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Encouraging Good Behavior: Do Special Privileges Work?

Working on our own children's behavior is one thing, imagine the challenges of classroom management and what that entails.  One of our readers recently emailed us get your perspective on good behavior techniques that have worked in schools.  She writes:

Our school participates in the "Self Manager Program". Kids get lanyards for being self managers and get special privileges. This spring the privileges have extended to a party and eating lunch outside while the rest of the kids stay in. Our experience so far has been that the Kindergartners have no idea why they get to be Self Managers except that they are "good". The reasons seem to vary, sitting on the carpet without interrupting for 15 min or sitting properly on the carpet in general. It seems to me that at least this young, the kids get the lanyards based on their personalities, a quiet kid is always going to get the reward. The kids are very focused on the lanyard and not reasons they got in the first place. Some kids also get very anxious about losing the lanyard.

I feel like there must be a better way to encourage good behavior. Can't the kids all work together towards a common goal? We also have many kids getting time outs and sent to the office.

I am hoping to not get criticism for our current policy but to get ideas as to what works in your schools. Our school is a K-8 but I am sure there are different techniques that work for different ages. Help us out!

Comments

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That sounds like it might work for the older kids, who know what they did / why they did it, but not so much for the little ones. What about a class "party" (could even be an extra 10-15 minutes outside) when everyone cooperates? I once saw a great system in a kinder / 1st blend where kids got to be observers and reporters. At the end of each day, each child went around the circle saying who he/she "caught" doing something nice or respectful, whether it was in the classroom or on the playground, etc. No one got to say negative things, only positive ones. "I saw Susie sitting down on the carpet before everyone else today." That way, it was kids rewarding / noticing behavior instead of the teacher. After each one, everyone clapped. Everyone who was mentioned at circle time as being a good example of their best self got some little treat on the way home. So, those who didn't get it, didn't feel TOO left out, but those who did felt rewarded. Actually, come to think of it, the teacher threw one out there, too, I think, just to make sure that even the not-so-popular kids who were following directions got acknowledged too.

Love and logic and The Incredible Years are great behavior curriculums for all ages and for kids that have more challenging behaviors positive behavior supports (PBS) is very successful and internationally recognized. I have worked in school districts like Parkrose and N. Clackamas that have adopted PBS and it is based on discovering the underlying reason why the behavior is happening and addressing what the child is getting or avoiding from the behavior. I teach PBS workshops and will be doing a free one downtown on May 16th. It is geared towards children with disabilities but overall good stuff for parenting kids with behavior challenges in general. I am not a big fan of reward systems and try to teach the kids I work with and my own daughter how to be self-determined vs. do something to get something. Still though, the promise of a donut does get us out the door some mornings. Another great system to address behavior is collaborative problem solving from the book The Explosive Child. All 4 of these have teaching independent problem solving skills as a learning goal. I would like to see more districts in the state adopt a strength based system vs. punishment based.

Extrinsic rewards are said to be for "motivation" but I really believe they are more accurately used for "compliance." I think they destroy, or at least greatly hamper, the intrinsic desire to learn and explore and develop positive personality traits. If children are "forced" to comply with rewards (or lack of) their own ethical/intellecutal muscles don't get a chance to be used and developed. They atrophy!

The last thing I want is for my child to be asked to clean up their room and for them to look at me and ask what they're going to get for it. These things are part of being a family. Learning is a part of life. Really, the whole purpose of life, especially in those early years.

Generally, if children are given something WORTH learning (I believe a lot of schoolwork is busywork needed for crowd management) they will develop the intrinsic motivation to pursue it. And if a deep sense of caring for their fellow classmates is instilled (and constantly, constantly coached), that improves the cohesiveness of the class. But that does really take nearly incessant, gentle direction. Kids also need to know WHY they are learning something, and to have some choice in the things they learn about. With the huge emphasis on standarized testing, there is very little leeway in the curriculum for sideways explorations and discoveries.

I am a former classroom teacher and a current homeschooling parent (just so you know where I'm coming from!). The book that really made me consider all of this several years ago is Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. I highly recommend it. In that book he has a few ideas for the classroom, and some of his other writings have many others.

The reason why I work with kids now instead of adults (disabilities and mental health) is because I saw how much damage rewards systems can do. They actually contributed to criminal behavior in the adults I worked with who had been on earning systems their whole life. When I work in a family or foster home now on behavior and they present me with an intricate star chart or token economy I try to wean them off of it and build in those intrinsic motivators like alpidarkomama stated above.
I used temporary tattoos to potty train my daughter as a reward and they worked really well. What I learned about rewards from that experience though is that she generalized getting something for doing something to other areas of her life. I weaned her off this by giving her "just because I love you" tattoos. She was really confused at first because she had not done anything to earn it. This worked though and she stopped expecting tattoos for good behavior. As I said above I am prone to reward in a tight spot but what I do when this happens is make a mental note that I need more structure in this area of our life so I do not feel motivated to offer rewards for behavior to make MY life easier. Mornings are hard for me so my daughter knows she can get stuff out of me then though :) All other areas of her life I use the "first work, then play" rule. There are expectations that must be met in the day before it is time to play and it is her choice not to "play" if she does not complete her responsibilities in the family. Easier said than done and each day I find I am doing a little bit of giving in but then also ensuring that the structure is there so I do not have to give in at all or as much when the situation comes up again.

UGH! The whole concept of "Self-Managers" and reward lanyards, etc., is a big part of what turned us off our neighborhood school. Do we want a generation of compliant, extrinsic reward-driven kids, or do we want creative problem solvers, compassionate leaders, and critical thinkers?? I like reading about some of the alternate approaches, like the Love & Logic approach. I don't know enough about what I DO want, but I know that the Self-Manager program (as I read about it on the school website) really turned my stomach. And yes, a compliant child is easier on the parent; but at what cost to the child's developing mind?

Oh how I despise the self manager programs! OP, sound like the same one we have at our K-8, same school maybe? The day of the first "self manager assembly" at our school this fall, I asked my 4 y/o what happened at school today? "Some kids got prizes for being Self Managers but I didn't" WHAT!!! The 4 y/o being notoriously difficult to get information out of, I immediately called the school to find out what happened. Turns out she didn't get in trouble, she was "self managed", but that only earns you a CHANCE at a reward (they had a drawing). Trust me, my kid was sooooo confused!

As I reflected on this injustice, I recalled my college Psyc classes and that in the Pavlovian experiments the only thing more effective in gaining compliant behaviors from from a dog than consistent rewards, were intermittent rewards. UGH - this school was treating my child like an animal, using proven animal control techniques to elicit preferred behaviors.

This may or may not be effective with children. ( I don't know, but I doubt they have researched the issue ) Regardless, it runs counter to the mission of schools to EDUCATE, not appeal to the base animal instincts of people.

Just my two cents!

Oh my goodness, pdxmomto2. I had no idea it could be so bad!!!! Sounds like a lab rat experiment. (Ha, ha... then I went on to read your second paragraph, and you said the same thing!!!!)

Do all the PPS elementary schools do this??

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