Why do sanctions get so much more attention than rewards?

Reading time: 2 minutes.

We have found that rewards for good behaviour work better than threats and punishments for bad, writes Claire Chambers, Bulwell Academy

People have many different pieces of advice when you’re on qualification for QTS: people with many years’ experience, teachers who love their jobs, friends and family who wish you well and send you cards containing proverbs and sayings. The one that sticks in my head the most is ‘don’t let them see you smile until Christmas’……

What seems quite amusing is that pretty much all of the advice handed out is on one subject, behaviour for learning, and when the recommended reading by your mentor is Getting the Buggers to Behave it provoked a wry smile. It’s not the obvious title for a book. However, within the cover the message, along with that in the many other books I have read looking at classroom management, says the same thing: ‘establish good behaviour and you can teach anything.’

There is a whole Ofsted standard for this, and a section in the lesson observation process reflects your ability to manage your class. In teacher discussions it is common to scan your timetable every September with fingers crossed, looking at class list for names of younger siblings thinking ‘I hope he is better than his brother.’ Let’s face it, almost every day will have a challenge: it might not always be the same person, it might not be your lesson, it might not be the work they’re doing. But part of our job is to help and deal with these issues as and when they arise – and that’s the part of the jobs that keeps us on our toes. Lest we forget, we’re dealing with children.

Many behaviour policies have strategies for warning, removal, isolation and detentions. But why is it that the mention of rewards doesn’t come until number 7.2 on the standards? Each school has a reward policy, but how does that stack up against the sanctions in your school?

I have been working with nurture groups now for around five years. In these groups we have students with a range of different needs including anxiety, ASD, ADHD and ESMH. Some students demonstrate outstanding behaviour for learning but others require more support, more encouragement and more incentive to work. Is then fair to award these more challenging students postcards home (our quick reward system) when they do behave as we want, when students that are always good can be overlooked?.

While on holiday I was mulling over what to do to help curb this: how could we even out the system, make it fairer?

Warnings didn’t work

Warnings with our students didn’t seem to work, students were always getting to the point just before sanctions, and would then get upset and start that downward spiral of arguing and refusal. Reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, it crossed my mind rather have an accumulative system of 1,2,3 warnings then you’re out, would it work the other way round?

Assume that each lesson the students always start with 3 stars – one for work, one for behaviour and one for respect – easy language for all the students to be able to identify), it is then for them to lose the star. Moreover, the language you use changes, from ‘right, this is your first warning’ to ‘Do you want to lose your star for work?’ The positive way the language is framed allows students to identify that they have the power to change their behaviour. Once all three stars have been collected for that lesson, our students earn a jigsaw piece from a puzzle that they have designed. These jigsaws range from six-piece puzzles to 28-piece puzzles, and the completed jigsaw earns a reward.

We trailed this with a few students to assess its effectiveness, and very quickly rolled it out to the whole department. What is more students take pride in the cards recording their progress and are happy to show these to parents and teachers, highlighting how good they’ve been in lessons.

It puts the fairness back into the classroom and offers a bespoke rewards pathway that makes students feel valued for something they have achieved.

At Bulwell Academy earlier this half term SSAT delivered stage 5 of the SSAT Teaching and Learning Improvement Programme (TLIP). Focus was on the progress they had made in the preceding weeks including the outcomes of the ‘Do Something Different’ challenge. This was an important step for the school as the Headteacher had hoped TLIP would bring about more risk-taking in the classroom – and teachers being more creative with lessons that engaged their students. This article is an example of the reinvigorated practice and how the programme gave staff the licence to do something different.

Download: SSAT Teaching and Learing Improvement Programme brochure 

Claire Chambers, Bulwell Academy

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