Tag Archives: behavior management

Dear Teachers: Step Away From the Elf



It’s that time of year, again. Time to break out the tree, ornaments, and other Christmas décor. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own bubble, complete with traditions and expectations, that I forget that there are other winter holidays.



Back when I taught in public schools, there was a rule about holidays and cultures. If you teach about one holiday or culture, you must give equal time and effort to all holidays and cultures. The other option was skipping this type of social studies topic unless it was present in your basal textbooks due to state or common core standards. Easy enough. Each year my team worked together to provide social studies units throughout the year. It was fun and promoted multiculturalism and the idea that we all ought to help one another.


Because this is the standard in most schools, districts, and states I was shocked to find out that many teachers use Elf on the Shelf during this time of year. I thought it was a joke! Nope, some teachers use this little fella for décor while others (MANY others) use the elf to coerce children into behaving certain ways. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work long-term and is far from a positive, respectful discipline plan.

Using the elf creates kids who are always watching out for anyone with the power to punish them, including bullies. Which, sadly, leads to children following a bully’s directions due to fear rather than making wise choices via an internal compass.

On top of that terrible social skills lesson, the elf doesn’t honor all religions and cultures making the classroom a negative influence on multiculturalism and, sadly, fostering a “we are better than you” bully mentality. This is a form of racism.

I realize this seems like a stretch to those who do not live the daily realities of institutionalized racism, which are often not as obvious as racism from years in our past. However, this type of racism is still very much a reality and teachers do need to be aware of this fact. Keep in mind that some parents are extremely watchful, as they should be, and will report racism to the department of education in their state or to local districts because the elf does violate anti-bullying rules in schools and anti-racism laws. Yes, this can put jobs on the line. Is the elf worth the risk?

Though I know people mean well, it is time to ditch the elf. No Elf on the Shelf needs to be in our public schools. Not even if the elf is free. Not even if parents and kids ask for it. Not even if it’s “cute”. The ramifications from this “cute and harmless” tradition are harmful and have no place in our public schools.


There’s also the issue of telling lies. Yes, many parents lie about Santa, the elf, and more. But should teachers lie to kids? Some kids don’t mind, but others feel betrayed and that can break the bonds of trust they need so they can more easily learn.

Also, children with anxiety often have heightened anxiety if they think someone is spying on their every move. Think about the last time a police officer was driving behind you when you were at the wheel. Did you overthink every move you made even though you follow the rules closely? If so, then you know at least a little about the anxiety a child feels when put under a spotlight because a teacher uses the elf in an attempt to manage classroom behavior. If your classroom behavior management is respectful and effective, then you won’t need a crutch like an elf who spies on children anyway.

Child Reading

Fellow educators, I ask you to do away with the Elf on the Shelf. It isn’t worth the messages the elf sends to our students. It isn’t worth the time explaining the elf, moving the elf, and using the elf to force compliance from students. It isn’t worth someone complaining to DOE because a teacher chose to focus on one holiday or character. Just say no to the elf. Our kids deserve better and nobody needs more stress this time of year. We can achieve more without the elf than with it.

Parenting Tool: Try It Again

again 2

A couple of years ago I began using a picture routine list with my son in order to help him transition from one part of our day to another. It helped with his meltdowns for a short time and then the schedule went to the trash can after a couple months of less than stellar results. As he grew older, he had less transition related meltdowns and I slowly forgot that we once created a schedule for him.

Fast forward to last week. Due to some changes in our lives, my son began having difficulty during our morning and evening routines. He knows the steps of getting ready for his day and getting ready to sleep, but was melting down quite often yet again. I decided to go back through the strategies we tried before in order to find one that helped.

I asked my son if he would like to help me create a new picture schedule for both our morning and evening routines. He agreed. There we sat at 9 PM looking through free photos we could download for our charts. Not only did he feel important, he also felt in charge of his routines. They are the routines I prefer, too. It was a matter of putting the routines on paper again so he could easily refer to them when needed.

Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, winnond, SOMMAI, Serge Bertasius Photography , Sira Anamwong, and foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, winnond, SOMMAI, Serge Bertasius Photography , Sira Anamwong, and foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since creating the new and improved routine lists, he has had less meltdowns, enjoys trying to read the words we chose to include with the pictures, and reminds me what he has not yet completed. We worked as a team, which means we both won.

The moral of the story is that sometimes a strategy will work for a time, not work, and then work again. Sometimes a strategy won’t work at all, then you try it again years later and it works. Never say never to a peaceful, respectful strategy.