Image Map

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Power of a Sticky Note: Individual Behavior Supports for Music Class

With so many students to teach and so little time with each class, managing to give each student the kind of individual support we'd like to is a monumental task! And often when individual students are struggling in school, music teachers are left out of any individual plans that are created for them. I've found a few strategies in the last few years that have been very helpful for students who need individualized support that are realistic for me to implement as a music teacher. I hope they will be helpful for others as well. One of the most effective tools I have implemented in my classroom for individual behavior support has been the sticky notes and pencil I keep in the corner of the back table of my classroom. Many of my students don't even know they're there, and most of them never use them. But for certain students and specific situations it has been an invaluable strategy!

I use the sticky notes pad for 2 situations:
  1. students who need more individual attention than I can give them in the normal running of my classes (usually demonstrated by frequent calling-out and/or disruptions, seemingly overly-dramatic responses, and other attention-seeking behavior), and
  2. students who are upset about something but are too upset/ shy/ nervous to talk about it.
Of course I try to be mindful of giving students the attention they need to feel comfortable in my class (a lot of this can be addressed in seating assignments- read about that in this post), but for some students it's just not possible, with the time constraints we have, for me to give them the attention they need in the moment they need it in order to participate fully in class. For those students, I pull them aside privately and tell them about the sticky notes. I tell them that if they ever need to tell me something but I can't listen to them right away, I will quietly point to the sticky notes and that means they can go write down what they want to tell me and hand it to me. This was so much more helpful than I ever could have imagined for quite a few of my most "disruptive" students! Besides being heard, which is so important, I've learned that often those students are the ones who see things happening that I don't catch, are confidants for quiet students who would never speak up themselves when they're hurt, or otherwise genuinely just have more things that they need to tell me that occupy their thoughts if they don't get a chance to express them.

On the flip side of students who talk too much, of course, are the students who don't talk enough: as much as I pride myself on fostering relationships with all of my students, none of us can ever expect to connect on a deep level with every single child that enters our classrooms. And sometimes something happens that is so disturbing to a child that they just can't find a way to voice it out loud. If I'm trying to ask a student what happened and they aren't answering, I offer them 2 alternatives that often are appealing to them: talking to another adult in the building, or writing something down to give me. I've been surprised at how often a student who was refusing to tell me the problem verbally is happy to write it down for me to read.

Regardless of how we're using the sticky notes, the key to making this a successful strategy is following through on the notes that they give me. I always make sure I read any notes I get before the writer leaves my classroom, and I make sure to tell them how I plan to address the contents if I can't address it right away- often they just want to see me read it to know I heard them, but sometimes I ask for a follow-up conversation outside of class, or I promise to follow through with a consequence if they are reporting something. In that case, I have the added benefit of being able to pass the note along to the principal, homeroom teacher, counselor, etc (I always ask the student's permission before passing it along).

As with anything else, this strategy will only work in the context of a strong relationship with the student. There is no one thing you can do to take away the real work of building relationships with the children in our classrooms- and that's a great thing! But this is a tool that can help us better connect and communicate with individual students who need something different than what we can realistically give them in the context of an average music class.

I hope this helps you find new ways to connect with your students in real, meaningful ways! I'm planning to share more of my favorite strategies for individual behavior supports in the future. What are some tools that you use in your own teaching practice? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments below! And if you want to learn about how I build a classroom community and foster positive character in my music classes you can read about all of my procedures and strategies in this post.


  1. I love this idea! I am going to do this, this year. Thanks for the idea! And, I love your blog! I discovered it this past summer as I have been searching for ways to build stronger relationships with my title 1 students. Our school just initiated restorative practices in our approach.

    1. I'm so happy to hear your school is implementing restorative practices- I am a huge proponent. Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I'm so glad you have a focus on building relationships in your classroom, and that you've found some helpful ideas here. Best wishes for a wonderful school year and stay in touch! Let me know how things are going! :)

  2. I want to try this but I have a couple of questions about you use it will all grade levels? I'm asking because I can see (at least with my students in the lower grades) this becoming an excuse for them to get out of their seats frequently instead of when they truly have a need to write something down. I can also see a few "Nosy Rosies" asking why so and so gets to write on the sticky note but not them? How do you deal with this/has it become a problem at all?

    Also, has this helped with students who blurt out inappropriate things solely as an attention seeking behavior? I have a few who do this and am wondering if it would help with that as well.

    I have enjoyed reading your blog and seeing your ideas over the past couple of years!

    1. I only use this with a few students on a regular basis, and the youngest was 3rd grade. Younger than that and the task of writing is more difficult than it's worth. I haven't had a problem with students complaining about others using the sticky notes. When I have had a random student ask to use the sticky notes I ask them why, and then if it's for some other unnecessary purpose I explain what it's there for. And for the students with whom I do make arrangements to have them use it, I make it very clear that the strategy is intended to help them communicate WITHOUT disrupting, so if it is disrupting their learning or the learning of others because they're overusing it, then we need to find a different strategy. And yes, this is absolutely something I primarily use for students who blurt out for attention (aside from things like tics). If they blurt something out I silently give them the signal without even looking at them. It gives me a way to "respond" without giving them attention, and then I make sure to give more attention at other times instead.