Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Want to Win Big? Then Target the Positives

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Want to Win Big? Then Target the Positives

Article excerpt

Determination to battle bad behaviour means that the good is often overlooked. An upbeat approach can make all the difference

I'm usually a careful driver, but a few years ago I incurred a number of speeding fines and nearly lost my licence. The government had introduced changeable speed zones and, for a few years, it made a ton of revenue from hapless drivers like me, who were too preoccupied to notice the shift in speed limit.

As well as causing me to consider my impending status as a pedestrian, this scenario also made me think about the ways we try to encourage good behaviour. We expend huge amounts of energy warning against and punishing bad conduct - totting up points and dealing out unpleasant repercussions. But if we are aiming for the positive, why do we concentrate on the negative? In many schools, good behaviour is expected to be the standard and as such does not warrant rewarding. Academic achievement is celebrated, but when it comes to behaviour, students get a reaction only when they step out of line.

Look on the bright side

Thankfully, there are schools that do put resources into positive behaviour management. One secondary I worked in did this better than most. Its staff was a mix of new and experienced teachers; some who were stern and others who were easy-going. The school leaders had previously allowed individual teachers to decide what sort of behaviour warranted a punishment and how severe that punishment should be. As a result, expectations were unclear and inconsistent. The system tended to be punitive and failed to change negative student conduct for much more than a day at a time.

Things began to improve, however, with the introduction of a school-wide system that sought to reward positive behaviour and give early warning of punishments in the hope that they could be avoided altogether.

Each teacher was given two pads of coloured slips: a blue pad of "commendations" and a pink pad of "infringements". When students reached five commendations they could exchange the slips for small rewards - a certificate for the first five, then more substantial prizes as the commendations stacked up. When they reached five infringements they exchanged the slips for afternoon detention.

It was my job as a house director to keep a tally of the infringements of the boys in my house. When one of them reached four infringements, they received an early warning in the form of a chat with me. I allowed students to choose how to manage their rewards and punishments from a range of carefully considered options. Some were given the chance to sacrifice a blue slip to cancel a pink slip; for others, a fortnight of infringement-free behaviour could wipe out one pink slip. …

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