Positive feedback begins with positive, accurate words.
-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.
Since much of my work is helping schools implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, teams often want to know how best to recognize students for living school values out loud. Thankfully, the best way to recognize students for positive behavior is to use words. Often, the words sound like this:
“Thank you for being compassionate by including new friends in your game!”
I recommend using words because they cost nothing and matter more than anything.
However, many schools I work with want to build a more comprehensive recognition system. Some pay external vendors to set up digital stores and track digital points. Others create forms where teachers type positive news, and a beautiful certificate gets emailed to families automatically. Most use a simple ticket or token system without a store but may host whole-school celebrations when the school reaches a particular goal.
And honestly, while all of the incentives and reward systems might add some fun for students for a time, nothing we do to recognize the good our students bring to school will ever matter more than our words. Here are some examples of excellent positive feedback I hear when I’m in classrooms:
- You were inquisitive when you asked [another student] to tell you more about what they were saying.”
- I thought I would have to put all these computers away by myself, and then you came over and helped me. That was kind.
- I know you are always safe by walking, and I’m going to say thank you every day because it helps everyone remember to look out for each other.
- I remember you forgot your homework yesterday and felt a bit stressed about it, and then you were responsible by using your time wisely in class. You’re doing great!
- You were brave when you respectfully but firmly stepped in when a classmate made a sexist comment in class. That’s what allies do.
It’s not about things.
The key to recognizing student behavior isn’t the tangible or intangible ‘things.’ After all, even an intangible bribe is still a bribe. What matters most are our words. Before spending any time designing how many tickets earn extra recess or whether or not to have a pizza party, think about your school values and write out a few examples of what you’d like to be able to say to students when they live a value out loud. Having the words in our heads ahead of time makes them come out easier and more authentically when the moment is right.
To be clear, I love a good pizza party, especially if the principal can supervise a grade or two while the kids eat and watch a movie. Let’s have fun and give teachers a break too! But, we don’t need to tie these joyful moments to behavior. Instead, recognize positive behavior with words. Celebrate whenever you’d like and however kids like. And if you’re not sure, ask them.
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