Today I participated in a discussion on how to develop a school-wide positive behavior system. When we got into the discussion of tangible rewards (giving children something- a sticker, a prize, a ticket- for doing something right) I started to cringe. My Responsive Classroom background makes me shudder thinking of tangible rewards for school-wide programs although I know they can be useful. I use them on an individual level, but feel wary of whole-school programs.
Then the discussion facilitator said something I hadn't thought of before.
The tickets aren't for the kids, she explained. The tickets are for the adults. They serve as a tangible reminder to us that we need to praise good behavior. They keep us honest and hold us to the 4:1 ratio where we should be commenting on 4 or 5 positive behaviors for every negative behavior we comment on.
I'd never looked at it that way before, but it's true. When I am working with a behavior plan that involves giving a child something- stickers or "caught-you-being-good" slips, I have a tangible reminder that I need to give something out. When working with some kids I like to cover my hand in small reward stickers. My personal goal for the morning is to give out all the reward stickers so that I can go to lunch un-stickered. If I don't distribute all the stickers then I know I was doing something wrong.
When she put it that way using tangible objects to reward behavior suddenly made sense and gave me a whole new perspective.
Of course, when using such reward systems one has to understand the how and why behind it and to be sure to implement it so that it does not become bribery. Whatever the object is must still be about facilitating a positive interaction between the student and teacher where the student understands the reason behind the reward. While such programs still make me a bit nervous, I have a much better understanding of their purpose now.
I love when my thinking gets shifted.