1. Thanks for posting this! Was just reading a letter sent home with one of my grandkids (in kindergarten) and I, along with her mom, were a bit discouraged about the rewards system that the teacher described.

    If you catch a child in the act of being especially nice to someone or to the environment, by all means say something to acknowledge the behaviour. But the whole collecting stars and rewards thing.. well, it works for my dog and the kids and adults I’ve worked with that have severe behavioural and mental health challenges, but am not a fan of using it as a “good practice” measure that attempts to motivate desired behaviours.

    I had thought that we have finally evolved from Pavlov, Skinner and behaviourism in general and had moved into an understanding that children are complex and adaptive and capable of developing an intrinsic reward system if we let them.

    Do you have any suggestions for parents and caregivers who would like to see this type of practice shifted into something more in line with what they believe and value?

    Anyway, cheers for the post!

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for your interest in the article. It is my experience that our education system in BC is littered with examples of staff rewarding positive actions and behaviour with stickers, treats, and awards. The hope is that by catching someone doing something good and rewarding them for it will result in a change of behaviour. They mean well, but in my experience using such programs hasn’t been successful. As you mentioned, the classic behaviourism approach is ineffective in 21st century schools.

      In my experience, from the research I’ve read from Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, and the great work done to move away from the rewards and punishment model by administrators such as Kent’s Chris Wejr, rewards do not change a child’s behaviour. By rewarding a child for putting his/her hand up before speaking out, we are saying that the task isn’t very desirable because we need to bribe you to get you to do it.

      I am trying desperately to move away from rewards and punishment towards a restorative approach to classroom management and community building. http://restorativeclassroomcircles.wikispaces.com

      Jamie, I loved your line, “…Understanding that children are complex and adaptive and capable of developing an intrinsic reward system if we let them.” I truly believe that all my students have that intrinsic drive, you speak of, inside them, and I’m a journey of discovery to find it. As for advice for other teachers, I’ll try my best…

      1. Dealing with my students emotional needs at the beginning of the day is where I start first
      2. Host morning circles see above
      3. Develop clear understand of our roles student/teacher
      4. Provide oral language skills around appreciation
      5. Give specific and detailed oral feedback when necessary
      6. Use appreciation circles
      7. Recognized individual achievements for all my students
      8. Working towards providing free time during week to work on own areas of interest
      9. Model recognition for all not a selected few
      10. Follow “Play is the Way” program

      Hope this helps…

  2. As a parent who was in your classroom during the recognition circle I must admit, it felt wonderful hearing you describe the difference he made. And I know that it meant much more to him and raised his self esteem higher than receiving a sports award at the assembly. I also really enjoyed hearing about all of the other children’s contributions to the class. I am a fan of Alfie Kohn’s work as well and struggle to incorporate this new knowledge. It is tough to find a way when our current society seems so hung up on competition and rewards etc. I think sharing the research and speaking up with alternatives is a great way to get the ball rolling. I’ve even spoken to my children’s dance studio owner about his awards ceremony and he agreed that previously many children were left feeling sad and confused, which is not the feeling he wants them finishing their year with. This year he will do things differently and hopefully other studios will follow suit! Please continue to work on your administration and colleagues, my daughter is only in kindergarten, maybe by the time she reaches the intermediate grades your recognition circles will be the norm and I could have another opportunity to listen to you share kind words of acknowledgment with my child and her classmates.

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