Classroom Expectations and Rules

What is the positive reinforcement students need to thrive?

alt="grey background, yellow chalk lightbulb on the left, 3 white chalk stairs going down to the right to a blue then a yellow stair, and on the bottom two stairs a child in a blue and white superhero costume with a red flowing cape is standing with his arm raised towards the question What is the Positive Reinforcement Students Need to Thrive?"

Positive Behavior Support in Schools

Why affirmations?

Are you excited by the idea of having a well regulated and efficient classroom that is full of laughter?  If you said yes, and who wouldn’t say yes, then you are in the right place to learn about positive reinforcement students need. ✅

Positive Behavioral Support in Schools (PBIS) is a researched and respected behavioral approach. Positive reinforcement students need is a part of this approach, but what I am sharing in this blog post fits within PBIS, but it is not all that there is to PBIS.

But I am excited to share some stories of applying positive reinforcement students received in my class as it was so effective.

Recently, I went for a walk with a friend and former colleague, and we discussed our favourite parts of teaching.

After some musing on academic subjects, she said . . . “You are strict, but I think you liked to work with the kids and laugh with them the most.” She is right in both instances. 

It is possible to be strict and to laugh with your students. I believe, the bridge between being strict and laughing is the positive reinforcement students need, and affirmations are a key part of that.

Why affirmations? Because not only has research demonstrated it is very effective positive behavior support, but it feels good too.

 Why is positive behavior support important? Simply put, a positive approach to behavior support contributes to a classroom environment that enables a student to feel safe and a part of the team which allows each child to focus on learning

Affirmations are just one aspect of  the positive reinforcements students need, but they are an essential part of creating a positive classroom environment. I will discuss other aspects in other blogs.    

In this post we will focus on affirming youth using positive verbal feed back as the strategy.  So, once again, why affirmations? Because they are free, no prep, readily available, and you are going to be providing feedback anyways, so why not make it positive?

alt="blond girl of approximately 6 years dressed in black golf shirt giving a high 5 to her brunette teacher to epitomise the answer to "why affirmations" in the classroom context."
A positive behavioural approach creates a safe learning environment.

How to Offer a Positive Reinforcement Students Need

There are criterion to what an effective affirmation is.  I always prioritize specificity, authenticity and in the present.


  •  “Good job!” lacks specificity. How are you defining good? It lacks authenticity because there is nothing personal to it. Which job is good?  The one they are working on right now. 
  • “I can see you are doing your best by how much time and focus you have put into that.”  This statement is specific to this student as you are commenting on their best, not the best in the classroom. You are also giving criterion for why you think this is their best.  It is current because it is what they are working on right now.

These affirmations are rooted in:

  • loving them as they are and not as what or who we hope they become.
  • truly appreciating them.
  • genuinely believing that they are special, and helping them to see it.
  • having high expectations for them, and believing they can achieve big things.
  • maintaining our thoughts and feedback with a focus primarily on what they do well.

What about those times when there is nothing positive to say? 

Then I know I need to work on my relationship with that child. I am the adult in the situation, and there are things we can do to check ourselves to ensure we don’t make that child’s life worse than it is already.

Also, when you undermine one child’s sense or security you impact every child’s sense of security.

alt="Brownie beige wall in the background, with cream table in the foreground, 3 stacked wooden blocks with question marks on them and the question "What about that student?" to recognise that there are students with whom it is difficult to offer the positive reinforcement students need, but it is still the job of the teacher to try."
As adults it is essential that we build a positive relationship with every student in our class.

Building Positive Student-Teacher Relationships

The first and most essential  behaviour strategy to implement is relationship.  There are so many ways to do this, and I will go into all of those in future posts for those who are stuck in this area. 

But still, I know there are students who require a special little something, and it is hard  to build relationship with them. 

One of the best, and certainly one of the easiest strategies for building a positive relationship is to to spend 2 minutes a day for 10 days with that tricky student. 

Yep, just two minutes.  This could literally be two awkward minutes of following them around making conversation, but it is very effective.

