One Of The Worst Classroom Management Strategies I’ve Ever Seen

Smart Classroom Management: One Of The Worst Classroom Management Strategies I've Ever SeenRecently, I had a chance to visit a classroom management training for new teachers.

The trainer was an expert in a program that has gained popularity in recent years.

I won’t mention the program by name, but at its core, it’s a token economy, whereby students are rewarded in exchange for “good” (i.e. expected) behavior.

I’ve written about this strategy before, but because we’ve received so many questions about it since, I decided to revisit the topic.

If you’ve been a reader of SCM long enough, then you know how strongly we feel about token economies.

They send the message that expected behavior—that which is minimally required for success in school—is worthy of special recognition, turning what is inherently rewarding into work students deserve to be paid for.

They also encourage unethical behavior like cheating and stealing. They weaken the student-teacher relationship, making it coldhearted, transactional, and even hurtful.

They make creating a happy and productive classroom harder, not easier.

Worst of all, though, token economies snuff out intrinsic motivation. You can read more about this topic, including what the research really says about external rewards, in The Happy Teacher Habits.

But on this day, as I stood in the back of the room, the trainer was demonstrating how to handle misbehaving students using a form of praise called “caught being good.”

The way it works is that if you notice a student misbehaving and off-task, instead of holding them accountable using a predetermined set of rules and consequences, you would praise the students around them.

In other words, you would ignore the misbehaving student, but effusively inform those in proximity how wonderful they are for doing what they’re supposed to do.

The idea, in theory, is that the student in question would also want to receive praise, and thus would be compelled to stop their unwanted behavior.

So what’s the problem?

Well, besides being dishonest, it communicates that fulfilling the barest minimum is somehow special and on par with what is truly exceptional—lowering the bar of excellence down around the shoe tops.

It’s also cruel and demeaning and, in this case, uses well-behaved students as pawns to elicit compliant behavior from the misbehaving student.

Furthermore, it offers no genuine feedback they can use to improve their behavior in the future.

That this method is endorsed, taught, and even promoted in school districts around the country is tragic and shameful.

It takes the high calling of being a teacher and tosses it into the gutter of trickery and manipulation, ripping apart both its heart and its soul.

Teaching isn’t about just getting through the day. It isn’t about curbing misbehavior momentarily or deceiving students into doing what you want.

It’s about inspiring real change in students and making an impact that lasts a lifetime.

So what’s the alternative?

Be straight with your students. Establish a boundary line of behavior that protects their right to learn and enjoy school and then defend it to the hilt.

Do what you say you’re going to do. Hold them accountable fairly and respectfully and give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Praise only what is praiseworthy. Look for legitimate improvement, new learning, or greater effort than they’ve given before, and then let them know you notice.

Smile and make eye contact from across the room. Leave a note folded over and attached to their desk. Tell them they did well.

Shine a light on concrete evidence of their progress.

Treat every student with dignity, eschewing all forms of false praise, bribery, and disingenuousness—which only set them up for future failure and disappointment.

Be the same dependable, consistent teacher every day. Build relationships based on love and forgiveness, kindness and honesty, humor and humility.

Look your students in the eye and tell them the truth about their successes and mistakes, as well as their failures and triumphs. Give them feedback they can use.

Prepare them for life beyond the classroom by being a leader worthy of their respect and admiration.

This way, your words of praise will mean something to them, firing their intrinsic motivational engines deep within their heart.

They’ll know that if you said it, it must be true.

And the truth will set them free.

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67 Responses to One Of The Worst Classroom Management Strategies I’ve Ever Seen

  1. Danielle November 5, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    A most hearty “Amen!” Well said! I will be posting this in our faculty room. Thank you for readdressing this – and dong so so eloquently and passionately.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

      Thanks Danielle!


    • Alesia November 6, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      Surely it is the lack of “tools” that teachers are given or being exposed to about/for intrinsic motivation that accounts for all the extrinsic behavior rewards and programs out there. Kids should be told that doing the RIGHT THING and how it makes them feel and what it makes them accomplish IS the reward. THANK YOU for spreading the news. It’s logical, practical, and right. Intrinsic motivation is easily built in a classroom where care (trust, and mutal respect) is practiced – even in the earliest of the primary grades. However, when districts adopt those extrinsic programs, it’s hard! I say shut your door, and practice what’s right!

