Monday, May 19, 2014

Set of 3

It’s nearing the end of the school year, and already I’m thinking about the beginning of next school year. One practice in my classroom that I will not change, no matter what grade I teach, is my “Set of 3.” I discovered this simple maxim from John Wooden, long-time basketball coach at UCLA. Keep in mind, I’m not a huge sports fan, but my husband is (which makes me one by default, I guess!), so when he brought home Wooden’s “little blue book,” simply titled Wooden, I decided to read it. It’s meant for more than just sports fans, and includes his philosophy on a successful life.

No Whining, No Complaining, No Making Excuses

Although I enjoyed the entire book, I zoned in on this one truism. Wooden’s Set of Three is really part of his Two Sets of Three, but I focus on the second set for my students.

I created this poster a few years ago, and think its simplicity helps the message get through. 

I take time at the beginning of the school year to explicitly teach classroom expectations, including rules, procedures, routines and the Set of Three. As you can see, I have a separate poster for our classroom rules, which all center on RESPECT. These rules encompass everything that happens in our room, so I don’t have to write 27 different rules for each type of infraction that could possibly occur, only to have students find some sort of loop-hole. No sir-ree!

But the Set of Three is very specific to the kinds of behaviors I might see on a regular basis, and this allows me to address the transgression directly, and then move on without losing any significant instructional time.

“But I didn't have time to do my homework.”

Have you heard this before? Unfortunately, I have, all too often, especially in September. Another “oldie but goodie” is “Do I have to?” (Really??) There is nothing that irks me more than a nine-year-old whining.

Like I mentioned, it’s very simple: whenever one of my students says anything that falls into one of these categories, I simply point to the poster and say, “So which one of these three are you doing now?” With no exceptions, the behavior stops, because the students have no argument. I’m not asking them IF they are doing it, I’m pointing out that they are, indeed, participating in one of the listed behaviors. I am not asking them WHY they are doing it, which only leads to a longer debate. I am merely asking them to confirm WHICH one they are doing. Once they do, we are all able to move on, because they know they are expected to stop. I don’t say any more. If the student continues to argue (“But…”), then, with a very stern teacher look on my face, I point again to the poster, and walk away.

Thankfully, in the several years that I've used the Set of Three, I haven’t had a student become oppositional with me. That’s not to say that this method is the cure for that. I have had students temporarily shut down after an encounter like I've described. However, my goal is to get the entire class back on task as soon as possible. This can only happen if I refuse to get into a debate with my student.

I don’t see a time when I will ever stop posting and referring to the Set of Three. It’s been a life-saver for me!

I’d love to hear from you: What fast-and-easy on-the-spot behavior management system do you use with your students to get them quickly back on task?

Amy Marie 


  1. I love this. My class is whiney and has an excuse for everything. I am making a poster tonight and we will be talking about it first thing tomorrow morning. Thank you for sharing this great idea!

    ~ Sarah ~

  2. What a great idea!! I hate the excuses!! Oh my! My favorite one is my mom forgot to pack my homework. I tell them I didn't know their mom had homework to do!! I love this idea, and just might have to borrow it next year!!

    Mrs. 3rd Grade