There are children with whom this is difficult to do. Sometimes it will mean that you will feel like you are talking to yourself as you follow the child around the room while they are doing their thing.  

Remember that this relationship is part of the positive reinforcement students need if they are not feeling secure in your class.

Mention things that you see about them, “I can see you draw  a lot.”” You really seem to enjoy spending time on the swings at recess.” ”Mysteries seem to be your favorite books.” And the list goes on.  

These are positive interactions, and you are giving them your undivided positive attention. 

For most children, this will build a more positive relationship. If you still struggle seek counsel from admin or learning support.I know there is often not enough positive behavior support in schools.   

As a former Learning Support Teacher I am certain that in most schools learning support is doing their best, but your student may still not have access to the support they need. In short, ask for help, follow advice, do some research, and practice self-care.

And I will be sharing more on that in future blogs.  😊

alt="blond haired girl in light blue golf shirt at a table working on making patterns with multi-colored bottle caps while a brunette female teacher is sitting further back at the table smiling and watching to elaborate on the concept of 2 minutes a day for 10 days as a strategy in providing the positive reinforcement students need."
Although sometimes it can feel awkward, finding ways to focus on a child for 2 minutes a day for ten school days can build the relationship you need.

Providing Directions Using Positive Reinforcement Students Need.

The more typical students need much simpler affirmations for student success. I have ADHD, and to manage my brain I ran a pretty tight class.  My students did find me strict, but because I work hard at maintaining a positive approach to student success they also felt loved which made each one a more positive student.

The first, and most essential part, is to address behavior to the whole class whenever possible.  Positive support sounds can be done any time, for example when they are getting ready for the day.

“Hey Rochelle, thank you for changing out the take home book.”

“Thank you Brad for getting your chair out!”

“Nice job getting your shoes tied Susie.” 

By affirming students who are on task I am giving a nudge to those students who are off task. The positive reinforcement students need is not always directed to individual students.

As I genuinely show appreciation for students who are on task, others will remember their jobs and get started.

I was fortunate enough to have a microphone for the hard of hearing in my class, and so I could literally sit at my desk and do this while taking attendance. 

By believing the best of our students we can change our reaction to their “off task” behaviour. What we sometimes perceive as defiance or being overly social can be forgetfulness, distractibility, or disorganization.  

Gentle reminders to everyone will help them to get back on track and build independence over time.

In fact one day Janelle (name has been changed) summarized it nicely. “I really like it when you say your thank yous because I feel good when you say thank you, and when I hear you say it to someone else I remember what else I have to do.”  


alt="on the left a  brunette female teacher  wearing yellow is sitting with her profile to the camera, and she is high fiving a young girl with dark curly hair who is sitting across from her at a semi circular table that has 3 other girls at it."
Positive reinforcement builds success for all of the students not just the student you are addressing.

The Positive Reinforcement Students Need is Not Always Vocal

I found that most of the times I used affirmations I was affirming progress not perfection. Although I taught many grades, my focal point really was really working with 5-8 year olds, so progress not perfection makes complete sense.  But what does that look like?

For Colin (name has been changed), who liked to blurt in class, doing his best meant stopping himself mid-blurt, putting his hand over his mouth and raising his other hand. 

Hoping he wasn’t going to get in trouble for blurting. 

My response, a wink and a smile, as I called on someone else before I called on him. I encouraged him, stretched him, and then invited him to share. He was doing his best.  

By our third month there was no more blurting out, or even covering his mouth.  By working together he had it under control.

Positive affirmations can be about making it safe to make mistakes. Many times when I was having students come to the board to share their answers, hands would go up from students who didn’t have a clue as to the answer. 

Of course, they wanted to write on the whiteboard, but I believe they were also practicing participation. They trusted in the expectations of the community we had built.  I believe they were trusting that if they did their best, I would get them the rest of the way.  

So when they got stuck, affirmations for them were just enough quiet clues to get them to the correct answer, and then I thanked them for doing their work.