  2. Anthony Butler November 5, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    I appreciate your insights about this topic. One of the most disturbing fallouts is that this mindset travels with many students and manifests itself in their adult lives. “Expected behavior” is just that…expected behavior. Just reflect on how many adults expect to get employee or parent of the month for doing the expected. 🙂

    Thank you for articulating how to inspire students from within!

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      You’re welcome, Anthony. Thanks for sharing. I always appreciate your insights.


  3. Barbara Barr November 5, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    I was taught the “proximity” method years ago in my credential program. I tried it, but it always felt manipulative. I have spent the past few years modeling that strategy to my students as one I will not be using with them. I ask for a student volunteer and add a little dramatic style to the scene. We have a good laugh about the many ways that strategy belittles students and praises expected behavior. We also talk about the time it wastes trying to get someone to change his or her behavior. Then, we discuss the value of intrinsic motivation and come back to our plan for success. Thank you for your continued support of teachers!

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      Hi Barbara,

      I love that idea–very SCM. The practice has become so prevalent that I think our students should know in case it happens—or has happened—to them.


  4. Sharon Rogers November 5, 2016 at 8:49 am #

    I totally agree. Thank you for articulating what I’ve always felt in my heart. I do sometimes say after a re-direction, “Thank you, those of you who are doing the right thing.”

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm #

      You’re welcome, Sharon.


  5. kala November 5, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Dear Michael,

    I wish to thank you for yet another insightful and inspiring article.After being a teacher for over 12 years, I was often frustrated hearing about ‘class room management strategies’ such as the one you have mentioned that was endorsed by the trainer- praise the student next to the bad behaved one.

    I value Integrety and truthfullness highly and was almost thinking of changing career as it seemed to me (from these kind of pseudo techniques) that manageing students was all about bribery, false praise and so on.
    Coming across your website was a refreshing change and I have started using your amazing strategies with good positive results. Thanks a lot for that.

    Just wanted your opinion about a couple of areas- what do you think about teachers addressing students in endearing ways such as – darling, honey etc. I am a female and I teach teenage boys and girls. Some teachers in my school use such words while addressing students, wish to know your opinion on this.
    second one is – in todays high tech world, would you allow students to use mobile phones in class? say to take a picture of the project they are doing (I am an art and design teacher) or reserach some thing quick on their cell phone. My school’s policy is a bit fuzzy in this area. Many thanks for your suggestions. Once again thanks a lot..

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

      Hi Kala,

      I don’t like it at all. Never, never, never. I’ll try to incorporate why it’s a bad idea in a future article. As for your second question, yes, as long as it’s beneficial academically and you’ve given express permission to do so for each instance. The examples you used are good ones.


    • Elizabeth November 5, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

      Hi Kala,

      In response to your question about students using their mobile phones to take a picture of their project or to research something project related I would say those are very good reasons to permit students to use their device. I too am an art teacher and at my new school (3rd school in 14 years) we use google classroom, which I love, so students need to be able to use their phone, ipad, or laptop to do various tasks such as look at a handout, re-read the directions, see the examples, research something furthur, etc. It saves a lot of paper, and it allows students to access the lesson again and again without needing me so much.

      At my first school that I was at for over a decade, there was no wifi in the art room so there was no need to be on your device. The school had a no phones policy, and teachers enforced or didn’t their own policy (not part of the school’s policy but you know how it is). One year the dean made a rule that students were not to bring their phones to school at all. Of course that was a totally unrealistic rule. Another year students were not to use their phones at all during the day, not even during their break or lunch. I felt this was also unfair and unrealistic.

