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Risks of inconsistency

Kohn points out in the previous step that rewards can actually have a perverse effect upon the behaviours that we want to encourage. It could be that the use of house points and other rewards are not having a positive impact upon behaviour in our class! Moreover, they may actually be undermining relationships with students.

For example, you might give a house point to Joseph because you noticed how carefully he collected and assembled the equipment for his science experiment but then fail to reward Sunilla when she does the same because you are busy explaining to Sinead what she needs to do next.

Students (and their parents) notice these inconsistencies and they can lead to resentment and undermine the system as individuals feel that they have not been recognised. There is also a tendency for reward systems to be started with gusto and then lapse as the term progresses because, frankly, teachers have so much else to do as well as to notice and respond to positive behaviour!

Paul Dix suggests that instead of trying to manipulate students’ behaviour through these methods “We have a duty to develop an understanding of what truly motivates for the long term. Pride, ambition and a sense of belonging pervade the best classrooms and laboratories” (Teach Primary, 2010). It is not really surprising that humans of all ages are motivated more by social and emotional cues than material ones. We are a social species and have evolved over millennia to cooperate and to fit in with the expectations of society; we strive to be accepted by other human beings. We respond positively in an environment where we feel that we are noticed and valued and where people appreciate what we do. We respond warmly to eye contact, smiles and to people noticing and commenting on what we have done. All human beings want to be liked and respected by others and this helps to foster self-respect.

As well as the danger that reward systems may have on reducing the behaviour that they are designed to promote, they are also difficult to administer fairly; teachers are, after all, only human. However, if you make it your habit to acknowledge, to notice, to smile and to value the young people in your class there is much less scope for this kind of comparison. Instead you will help to develop a pleasant environment where people feel that they belong and are valued for who they are. So instead of reaching for a sticker or a house point try making comments that respectfully acknowledge positive behaviour such as

“Thank you Peta for tidying your stuff away so quickly and quietly!"
“I noticed how carefully you were listening there Leroy”

Also, make eye contact and smile frequently to your students; show them that you like them. This will help them to like both themselves and you better. An added bonus of this approach is that you may feel different in the classroom compared to when either you are trying to police a reward system or taking good behaviour for granted.

Classroom task

In your classroom this week: try out the techniques for small, but consistent recognition covered in this step, for example making eye contact and smiling.

Share your experience in the comments below. How did it make you feel? How do you think it made your students feel?

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing Behaviour for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre

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