How to Tell Others that You Don’t Use Rewards

Teachers often ask me how they can explain to their peers that they are not using rewards in the classroom any longer. Some are even fearful of the conversation. After all, it seems that so many teachers and parents rely on rewards and punishments as their preferred discipline methods.

If you’re experiencing this concern, here’s how one teacher overcame it. Her experience is very insightful and may inspire you to do the same.

A Teacher’s Experience:

Sometimes it just helps to know you’re not alone in your thinking. In my case, once I had read enough on the topic and had developed a strong sense within myself that I personally no longer wanted to rely on rewards to discipline, I decided to put a notice on my staff room white board saying that I was interested in forming a book club. I suggested that we first read Marvin Marshall’s book, Discipline without Stress, Punishments or Rewards, and then Punished by Rewards with Alfie Kohn. I hoped that maybe one or two people might want to join me. I was so surprised when 8 people signed up!

We met in the school staff room, before school, once a week for 30 minutes. I organized a roster of who would bring coffee and muffins each week, and we discussed a new chapter (or portion of one) each time. We learned a lot and really got to know each other better through these conversations. Each week, more and more people decided to join us because we were having great discussions and frankly, it looked like fun! Eventually, everyone but one person joined us and the whole school started to change. We started to work as a team, experimenting with this new direction.

Not every teacher felt the confidence to teach entirely without rewards at that time but we made an agreement among ourselves. Each teacher would do as he/she felt best in their own classroom teaching, but when it came to school-wide events (where we’d previously used rewarding) such as the Pizza Hut reading program etc., we would gradually get rid of rewarding altogether.

It took a few years before we were completely reward-free but it got easier and easier, and we saw great results in our school that encouraged us to continue! For example:

  • No longer were kids reading to get a pizza; they were voluntarily reading because of our conversations. We made a point to discuss how reading would help them in life, how it’s a really useful skill to develop for learning, and how books are fun and satisfying to read, etc.
  • No longer were kids collecting sponsors for Jump Rope for Heart campaigns to get points for themselves so that they could get a prize; they were raising money (without points) simply because we took the time to direct their attention to the good feelings that result when one consciously chooses to contribute to a cause.
  • No longer were kids collecting phone books to recycle so that their class could beat the class next door and win a party. Now they were collecting phone books because they were focused on “saving trees” and looking after the Earth.

We helped the kids switch from their previous mindset of doing things to “get something for themselves” to doing things for “the real reasons” why we should do them. The whole school atmosphere changed once we started using Discipline without Stress and let go of teaching from a “rewarding mindset.”

Perhaps by reaching out to others on your staff, with an invitation to explore a topic of interest to you, you may find a few like-minded colleagues. The benefits can sometimes be great when we summon the courage to take a little risk by being a leader.