Student Engagement

Classroom Rewards: 6 Strong Reasons Why They Aren’t for Me

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Classroom Rewards for Good Behavior

I’m passionate about classroom rewards. More specifically  classroom management without rewards. 

Stay with me!  Hear me out.  😀

That may stir up a little bit of controversy, but the truth is I find classroom rewards for students stressful. 

I tried rewards in the beginning. I tried classroom because I love to give kids things, and there are some super cute things out there. 

Candy was a big hit in our school for a bit.

However, I quickly realised that the options I was seeing for individual classroom rewards were not going to line up with my classroom management philosophy.

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Your pedagogical and philosophical beliefs will help you to decide whether or not you will use rewards.

Classroom Rewards For Students

Let me start with what was not a concern for me as far as implementing a classroom rewards system.

Money was not really a concern for me. 

I probably had one of the bigger classroom budgets out there, and we were free to spend our money on whatever we wanted it as long as it was for the classroom.

Of course the school preferred we spent a lot of it on things like field trips. There was also a separate budget for furniture, so our budget really was quite generous.

However, I cannot imagine spending my personal money on classroom rewards. 

There also weren’t any school based rules preventing me from implementing a classroom reward system.  

I know in some schools and districts there are rules about allowing students access to activities that are not a part of the curriculum so coupons are difficult. 

But not for me.

Now maybe you’re successfully using them, and maybe that’s because they’re really important to you. Maybe that’s because you found the first perfect classroom rewards system.

I don’t know your “why”, but  I’m sincerely happy for you. 

Personally it doesn’t match with my classroom management styles or classroom management philosophy, both of which depend a lot upon growth mindset and building relationships.

Ah, to Be Rewards Free

As I mentioned above, classroom rewards are not a part of my classroom management philosophy.  

Here’s my why.

1. I’m an Outdoor Enthusiast. 

As you  might have noticed on my website and videos I love to be outside in nature.  

I care deeply about the environment. Because of that I just don’t like accumulating little plastic toys, and too many classroom reward systems are based upon a treasure box. 

For those students who really need behaviour remediation, plastic toys are rarely going to be motivational enough for that student to operate within classroom expectations and rules. 

Although, I acknowledge, that depends on the student.

2. Toys or Coupons as Rewards are Not a Mindset that I Wanted to Reinforce with my Students.

Although I love to give my students meaningful tangible gifts, I am not interested in creating a mindset link between material rewards for personal responsibilities.

 I am passionate about building a growth mindset with students. 

3. I am Not Interested in Administering the System. 

I am not a shopper, so I don’t get any pleasure from scouting out fun ideas for a treasure box. Nor do I want to copy coupons, or remember who deserves one. 

I’m ADHD, and I had everything organized in my classroom so that I could relax and focus on the students. 

Every day everything for each lesson was organized in a bucket. The last lesson for the day was on the bottom, and the  first lesson was at the top. 

Adding the details of who deserved what was not on my agenda.

4. I Find Individual Classroom Rewards Discouraging for the Students Who Never Get to Earn One.

 Individual rewards can just become a way of creating exclusion in your classroom. 

Some kiddos are doing their best, but they still may not be eligible for a reward.  What about them?

5. I am Passionate About Developing a Growth Mindset.

I don’t believe individual classroom rewards for good behavior align with that. 

Growth mindset goals for my students are my priority because I believe that is a 60 year reward.

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Teaching your students how to have a growth mindset will provide them with emotional intelligence that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Individual Rewards AKA Reason Number 6

What about those students for whom  classroom rewards do seem to make a difference?

I was once a learning support teacher, and I did try different support documents with different students,  and I did record their behaviours and successes. 

I did send the document home to parents. 

My intention was never to encourage the parents to spend a lot of money on rewards for their child.

However, that is beyond our control. I did have parents who paid for expensive rewards for their child.  What I learned was that the child was capable if the reward was sufficient enough.

The child was not choosing to for whatever reason.

I’m not saying that the child didn’t have a real trauma, a real challenge, a real pain point.

There is a reason we still need to address and support the child in that area.

But the child was able to meet that behavioural expectation. 

I also learned that when the  parents no longer paid for the reward the behaviour started again.

Were we being manipulated?  Maybe, maybe not, but this did not encourage me to follow this path.

Growth Mindset Classroom Rewards

Life does and does not work that way, and I just didn’t wanna be a part of the situation because philosophically I don’t agree with it. 

That goes back to understanding that you have to decide on your own classroom management philosophy and work within that. 