      You could let them use their devices with your permission only. That seems like a good policy. Sometimes our lesson revolves around the device, sometimes no one should have their device out. Fortunately at my new school, in Thailand by the way, the behavior of the students is the best I’ve ever experienced so there are very few issues. A couple weeks ago a student was openly looking at their device while I was addressing the class at the beginning of the period and I sort of “woosed out” a little. I said, “If you have your device out please put it away, I’m giving a lesson and you need to give me your full attention,” and I should have been direct and said, “Conor, put your phone away.” Or maybe I should have said, “Great job everyone who is NOT using their phones right now!” Haha.

      I hope this helps. In a nutshell, with your permission, and that could be individual at times, and classwide at other times, students could use their devices for project related purposes.

      • kala November 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

        Thanks Elizabeth, agree with your comments. That’s what I tend to do – that is let them use it as per the situation and requirements with my permission. If I catch them texting and face booking through their cell, I take it and keep it on my desk till end of lesson.

  6. Sharon November 5, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Yes!!! I agree that the token economy destroys intrinsic motivation. I have some very low performing students from difficult backgrounds and I have seen the difference when you hold them accountable and steer them toward positive behavior and academic achievement. My toughest kid this semester will wander to the back of the room with his paper in hand, get my attention so we can give a private “air high five” and then he wanders back to his desk. He still isn’t comfortable with his friends knowing he is improving, but it now means something to him. I didn’t buy or bribe that into him, he had to work towards it himself.

  7. Ellen McKinley November 5, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    I have been so glad to see someone I respect who shares my view about token economies in a positiion to spread the word! I’ve been teaching for close to 20 years (how did that happen?) and have always thought token economies did more harm than good, and am glad to know there is research to support this.

    My question is, at the 5th grade level, which is new to me, what are good consequences to use as part of my behavior management plan? I hate taking recesses, as it seems like the ones who lose it are the ones who need it most, but I have a hard time coming up with other things. I like to keep it so the consequence is related to the infraction when I can.

  8. Kenna November 5, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    In a world currently punishing labor with low wages expecting people to work for praise alone… using social memes to manipulate unfair exchanges for work done… I would caution one solution does not fit all. I suspect the moderator will be deleating opposing viewpoints. If children cotton to exchange of tokens as how the world of work becomes fair…
    I suspect all of us would be less like slaves working for others at our loss.
    Life is a mix of social expectations, and earned rewards.

  9. Vivace November 5, 2016 at 10:22 am #

    “Give them feedback they can use.” I want to do this in my classroom. My struggle is what language to use with my students when what I want to say is: “You are trying to manipulate me right now to get your way. I don’t like it.” Or, “I know you didn’t do your best because I have seen you do better. I also know that right now you are playing games with me.” In other words, I want to use language that is, I think, on their level and can be clearly understood, but I am afraid I am being too, too frank. And, how will it sound if they repeat it to their families? My teacher says, “I am playing games with her.” I struggle with the honest conversation that really needs to let them know the truth and not sugar coat it.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

      Hi Vivace,

      I’ve written about this topic in the past, but will be sure to cover it again in the future.


  10. Sarah November 5, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks for writing this. On tough days, especially when colleagues are using these types of strategies with “success,” it can be easy to fall under their spell. But I ageee that false raise and rewarding basic behavior that only meets expectations is beneath our profession, unfair and manipulative to students, and hurts relationships, and destroys the intrinsic motivation that we want to build in our future leaders. I needed this reminder during our “November Slump.”

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Sarah,

      I’m glad it came at the right time.


  11. Emily November 5, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    Mt principal recently asked us our thoughts on a certain token economy she saw at some conference. I gave my opinion as being at odds with our school values.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

      Way to go, Emily.


  12. Tonya Chrislu November 5, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Wow! I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for these comments. It’s exactly what I’ve been saying for months!

    As parents, we know it’s poor parenting to pay kids for tasks like taking out the garbage, cleaning up their rooms, drying the dishes. Why do administrators so easily gravitate to a program like this?

    If you read the book “Drive,” by Daniel Pink, he exposes the ineffectual and even detrimental effects of using carrots and sticks. I heartily recommend it to your readers.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

      Thanks Tonya. I reference Pink’s book in The Happy Teacher Habits.


