A Better Approach than Rewarding

The following is from a post at the mailring.

I’m being encouraged by my principal and special education department to use behavior charts and rewards to get students to behave more responsibly. Their argument is that these kids are still on the “concrete” level and must be treated like preschoolers. I’m supposed to be on them all the time until their behavior is automatic.

I can see why you are uncomfortable with carrying out the suggestions of your principal and special education experts. They’re asking you to control your students through manipulation—and in effect, be responsible for their behaviour. This is a very stressful way to approach classroom discipline because it is actually impossible to make someone else BE responsible. You can only be responsible for yourself.

With an attractive treat in hand, it IS possible to create the illusion that these students are becoming responsible (by having them demonstrate obedience in order to receive stickers and ultimately a prize), but as you noted, this feels uncomfortable for a teacher who doesn’t like treating human beings as if they were dogs in a training program. Besides, you likely would want your students to be well behaved whether someone was offering them a sticker or not.

Below are some things that you may find helpful in moving kids from the lower levels up to Level C, one of the two levels of acceptable behaviour. By the way, we never make it our goal to have the kids operate on Level D. Level D is a personal choice open to every human being and it would be too stressful to make it a goal to try and insist or aim for Level D for someone other than ourselves.

Students operating on Level C is the immediate goal for the teacher. We want our students to be well behaved in order that everyone in the classroom can learn, feel safe, and enjoy being at school—so that we can effectively do our job of teaching. Paradoxically, the less you try to make someone else operate at Level D and the more you point out that it is a personal CHOICE available to everyone, the more students want to aim for this level within themselves.

We carefully think through our classroom procedures so that there are no grey areas for those students who tend to have extra difficulties because they are immature. Have you read Harry Wong’s book, “The First Days Of School: How To Be An Effective Teacher” about the importance of procedures? As the years go by, we lean more and more to be proactive in dealing with discipline—in other words directly teaching the kids what Level C behaviour looks like in every situation so that even the youngest and most challenging students know exactly what to do to be successful. Take a look at the teaching model. The number one step is establishing good classroom management through teaching procedures.

More of Kerry’s posts are at Discipline Answers.