually intervene with. Behaviors that some staff rate as YELLOW and some staff rate as GREEN should also be on the school’s GREEN list for the present. This decision can be reviewed later. It is advisable to put these divided behaviors on the GREEN list to avoid telling students and the community that the school will deal with a behavior and then having that behavior ignored by many staff.

Once the rating process is done, the items on the RED list become the behaviors that will be reflected in the school’s aggressive behavior rubric. The Bullying Prevention Team or Administrator should sort those RED behaviors into three categories based on the likelihood of harm to the target, and create an escalating list of consequences to go with each category. Consequences for repeated use of YELLOW level behaviors might also be integrated into this rubric. The rubric can address retaliation against other students for telling staff about aggressive behavior, and should also address how the school will deal with very severe aggressive behaviors and with those behaviors defined as harassment under state and federal law. In setting up consequences, remember that small, escalating, and inevitable consequences are often more effective than large ones which may not always be available or appropriate. For more information about behavior rubrics and effective use of consequences, see my book Schools Where Everyone Belongs.

Creating a staff-wide consensus about which behaviors to report to the principal, which behaviors staff will deal with themselves, and which behaviors we see as acceptable even if the targets of those behaviors do not like them will help the school react to reports of aggressive behavior more consistently. I recommend that this rating process be repeated annually, with parent and student input, to help staff maintain consistency in dealing with aggressive behaviors.