  13. Kristen A November 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Do you actually teach in a classroom? Just curious? If so what grade level? Are you given a pay check for working and meeting the requirements and expectations in your job description. What’s wrong with all of your opinions is that they are disconnected from reality. If you are a teacher I’d love to observe your management system to see exactly how you manage to ignite the intrinsic desire to learn and behave in all your students.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Kristin,

      You can read my bio along the menu bar at the top of the page. As for your question, you’ll find many, many articles on this website that tell you step by step how to create an intrinsically motivated classroom. (Please check out the archive) In fact, everything we do here at SCM, every article and strategy, supports this goal.

      Also, I’ve written about this topic comprehensively, and in detail, in The Happy Teacher Habits. I encourage you to give it a try. I think it will open your eyes and change your mind, as well as your teaching, for the better.

      I’m glad you found our website and I hope you consider subscribing.


  14. Deanna Maynard November 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Though I appreciate much of the clear and straightforward advice you provide regarding classroom management, in this case, I have to disagree.

    Systems of recognition for expected behavior (which can include verbal, non-verbal, and tangible acknowledgment) are present and necessary across our society as a whole – in personal relationships, in business, in the community, in sports, and pretty much any other setting you can think of. Recognition increases the likelihood the expected behavior will occur again in the future. It should be part of a larger system which includes developing environments to increase the likelihood the expected behavior will occur in the first place (like clear expectations, developing relationships, and using structure and pre-corrects to prompt desired behavior).

    Token economies are one strategy to increase the likelihood students will perform expected behavior. Tokens should ALWAYS be paired with positive specific feedback. Conversely, all inappropriate behavior should be responded to with specific corrective feedback. Ignoring the inappropriate behavior and just giving someone else positive feedback and a ticket is a misrepresentation of the use of this strategy. Teachers should be giving super-high rates of positive specific feedback for behavior that meets expectations throughout the day, every day – whether paired with a tangible or not. By attending to expected behavior at a high rate, the likelihood of problem behavior is reduced. That’s the science of behavior.

    Recognition, tangible or intangible, does not decrease motivation. That’s a misunderstanding of the continuum of motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic. Almost nothing a person does in the course of the day is “intrinsically motivated”. Intrinsic motivation means a person does something purely for the sake of finding joy in the activity – no additional outcome. Some examples might include children swinging on a swing set, a person singing in the shower, or stepping outside to watch the first snowfall. These are not comparable to the behaviors we need students to use in the classroom. No student is standing quietly in line or completing math homework for the pure joy of it. To some degree, there is an external motivation (a grade, pride, pat on the back).

    Then there are some things for which we are purely extrinsically motivated, and there’s no problem with that. The reason we pay our electric bills is because we have to do it to keep the lights on. Sure, we get entertainment, heat, ability to keep food fresh, and a host of other benefits from the electricity, but we only pay the bill because it’s required. Purely extrinsically motivated behavior.

    Pretending that all behaviors related to school need to be “intrinsically motivating” is just nonsense. Students will be somewhere on the continuum from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation for all manner of things during the day. Extrinsic motivation can be employed strategically to change behavior, and that can be a good thing.

    • Meydan Elbaz November 6, 2016 at 10:08 am #

      Wow! So clearly. Its just about behaviour modification. Its science! Deanna Your answer was exact.

    • Chris S. November 6, 2016 at 5:45 pm #

      I must agree here with Deanna. I, too, greatly appreciate much of the information on this website. However, as Deanna has expressed so well, there is nothing inherently wrong about extrinsic motivation, as long as it is used correctly, and it is often a very present and effective factor in adult life as well.

      I think Michael’s main issue was that he found praising well-behaved students to help encourage misbehaving ones to correct themselves dishonest, manipulative, and unhelpful in terms of feedback. I would say this is only true if it is implemented dishonestly.

      I prefer to think of this as encouragement and praise, because I have seen what an amazing difference it can make. Consider it this way:

      -Students hear positive swords about what they’re doing right, rather than only hearing reprimands about what’s wrong.

      -Quiet students whose good behavior often gets under-appreciated finally receive praise.

      -Praising correct behavior provides a clear, live example of what the expectation is–no need for individual feedback.

