Positive Behavior Support

This is a follow-up from a discussion about a school’s policy mandating the giving of rewards for expected standards of behavior.

At a recent faculty meeting, it was announced that the “Positive Behavior Support” team met and decided what they need to do to reduce referrals to the office; bribe the kids! If there were no negative contacts (home phone call or note or trip to the office) for the rest of the week, then the following sorts of rewards would take place: kindergartners and first graders would get an ice cream sandwich at lunch, second graders would get to do a craft project, third graders would get to dance around in the cafeteria after lunch, etc.

The next day, during our class meeting, I told my class (not for the first time) that most adults I know believe that the best way to motivate children is to bribe them with promises of treats. I told them about the ice cream sandwich and we all agreed that of course we all want one! We also discussed how this probably wouldn’t make anyone behave or not behave for four school days. I told them how much more capable I think they are—that I don’t believe they need bribes and that we would ALL have an ice cream sandwich party just because we’re a team and it’s a time of year for celebrations.

I can’t imagine giving ice cream sandwiches to, let’s say, 18 kids who sit there smiling and enjoying them while three kids are hurt, angry, resentful, and possibly crying. Maybe one of them lost control on a Wednesday—but was really “good” for the rest of the days and by today barely remembers what happened on Wednesday. (I have seen this scenario: one little boy crying and angry because he didn’t get to go to the “prize box” on Friday because of an infraction on Monday. He’d been great Tuesday – Friday but the rule was one infraction and no prize box.) To me, it would be just like sitting at the dining room table at home and giving dessert to the family members who I thought “deserved” dessert, making the others sit there without. That makes NO SENSE!

I have given up on influencing others, but I can still control what I do in my class!

P.S. When I told my assistant about this new “Positive Behavior Support” plan, she agreed with me that kids don’t need to be bribed to behave. She then announced, “Julie (name changed) won’t be getting an ice cream sandwich.” Julie is a bossing, bullying little girl we work with a lot. I said, “Oh, yes she will.” While my assistant raised her eyebrows, I explained that what she had just said is an example of people’s misguided notions. It’s already predictable who would be likely to “lose” and who would be likely to “win” in this ice cream sandwich game.

NOTE: “Punished by Rewards” is the apt title of Alfie Kohn’s tome on this subject.