At my school, students receive “Duck Bucks” for behaving. How can I distribute these bucks without using them as rewards?

Next year, I’m going to be the first teacher in my school to implement Discipline without Stress. My concern is that our school has a store and students can receive “Duck Bucks” for behaving, doing good deeds, etc.–our mascot is a duck. At the end of the quarter, the kids can buy things. I know that this goes directly against the philosophy behind Discipline without Stress, but my students will be expected to participate in the store. Do you have any thoughts on how I can distribute my share of school bucks without linking them to reward and punishment in my classroom?

As you mentioned, this type of a “behavior store” would not be in line with the thinking of Discipline without Stress, an approach which emphasizes the counterproductivity of rewarding students for following expected standards of behaviour. Like you, I too, would be concerned if I were required to participate in such a discipline scheme for some of the following reasons:

• Although intended to provide students with a positive experience, I would be worried that such a store would in actuality have quite a discouraging impact on some children–particularly those that the program is most trying to reach—those who haven’t yet discovered the benefits of operating at Level C or higher. What are the chances that a student with limited access to a “special treat store,” due to misbehavior, would feel MORE positive about school and MORE motivated to come?

• How likely is it that a child who FEELS punished (by the fact that he has very few Duck Bucks), would use such an opportunity to reflect on his/her own behavior in a constructive way? Rather than encouraging students to raise the level of their behavior, I think such a program would in fact, encourage them to focus on negative feelings commonly associated with punishment. Such experiences would seem to be the perfect breeding ground for the development of “victim,” rather than “victor,” thinking.

• Research studies conducted on the practice of rewarding, point to the fact that reward systems can actually DE-motivate people. Consider the student who consistently operates at the very highest level of behavior–Level D, the level of INternal motivation. By offering a reward to such a student, a teacher runs the risk of lessening the motivational level of their young charge. Although the teacher’s intention would simply be to acknowledge the young person’s high level of behavior, it’s quite possible that instead, the teacher would have encouraged an unintended new focus—a focus on receiving rewards!

• Handing out rewards based on expected behavior, (of for academics, kindness-whatever!), creates a situation in which some students appear to be MORE SPECIAL than others. I wouldn’t want to give that impression to the students in my classroom. Instead, the message I prefer to send to both students and parents, is that despite the fact that young people sometimes misbehave or talk too much, I still think of them as special! My best-behaved students aren’t MORE special to me than others. Although I certainly appreciate their high-level behavior and acknowledge them for it, I don’t want to give them (or anyone else,) the impression that some students count for more than others.

• I wouldn’t want to lead my students to conclude that mistakes (academic, social or behavioral), aren’t part and parcel of the learning process. Instead, it is my goal to present the mindset suggested by Dr. Marshall–misbehavior or mistakes are an OPPORTUNITY FOR LEARNING.

• It has been my experience that reward systems generally lead to competition among children. I find that fostering competition is couterproductive to my goal of establishing a quality learning environment and a healthy sense of community in the classroom.

Personally, if I were in your position, I would simply give every student the same number of Duck Bucks and encourage them to have a great time at the store! For me, there wouldn’t be any other way to do it. I’ve reached a point now where I COULD NOT, in good conscience, tie rewards to anything.

Probably, I would put the Duck Bucks in my classroom mailbox and they would arrive “by mail” as a lovely surprise–a surprise for everyone. I would simply say, “Well kids, what a great day this is! We all get some money to celebrate the end of term and we get to go to a store!”

Certainly, I would also be prepared to explain (if someone asked me about it), why I had chosen to give out the Duck Bucks in the way that I had. I would have ready some research articles, questioning the effectiveness of the practice of rewarding to help me explain why I felt unable to implement a discipline system based on rewards and punishments.

I would also have the Discipline without Stress Hierarchy nearby so as to be able to explain the differences between Level C and Level D. I would ask a reflective question: “Do you want me to encourage my students to aim for the top level of behavior–or for something lower in terms of social and personal development?”

I wouldn’t be derogatory in my comments about the school discipline plan, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to argue with anyone about it, but I would be prepared to explain my decision to share the Duck Bucks freely and equally among my students.