Catch them doing good

Image 17-3-19 at 4.06 pm
Image courtesy of Pixabay

I recently came across this article, “How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character”. It is a 5 minute read and outlines the reasons why some schools have adopted a ‘No Merits, No Rewards’ approach. I encourage you to find the time to read the article. The reason I do so is because it provides insights into the ‘WHY’ we do not have rewards, merits, stickers and stamps at St Luke’s Marsden Park.

The article reflects wider research which, on balance does acknowledge that rewards, merits, stickers and stamps can work, particularly for “hard-to-reach kids”. It also confirms that human nature can be to repeat good conduct that’s positively reinforced and/or avoids punishment.

“But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behaviour is not only futile but harmful.”

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards. They are:

  1. they cripple intrinsic motivation
  2. limit performance
  3. squash creativity
  4. stifle good conduct
  5. promote cheating
  6. can become habit-forming and
  7. spur a short-term mindset.

With an increasing need to nurture creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world, offering rewards and merits can become what Daniel Pink calls, “a very dangerous game”.

We know what the research says and what what real life presents. There may always be a place for recognising student effort, behaviour or achievement ‘above and beyond’ what is expected of them. This leads me to ask… What are the reasons for handing out certificates or merits or rewards to students?

  • Using your manners? But isn’t this the expectation?
  • Producing your best effort with school work? But isn’t this the expectation?
  • High levels of attendance? Again, isn’t this the expectation? Maybe if a student was to do this 2 or 3 or 4 years in a row, that would be exceptional and quite probably above and beyond the expectation.

Instead of handing out rewards, merits, stickers and stamps, I am strong in the belief that we are better to catch  students ‘doing good’ in the moment. Private words of encouragement in the moment have greater impact than the public monthly awards at assemblies, often when the moment has passed and been forgotten. 

As always, comments are welcome.


4 thoughts on “Catch them doing good

  1. Really enjoyed your post Greg. I discussed this very thing at a school last week and we chatted about that in the moment feedback, when students are demonstrating great thinking or asking great questions or persevering with a challenging task. Going around the class taking it in turns for rewards just doesn’t cut it.

  2. I think that ‘in the moment feedback/positive affirmation’ works for all of us, not just the kids. Who doesn’t feel rejuvenated by a quiet acknowledgement of good work? Who isn’t appreciative of a positive comment passed their way? Stands to reason that it also works for the students in our schools 😊

  3. Defintely a worthwhie consideration and discussion Greg. Is there value, however, in rewards systems that are implemented in such a way that publicly acknowledge and celebrate, in a fair and transparent way, efforts, behaviours and achievements that are worthy of noting? Such accolades, when authentic and public, can appropriately reinforce those values that are at the heart of the school and may help build and strengthen culture. Coupled with staff bahaviour that ‘catches the good’, students are immersed in an environment that reinforces good character and core school values implicitly, explicitly and communally.

    In saying this, if a rewards system is overused or misdirected, it runs the risk of discrediting the value of such acknowledgements and can lose impact, and thus credibility, amongst students and the community. Systems in place need to be well considered and regularly reviewed through a process of reflection and evaluation.

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