At our school, we believe that Positive Attitudes Will Succeed. Our middle school’s mascot is the bulldog and the “PAWS” (Positive Attitudes Will Succeed) acronym fits right into our school culture. As part of our program, students are recognized for their effort and behavior, such as being prepared for class, or exhibiting positive character traits, by receiving feedback and a “PAWS Sticker” which they place on a specific page in their agenda books. Teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria aides, office staff and administrators all have stickers they give, along with feedback, to students who exhibit positive behaviors or character traits. As an incentive, each student needs a minimum number of stickers, decided by each team of teachers, to participate in sports and activities at the end of the day during our reward period, called Dog Pound. In addition, at five points in the year we do a PAWS sticker count and 100 or more of our top earners can participate in a Tailgate, Pancake Breakfast (they can also bring a friend to this one), Bowling Party, Ice Cream Party or Pool Party. The key to our program is that we provide opportunities for all students to be recognized for their efforts. We have students from our multiple disabilities, emotional support, autistic support and all other classrooms in the school, participate in our PAWS activities. It is not always the same students, or the typical “Straight A” student, who are being recognized or rewarded. We focus on ensuring our program is inclusive of all students. We have a PAWS committee, comprised of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators, which meet monthly to plan PAWS events and make adjustments to our program. The positive feedback we receive from both students and parents is overwhelming.
So what’s the problem?
Lately, I have read a lot of push back against positive reward systems in schools. There have been numerous posts about internal student motivation and whether it does, or should, drive them to succeed. I have heard multiple comments made about reward systems being detrimental to students, and I’ll be honest, I don’t get it.
I think rewards are getting a bad name lately. Whether it be gamification points in the classroom, professional development badging systems, Favorites, Likes or Retweets, a promotion, a raise, positive feedback from a supervisor, or a compliment from your spouse, people receive positive “rewards” in many ways which they appreciate and enjoy. Ultimately, it’s not the reward that is our motivator, but these rewards should not be painted as a bad thing, or detrimental to people. These things are good! I question when people write or speak about how they should not matter and are damaging to students. I am sure there are programs that are not ideal, but I see our, and many other, positive behavior programs working well everyday.
What’s My Motivation?
Internal motivation is something we want to foster in our students as they learn and grow. However, I also understand the needs of middle school students. The goal of our school’s positive behavior program is not solely to motivate students to behave in order to gain a reward, but to give opportunities for adults to provide specific feedback to students about successful character traits and behaviors. The motivation for student actions comes from many places, such as the relationship between the teachers and the students, parental influences, peers, or even internal drive. The reward is feedback and recognition of the positive efforts or behaviors students are exhibiting and I do not think it is a bad thing. In fact, I see the positive impact it has on our students on an everyday basis.
What are your thoughts about positive behavior programs?