      As for Michael’s being against praising them for minimum standard of behavior that they should already be doing without thought for reward, in principle I agree. But I discovered that a great many students at my school (from rich backgrounds, I might add) had not been taught what used to be standard expectations. Therefore, I had to start with these basics before I could gradually phase them out and focus on higher things, or else nothing was getting done. The 180-degree change in results speak for themselves (from students who ran around without listening to ones who sit still, take turns to speak, etc.).

      If we have a system of warnings and consequences for misbehavior, then why not also rewards for good behavior, yes, even basic behavior if that is what is needed initially? Rewards provide invaluable feedback on individual progress. Some of my students astonished me by reciting from memory what weekly behavior grades they had received for several weeks past! It truly works. I’ve seen that it helps in a positive way, without teaching false values.

    • Carleta J. December 11, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

      Thanks Deanna, I was just about to write my response and saw yours. You are absolutely correct, this strategy follows the principle of applied behavior analysis or behavior modification and can make significant changes if done correctly.

  15. Christine November 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Great article, and I totally get this now. I wish I’d understood this when my sons were young.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks Christine!


  16. Theresa November 5, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    Thank you for this article! It truly supports what I feel yet struggle with among my parents (who would like more rewards for their children and tell me so), my colleagues who use it and my administrator that feels I should because it seemed to work for the teachers that had these students before me. My thinking is, if it worked, why do I still have problems?
    I am new to your site and need to delve deeper as I have a challenging young group but want to do them right. I will be taking time to learn more of your suggestions and strategies! Thanks, again!

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

      You’re welcome, Theresa. Welcome to the website and our approach to classroom management!


  17. Darren November 5, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Although i wasn’t at the training you attended …..i am not sure how it was described but to be fair to the procedure which is called a “pivot praise” it is meant as a small tool in a teachers tool box and can generally be used for off task small behaviors….it is used so that teachers don’t draw attention to the negative behavior but rather give attention to a person on task in hopes that the off task person picks up on the cue ….it is not a large scale intervention or anything other than a brief technique to give positive attention to those who are demonstrating the correct behavior …it would be unfair to call a token economy the worst strategy in the world and it may be detrimental to ESE students who are in the general ed setting who may need that intervention in general education classes to improve attention focus or overall behavior. Your statement blankets all students and gives people like myself that try to work with gen ed teacher an even more uphill battle to get something for the children that need. There are many other techniques such as response cost, isolation and inappropriate physical promoting that should earn the title of “worst strategy ever”… if people read your wonderful blog and think that reinforcing positive behavior with rewards is innappropriate i would be let down because this site provide lots of valuable information weekly . thanks for reading

  18. Naomi November 5, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    I just started using a token economy and got my class and parents all excited about it. How do I stop using it and backtrack when I just implemented the token economy? I don’t want to come across as a wishy washy teacher !

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

      Hi Naomi,

      This is an important topic that I don’t have the time or space to cover here. I’ll put it on the list of future articles.


    • Carleta J. December 11, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

      Naomi, I wouldnt stop using this technique all together. Further,ore, it is not meant to be in place forever. Ultimately, the reward system should be used heavily for a few weeks then gradually decrease the incentives as a reward. I am a psychologist and also an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist. I have seen how this technique has increased awareness of the teacher to praise students and good behaviors are also increased overall within the classroom.

  19. Chris November 5, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    I been a subscriber to this website for many years and have been using the techniques and suggestions. I can’t say I get it right all the time but I’m trying. I have a mixed age class from Kinder to Grade 1. They show great respect for each other during discussions and we have recently dispensed with putting up hands as they can now take turns letting each other speak without talking over each other. It is wonderful to watch them work together. Thank you for all you have taught me.

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Chris. Thanks for being a loyal reader!


  20. Carren C. November 5, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    Wow!!!! What an amazing article! I so support intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation has long-term effects as opposed to extrinsic motivation which is merely appreciated “in the moment.” I also do not believe in rewarding “expected” behavior, which is clearly outlined in the beginning of the school year and throughout the school year. Rewarding exemplary behavior is understandable, but not rewarding behavior that makes a classroom run smoothly wherein all students benefit.

