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Toddler’s “Behavior Guidance” & Pre-K’s “Behavior Management”: They're Like a PB&J Sandwich

05 Jul 2016 by Sherilyn Crump

How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I posed that question to a random selection of contacts via text message. What did I discover? One behavior stood out: everyone spreads on the PB first, then the J. There are a variety of ways though to apply the jelly (sometimes on the separate piece of bread, sometimes right on top of the peanut butter; some use the same knife, some use a new knife, etc.), but in my sampling group the jelly always comes second.

Are you still here or have you run off to the kitchen to contemplate your technique? If you are still here, this is how I like to think about our “Behavior” dimensions in Toddler and Pre-K. One (Toddler) is the peanut butter! It goes first. That layer of peanut butter is the base for the jelly (Pre-K). The peanut butter is not debatable—as for the jelly though, there is some flexibility.

Okay, admittedly, this comparison may be a bit cheesy, but if it helps you during your next observation training, my work here is (almost) done.

Let’s break down the two dimensions in a “talking points” way to support you as participants add one age or the other to their portfolios. The Toddler’s Behavior Guidance has three indicators vs. Pre-K’s Behavior Management’s four indicators. While the verbiage is similar, there are some differences in what the tools are asking you to consider:



Behavior Management

Behavior Guidance

Clear behavior expectations




Redirection of misbehavior

Supporting positive behavior

Student behavior

Problem behavior

Proactive and Clear Expectations
The indicator “proactive” in Toddler is a blend of the indicators “clear expectations” and “proactive” in Pre-K. While both tools ask you to consider monitoring, the Toddler indicator “proactive” considers behaviors such as clear expectations and children demonstrating an awareness of expectations as well as reactivity. As a trainer, I would say these indicators are reflected in a similar way across the two tools, though the narratives in the descriptive paragraphs reflect developmentally appropriate expectations of the two age groups.

Redirection of Misbehavior and Suppporting Positive Behavior
“Redirection of misbehavior” (Pre-K) and “supporting positive behavior” (Toddler) share similar behaviors. In spite the indicator title, the Pre-K tool’s emphasis is focusing on the positive. Both tools ask observers to note specific, positive phrasing of expected behaviors, as well as noting when teachers point out when students/children are behaving. Both indicators consider the effectiveness of redirection, as well as how much time is being taken from lessons, or the flow of activities.

Student Behavior and Problem Behavior
Finally, let’s consider “student behavior” (Pre-K) and “problem behavior” (Toddler). Here there are more marked differences. While both indicators ask the observer to consider the disruptiveness or potential danger of children’s actual behavior, there is a distinctive departure. In the Pre-K tool the manual states we are to consider “...active misbehavior, not just disengagement, which is coded under other dimensions” (pg. 45). The Toddler tool does not have the dimension of Instructional Learning Formats, which captures student engagement in Pre-K. Instead the high range of “problem behavior” asks observers to consider whether children are “...consistently engaged in and actively participating in activities and tasks...” (pg. 45). Wandering and waiting in this Toddler indicator also reflect a bit of the dimension of Productivity from the Pre-K tool, an absent dimension in Toddler. These subtle differences hint at the developmental appropriateness of the Toddler tool for the age group at hand. If toddlers are wandering and waiting, then potentially dangerous behaviors may ensue, as happens in our Toddler training video “Songs and Cereal.”

A Note on Footnotes
There is one more important difference about the dimensions in Pre-K and Toddler that begs attention. It’s that “jelly” part I was mentioning above. Pre-K offers the observer a bit of flexibility in making a holistic coding decision in the dimension. There is a footnote in Pre-K that invites observers to consider that, in the absence of other indicators, if “...there is no evidence of student misbehavior, it is assumed that effective behavioral strategies are in place and a classroom may score in the high range” (pg. 44).

The Toddler tool does not have the same footnote. Because developmentally the teacher is laying the foundation (the peanut butter) for toddlers to begin to understand what behaviors are acceptable, it is important that all indicators under Behavior Guidance be present. As toddlers move from other-regulated to self-regulation, it is vital to consider the teacher’s importance in this process, and his or her active role in guiding the behavior of toddlers. 

I hope these “talking-points” support your trainings in the field. Participants who are “leveling-up” use their knowledge from one tool, and apply it to the new age group. While this is a helpful strategy, it can be a detriment if trainees miss the subtle differences that are reflective of the developmental stage within a particular tool.

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