I had a most enlightening conversation with my advisory group about rewarding, I mean acknowledging, students. Our school is now a PBIS school and part of our efforts to reward positive behavior includes teachers giving slips of paper to students when we catch them engaging in positive behaviors. The slips of paper have the traits we are focusing on this year written on them. Traits such as cooperation, patience, and perseverance are what we as teachers are supposed to notice our students doing then hand a slip of paper to say thanks.
That is difficult for me. I struggle with rewarding students for what they naturally do or what they should be doing anyway. It’s like saying you should get rewarded for being a good person instead of just being a good person. There is another way to see it though. I’ve been trying to shift my thinking to seeing it as acknowledging instead of rewarding hoping there’s a difference (see this post).
I got my advisory group to film short skits demonstrating the behaviors that show the traits so that teachers and students could see examples of what to look for when deciding on whom to give the slips. A few students had mentioned that they often demonstrate the behaviors and have yet to get a slip. They really want to get a slip because if you sign it and turn it in to the office you get selected to win a pizza lunch for you and a friend, or to be principal for a day, or some other wonderful prize. If I was uncomfortable with giving away rewards, I mean acknowledgements, this makes me even more uneasy.
I had an idea and was sure that it was brilliant when I read about it in a couple of the blogs I regularly read. Since it’s so difficult for me to hand out those slips of paper acknowledging students for demonstrating the traits of the month why couldn’t my students hand them out? They see way more of what goes on in school than I do.
I shared my idea with my advisory group that meets on Thursday for half an hour. That group is made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders and we discuss school climate, among other things, get to know each other, and prepare for student-led conferences in the spring. I was totally unprepared for their reaction. While a few of the 18 kids thought it was a good idea and were on board to choose a slip to hand out many of them thought it was a bad idea.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because we could cheat,” was a common concern.
Some thought that kids would just give the slips to their friends. They also thought the slips would be given to friends without the friends actually earning the slip. Then they thought, “what if someone just makes copies of them and either gives them away or sells them!” I have to admit, they made really good points. I tabled the idea until, or when, they bring it up again.
I totally did not expect any of that. I thought they would all love the chance at being able to acknowledge their peers and give slips to those who are missed by teachers yet doing the right thing. I’m still shocked that it turned out the way it did. Here I thought I was going to do something different and help more students get acknowledged and empowered and instead they thought it was a bad idea.