There is no denying that one of the most widely used tools in the classroom are reward systems. For those that don’t know, reward systems are put in place to provide positive reinforcement for positive behaviours. They are recognised as being a behavioural tool within the classroom – though by only viewing them as this we are missing the opportunity to use them for so much more.
Why classroom reward systems?
I am always looking for ways to accentuate children’s strengths and celebrate the positive choices they make on a daily basis. It is important for children to recognise all the small but impactful things they do each day. Celebrations should not only be for large achievements but also for smaller daily successes. It is so crucial to show children we are paying attention and we do see their efforts however big or small!
It is widely known now that positive reinforcement is a far more productive teaching tool than negative punishment. When we shower children with love and compliments, and praise them for the things they do well, they are likely to repeat this same behaviour and other similar behaviours which will garner a positive response from an adult. Conversely, when children do not receive this same praise for particular actions, they are likely to stray away from this behaviour and towards one they know will elicit a positive response from an adult. If you are interested in reading more, this is B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning theory and is widely discussed within Child Psychology.
At their core, children want to please. NO child is a ‘bad child’ and we must understand that ‘all behaviour is communication’. So anytime a child is ‘acting out’ it is important that we look beyond the behaviour to the underlying reason. Look past the behaviour and into the child. This is our job – to see the attempted communication and reach through this façade to the underling cause.
When I was working in school as a teacher, one of the ways I motivated children to make positive choices was to have a daily ‘Secret Star Pupil’. This is not a new idea and there are many existing variations. But my personal usage of this rewards system involved selecting a child each day and celebrating one positive action I had seen them take however large or small. Some days this action would be large such as a child volunteering to spend their break time helping the librarian sort out the library books. Other days it would be a small yet impactful action such as a child raising their hand to answer a question even though they were unconfident. Each and every action no matter how big or small all celebrated on the same meaningful platform.
Many variations of this reward system involve giving children stickers. For mine I used the stunning @positiveteacherco mini cards! I would select the card that best fit the reason behind the child receiving it and would write a few sentences about why this child was the star of the day. The card would be signed and dated and read out to the class at the end of the day. It was then the job of the class to try and guess who the receiving child was. At times this was obvious, and other times I had to give some clues!
Why the classroom system worked well
I cannot express enough how successful this system was for a couple of truly critical reasons:
❤This became a loving, consistent and safe 5-minutes that would end our classroom journey together each and every day. No matter what happened that day, we always knew we had this little piece of calm, togetherness and magic waiting for us as a family at the end of the school day.
❤It was highly motivating for the RIGHT reasons. Many school-based reward systems offer prizes in the form of toys and sweets. For example, the table with the most reward points at the end of the week receive a prize etc. I do not mean to say that there is no place for this in school. Of course there is and this is especially useful with the Lower Primary Stages. But these particular reward systems are based on external reward and external motivation namely, the child is motivated to make positive choices because they believe they will receive a prize for doing so. Especially with our Upper Primary Classes, I believe this sends the wrong message. Children should be intrinsically motivated to make positive choices, because they want to be the best version of themselves not because they will be rewarded with a toy.
?This Secret Star Pupil System motivates children intrinsically. There is no physical shiny prize waiting for the winner. The winner does not care they have received a little card. But they care about what this card means; they care about the VALUE this card represents. They care that this card demonstrates to them; the teacher, their peers, and their families that they have achieved something truly meaningful today.?
Please believe me when I tell you I have tried all the reward systems in the world; have spent money where I shouldn’t selecting the best prizes and THIS is the most successful system I have ever used in my life. The pride on those children’s faces each and every time they won just for being the best version of themselves; the way they couldn’t wait to run outside and tell their families, the different ways they would each store these little cards; some in scrap books, some pinned to their bedroom walls, some even in their pocket to take out and read through the week. It was the most remarkable thing I have ever witnessed as a teacher.
In case you are wondering, these children were all Upper Primary aged 9 – 12. This system worked for every single one of them and I have no doubt this would work well into Secondary School. It is a tried and tested system and has been proven in psychology countless times; OUR WORDS SHAPE OR BREAK PEOPLE. Our words stick, they have the power to both build and tear down in equal measure.
These cards were the most meaningful reward. They shaped these children’s beliefs about themselves, they recognised and validated who they are as people. No sweets, no prizes just a card and a few meaningful sentences to last a life time.