My classroom management philosophy centers around more intrinsic rewards, and I want those children to know that they can do what I ask them to do. 

This is how to develop a growth mindset in our students.

 I want to build self-esteem, self-control, self management. These are all executive functions that will be valuable to them throughout their lives.

I’m trying to give him a 60 year reward as opposed to something that they will forget after recess.

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Cultivating a growth mindset with your students is 60 year teaching.

Classroom Rewards Chart

I remember one student who did have various diagnoses.

 I chose to implement some of the strategies of a classroom rewards chart and personal behavior chart.   However, here was the weakness as I saw it.

The pain point wasn’t in the classroom. 

The student pretty much chose the rewards. The student wanted stickers, so they could go home and tell the adults in their life theymade good choices at school that day. 

The stickers meant the world to the student. However, one day we had a conference with the parents.  They brought in somebody from the outside, who had never met the student and they felt that stickers were a ridiculous award.

However, they

  • had never met the student before.
  • didn’t know the student’s preferences.
  • didn’t want to ask why we felt the rewards were working for the student.
  • focused on the reward chart, and not the student.

We, as a staff felt we could see pain points for the student, and connect his behavior to days when he experienced deep personal pain. We wanted to work with the family on how to support the student in that area, but instead we discussed a chart.

I have successfully implemented behavior charts.  However, I find them laborious, and often off topic.  

Positive feedback has been way more successful for me.

Classroom Rewards Ideas 

OK so we’ve covered why I don’t believe in them and the classroom without rewards examples. 

So what to do instead of rewards?

In an earlier post, I shared my really strong positive experience with  positive affirmations.

And I do believe in rewards. 😊

They just aren’t toys and coupons for classroom rewards in my class.

My rewards sound like this, “Hey guys, you worked so hard on that. You listened so well.  It’s reading Buddy Day. I’m giving you an extra five minutes because of your great choices.”

The reward is:

  • impromptu and spontaneous. 
  • a whole class reward.
  • something that they loved

Another example,  “Hey guys, you’ve done a great job of working together this period. Why don’t we plan the party together instead of me making all the choices?”

This time it :

  • is still spontaneous  and whole class morning
  • is empowering
  • is unifying
  • connects rights and responsibilities which is literally hands on learning of curriculum

Or . . . 

More Free Classroom Rewards Ideas

“Hey guys, do you know what? I can see that you have worked hard. You’ve clearly got this. Should we try the game now?”

Now it :

  • appears like the game is the reward ….
  • is actually the next natural activity in the lesson, and  …
  • it is actually the words of acknowledgement that are the reward

“Hey guys, I hear you listened so well to the substitute yesterday. I’m going to let Mr. Z. know what great choices you made. It sounds like you really like her.  Let’s see if we can get her the next time I have to be away from class.”

This provides them with:

  • A sense of ownership in the classroom.
  • Bragging rights with their V.P.
  • An enhanced relationship the next time they see that sub.

If they have a preference for a substitute, why not let the powers that be know.  Get that person back. The substitute is going to have six hours  or more of their life. Make it the most effective sub time you can have for your students. 

What about:

“Hey kids, you really did a great job of cleaning that up. Let’s play a quick game of heads up seven up?”

“Hey kids, I can see you are so antsy. Wow, do you have a lot of energy right now?  Tell you what; you have taken done such a great job of hands to self you can do a quick lap of the school (or whatever active break fits your classroom).”

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Deciding on whether or not to include rewards will be decided, in part, by your classroom management philosophy.

Classroom Rewards and Consequences

Ultimately you will develop your own classroom management philosophy, and from there develop your own classroom management strategies.  

Despite what I said at the beginning, classroom rewards do exist in almost every classroom.  I say almost because I avoid superlatives, I am actually pretty sure it is all classrooms.

However, some classrooms reward only the students who are already getting everything right. This really defeats one of the advantages of a mainstream education which is a daily opportunity to hone a child’s social skills for life.  

The purpose of school is to educate the child, not to complete the curriculum.  

We create the environment in which the child is being educated.  Are we creating environments that prepare the child for life? For 60, or so, years of life. 

Does that sound overwhelming?  It doesn’t have to be. 

In my life the rewards of appropriate social behaviours and taking care of my responsibilities are relationships, home, food to eat, etc.. These are more intrinsic rewards, and they are both easy classroom rewards and whole classroom rewards.  

For my classroom management philosophy I choose classroom rewards that are whole classroom rewards rather than individual classroom rewards. They are a team, and they win as a team.  

What are some whole class rewards that work for you, or that you would like to try?  Share in the comments below.

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