Rewards and Consequences in the classroom

Let’s talk rewards and consequences!

As teachers, our job is to motivate and inspire teenagers who are experiencing their own physical, emotional and social challenges. In my experience, I have learnt that classroom management needs to be effective before learning can take place. The disciplinary nature of the job was surprising at first… and then draining… and finally enlightening as time progressed. I never thought I’d have to be a parent straight out of uni. And sure enough, it is tough. From a legal perspective, teachers are in locus parentis or ‘in place of a parent’ when at school which means they are to make decisions that are in the best interest of students. Discipline is unquestionably important in teaching as without defined order at school, there is little hope for helping students to improve their skills and academics. As Jordan B Peterson states, “Don’t let your children do anything that would make you dislike them”. “Nip it in the bud” has been to this day the best advice I have received from my colleagues at work. To improve our management we need to first understand the system of reward and consequences we already use in the classroom and reflect upon each student’s improvements (or failure to improve).


Understand the rules that are already in place, and hence, minimise your own rules

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Schools already have a set of defined values, rules and policies that are regularly repeated to the students and reinforced through the placement posters and reminders in their diaries. These clear guidelines ensure that staff members are consistent in their conversations with students about what is important at school. As an example, the school where I currently teach state the importance of respect, responsibility and readiness for learning. Hence, it is not necessary for me to create a list of classroom rules that students must abide by. I simply need to refer students back to the school values.

Call to attention those who demonstrate positive behaviours and SMILE 😀

Model great behaviour in your day-to-day routine and complement students who are doing the right thing. It is a great way to make your students feel valued and to ensure other students understand what good behaviour looks like. Be positive. As a teacher, some days are harder than others to put a smile on when students enter your classroom, however, a smile can set a positive tone for the whole lesson. Optimism and positivity have potentially great effects on the learning experience within the classroom.

Incorporate student choice and interest

We are teaching people. People have their own motivations and opinions. Provide students with options (Caution: ensure that it is manageable). Students should be able to choose their own research topics (within limits and it should be approved), presentation mode of delivery and be able to give and receive peer feedback. In this manner, students have the opportunity to delve deeper into their interests. Why? Well, what is the alternative? Teachers and syllabus writers will choose what subject knowledge they think is most important for teaching and learning. I’ve incorporated this idea into a research task where students were to analyse a real life application of one of Newton’s Laws of Motion and was pleasantly surprised at the range of responses – from the falling of a leaf to the physics of volleyball.

External rewards

An experienced teacher told me about her use of squishy stickers. She actively rewards what she terms ‘great questions’ with stickers and students love to collect them. This is great positive reinforcement and would reinforce a positive relationship between the student and the teacher. The Merit system is an effective way to reward students for academic improvement and participation. Small prizes can also be used in class games. I like to use prizes in Element Bingo to encourage students to be enthusiastic towards learning (Bullet pencils won from game centres. Really anything would do). Note: Element Bingo uses the scientific abbreviations of elements from the Periodic Table. 😀


Remind students of what positive behaviour is before disciplinary action and provide clear warnings

Without warning there is always a potential for a student to be dismissive your decision and call their punishment unfair. Providing a warning minimises this risk. Children have a strong sense of fairness and it is important to give reminders of positive behaviour and a clear warning before enacting disciplinary action. It is always better to be proactive rather than reactive. If the behaviour is negative towards themselves and/or others, then this should lead to a warning. Usually a disciplinary warning states 1) what the student is doing wrong, 2) actual and/or potential negative effects of their actions and 3) the consequences if they choose to continue their inappropriate action. There are always exceptions, however this can serve as a good guide.

Always follow up on negative incidents

As mentioned before, understand the systems that are already in place. At Sydney schools, commonly a centralised software known as Sentral is used to document student incidents and create letters of concern. It is important to follow up with students, if not to ensure negative behaviour is rectified, then to develop a consistent habit. Students function effectively in an environment where the rules are clear and consequences are predictable.

Removal of treats and threats

Treats include games, interactive activities e.g. Kahoot!, and anything that musters stimulating strategy used in the classroom to break up work time. I often play games towards the end of the lesson only if students have been working productively and if time permits. If students are rude, then a common threat loved my teachers is to keep students in at recess or lunch time for the amount of minutes they are not listening. This is usually a last resort. Remember it is always better to be proactive and positive.

What rewards and consequences are you using? I would love to hear your thoughts and classroom experiences! 🙂

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