I could go on with many stories, but I think you get the gist.  In every situation affirmations are all about supporting each child where they are at as an individual in that particular moment.

Other Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Examples

At recess I had so many requests for help with zippers. I am, by nature, lazy, and I am not a great caregiver in this sense.  However, I am a “You can do it!” superhero!  🦸🏼‍♀️

If the child did not know the basics of doing up a jacket I would show them, or I would watch as a friend showed them. Then I sat with them as they did it for themselves. 

This would often need to be repeated for a few days, and I would need to co-regulate with them during their frustration.

However, ultimately they became able, and I could simply say, “I knew you could.” with a smile and a hug or high five, whatever they preferred. In this instance I was using my actions to affirm that I knew they could do it.

They were developing a growth mindset.

Intentionally repeating the kind words I heard from other adults was important. 

“Mr. Z was really impressed with how well you listened to the sub.” 

“Mrs. C. loves to sub in our class because you are also so helpful, and you work so well together.” 

This was so true… subs loved teaching in my class.  Every year.

I must have always had the easy students. 😉

alt=" young redheaded boy in a green, brown and cream checked short sleeve button down shirt has his arms raised in victory with a big smile on his face to reinforce that sometimes the positive reinforcement a student needs comes from differentiating their work in a manner which offers success."
Positive reinforcements also come with our actions as we provide work that creates opportunities for every student to succeed.

Positive Impact on Student Learning

One of my earliest stories is a favourite when I think about affirmations and students learning.

When I was a Learning Assistance Teacher it was my job to do a Level B assessment on a student. A Level B assessment requires training to be done accurately because it has rules you must follow.  

Sometimes it is absolutely brutal on the student. However, if not done according to the instructions, there is not point in administering the assessment as the results will not be accurate.  

A bit of a catch 22.

One day I had administered the assessment as per the instructions, and, as a result, I had a child sitting in a puddle of failure in front of me. My mind raced to think of something I could to to rebuild him. 

Of course, it needed to appear not too far below grade level, or it might just affirm their inability rather than their ability. Realizing that the student was very visual I gave him a picture sort.

He completed it easily and correctly.  I was able to genuinely congratulate him on a persevering and succeeding.  I took a photo and printed 2 copies. 

One for him to take home and one for me to keep.

Affirming Questions

Sometimes affirmations are simply asking affirming questions, “Did you do that? Wow, did you just figure it out on your own?  Did you ask a friend for help?  Way to go on being a problem solver.  Are you feeling pretty proud of yourself right now? 

That last one was a favourite of mine.  I just loooooooove connecting students with their feel good feelings. That is how we make them brave and bold.

There is almost always something you can affirm, it just takes practice and creativity. Just remember to affirm yourself too.  Research tells us that you, the teacher,  don’t need to be perfect either.  
Do your best which is not the same as being perfect, and remember that if you can achieve approximately 80% worth of affirmational comments you are doing just fine.

alt="A coffee cup sitting on a table to the left of a book with the title Rewire Your Brain With Positive Affirmations to encourage teachers to encourage their own positive self-talk."
When creating a pattern of affirmational thoughts,
a teacher is most likely to succeed with their students if the teacher starts with his or her self.

A Final Note for Today

You also need to be affirmed, and some teachers will have a lovely community providing them with positive feedback while others don’t. Take the time to affirm yourself.  Yes, you will make mistakes, and I hope that you are reflecting on how to avoid those same mistake in the future. However, I encourage you to step back each day, and congratulate yourself on the steps forward you took today to become a better teacher. Don’t wait. 

On those bad days where you are critical or negative remember that research says the goal is 80% of the time.  My personal is 100% of the time because I need that goal to be able to reach 80% of the time, but I also reflect, and take great joy from, those moments I got it right. 

If you look at really good teachers who have been teaching for 30 years you will see that they are still learning new things all the time. 

You can’t wait to affirm yourself for positive steps taken, because the day when you stop learning isn’t coming.  Ever.

You are unable to provide the positive reinforcement students need from an empty container.  You need to affirm yourself.

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