The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Most parochial schools utilize a demerit system to help reinforce appropriate student behaviors. Skutt Catholic teachers routinely work with students to mediate problems while utilizing classroom management techniques to proactively shape student behavior. Inappropriate student behavior is consistently confronted and school staff will give demerits.
What would happen if teachers rewarded consistent positive behavior? Today, I sat down with Skutt Catholic alumna and current teacher Rachel Twist who tried this strategy. Mrs. Twist designed “perfect uniform” stickers.
Why did Mrs. Twist start this…here’s what she shared:
EVERY KID NEEDS A CHAMPION
My favorite TED talk is “Every kid needs a champion” by Rita Pierson. There are quite a few lines in her talk that hit home, but one in particular has stayed with me. She mentions that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.
Now, I gave up on being a “popular” teacher before I stepped foot in a classroom, but one thing I’ve always aimed for was to make my students feel loved, wanted, and excited to be in my classroom. As a result of this mindset, I struggle with giving demerits to my students. I would rather talk to them and see if we can work something out. In my mind, reprimanding a student and sending them off to detention, hoping that the problem is solved, does not build the kind of relationships I want with my students.
A UNIFORM ISSUE
As the issue of uniforms became more and more pressing in our school, I had to figure out a way to reward those kids who were IN uniform rather than punish and come down on the students who weren’t in uniform. I posted a message on my twitter about what a “good uniform” looked like along with a message telling my students that anyone in perfect uniforms the next day would get a sticker.
I had kids fighting over the “good uniform stickers” the next day. We had conversations in all my classes about what was and was not allowed, how we should be dressed, and, most importantly, how each student still had the chance to earn a sticker the next day.
After a few days, the idea of personalized ‘perfect uniform’ stickers popped into my mind and I had them ordered an hour later. We hung up a colorful background and practiced poses with friends. There were more smiles in my classroom than ever before and those smiles have only grown now that more and more students are earning stickers.
PRAISING OVER PUNISHING
While demerits are certainly an effective way to teach discipline, I find it way more fun to praise the good than to punish the “bad”. And the “bad”? Most are students who just haven’t had someone tell them they need to remember a belt, need to wear a polo under a sweatshirt, or need to tuck in their shirt. I chose to set the standard and reinforce the positive rather than dwell on the negative. I chose to smile while rewarding the rule followers AND encourage those struggling with polos, belts, and socks. Everyone got a smile and most got a sticker.
LOOKING GOOD AND FEELING GOOD
Now, I have students coming up to me in the hallways, running down to my classroom before school, planning out their clothes the night before, and asking to be put on twitter all because they want to earn a sticker. It has made my relationships with my students better, has caused my students to be positive influences on their peers, and it has made my classroom a more fun place to be. When you look good, you feel good, right? Well, I think that all my students look great in their uniforms and if something as simple as a sticker and a picture can make them feel great, well then I am ALL for that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The response from the students shows the great benefits of positive reinforcements. So we can all learn from Mrs. Twist’s experiment of positivity, and help our students see the benefits of following the rules by simply praising them for doing the right thing!
Jeremy J. Moore