GUNNISON—Administrators at Gunnison Valley Elementary want their students to build on all their best strengths, both academic and social.
Elise Bown, reading specialist at the school, said this means they want to recognize and encourage their students’ hard work. And they have an exciting new plan in place to help students succeed.
“We are committed to helping students become intrinsically motivated rather
than handing them a reward each time they do something correctly,” Bown said. “We have stopped giving external rewards tied to specific behav- iors or achievements.”
Bown said research has shown that the “do-this, get- that” model is not effective long-term and, in fact, can be harmful to students. The rewards become more import- ant than the inner satisfaction of learning and achieving, and purchasing the rewards becomes a burden for teach- ers, who generally pay for the rewards out of their own pockets.
For example, a class might earn a ticket every time they walk down the hallway quiet- ly. After students get a certain number of tickets, they get a reward. But as students be- come proficient in the routine or skill, they still expect tickets for meeting bare expectations, Bown said. They become fo- cused on the reward instead of understanding why the action is beneficial to themselves and others.
“When do you as an adult, get rewarded?” Bown asked.
“If you eat lunch quietly? No. Take a shower? No. Go to work and do your job? Yes. So
we don’t want to “pay” kids to behave well; this implies that it must be a lot of work to behave, and if they manage to do it, they deserve a reward of some sort.”
When kids behave, they respect themselves and their friends and gain a sense of belonging in the school community, Bown said. There are not enough “prizes” in the world to give students to teach this concept, so the school has taken rewards out of the equation.
Bown said this does not mean students don’t get recognized for great things. Teachers can still have class parties celebrating hard work, and a teacher can still give a treat on a day when he or she has seen honest effort. The teacher gives it to everyone with sincere appreciation for their efforts, instead of giving it to the top few who may or may not have had to put in genuine effort for that achievement.
Relationships are key in effective classroom management, so administrators are supporting the teachers this year with training in ways to build those relationships, ensuring students want to come to school to be part of
the classroom community. When students make choices that make learning challenging, there is a spot in the classroom where they can move while they get their “power” back so that learn- ing can happen, Bown said. There is also staff dedicated to helping students in the “skills” room, where students can review and practice behaviors
that will benefit everyone. “While we expect to face some bumps in the road as we adjust to this new system, we have seen some great improvements already,” she said.