  21. Kapai November 5, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Can I just offer another perspective on the strategy ‘caught being good,’ which our school has used for a long time. It is actually a very effective strategy if used correctly for most minor behaviours. The idea behind it is not just ’empty praise’, but a ‘teachable moment’ using descriptive praise (eg. I can tell X is ready for learning and showing respect for others because he is sitting quietly with his legs crossed and eyes on me). I usually refer it back to our classroom behaviour plan when I do this, linking it to a particular classroom rule. As required, we unpack the rule more fully to remind students why we have the rule and how it helps them as learners. It’s telling students ‘what to do’ rather than ‘what not to do’ and sets a positive tone within the classroom. Instantly, other children copy the appropriate behaviour. However, if the child continues the misbehaviour, other children begin copying the misbehaviour or the behaviour is more serious, then the classroom behaviour management plan of consequences kicks into action.

  22. Jessica November 5, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    This is the system we use in my building, and it is a state requirement to have a positive behavior system in place. I hate it for all of the reasons you’ve stated here. When I’ve mentioned to administrators about student behavior getting worse, especially those in older grades that have gone through this system for years, my comments are ignored and immediately shot down. I have no choice to participate in this behavior system, but I hate it to the core, and it makes me feel like an ineffective educator. Thank you for writing this!

  23. Corrine Byrd November 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

    This article was completely useless to me because it bashed something I have been throughly taught with examples and seen practiced with success, but then offered no concrete alternative. Your alternative was literally a bunch of vague descriptions of ideals that I already strived to achieve in my classroom with or without a token economy. Be a good role model? Yes, of course every teacher wants to do that, even those with a token economy. So what was your suggestion when Johnny is talking over the teacher during a lesson? All you said was don’t praise the students around him that are listening. So then are you suggesting I directly tell Johnny to stop talking ? What you actually suggested was nothing. You also gave a lot of unfounded opinions about why a token economy was bad. Did you conduct any research or longitudinal studies to determine that a token economy does indeed encourage unethical behavior? Or did you just assume that some cheating behavior you experienced was related to that teacher’s token economy? I’m not saying token economies are the best or only management system, but at least there is research to back them up. What about behavioral studies that show people’s behaviors are motivated by reinforcement both positive and negative? So you want to disprove those theories? Then show some actual evidence rather than just making grand claims about it being the WORST management tool. Not only did you have no evidence, but you didn’t even have a personal experience story or anything that would crest buy in to your claim from anyone other than people who already agree with you. Pretty much a useless article.

  24. Aishwarya November 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    Hi Mr. Linsin,
    Thank you for an excellent post, again. We have a class where token economy was used and the same class is now into cheating and stealing. Till I read this post, I had not connected the two.

    Can you please elaborate how token economies lead to dishonest behaviour?

    • Michael Linsin November 6, 2016 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Aishwarya,

      I’ll be sure to write about this topic in detail in the future, but in a nutshell they encourage students to cut corners in order to get the reward, prize, token, etc.


  25. Wendy McMillian November 6, 2016 at 6:07 am #

    I am using a token economy in my classroom and I must say that I hate it! I decided to use it because of the hype from websites and other resources that encourage such a system. Wish I had read this in July! The system is time consuming and I have not seen the results that the researchers claim – at least not in the long term. In the short term, students do settle for a time but I believe they are waiting to see if they also will receive that token and when they do not receive it, they begin with their disruptions again at a later time. I can’t help but feel as if I’m rewarding the quiet students, who are quiet ALL the time, for their quietness.

    The time it takes to trade in those tokens for awards is often lengthy, which uses up valuable teaching time. Then there is the fact that you have some students who will not trade their tokens but will hoard them for some larger prize that doesn’t necessarily exist. I truly do not have the resources to provide “big money/token” items that would be worthy of numerous tokens to be exchanged.

    I even changed from rewarding students for their behaviors to “paying” them for jobs done around the school. This has also proven to be a bust since you have some students who are go-getters and others who are complacent to warm a desk.

    I instead use a technique that I learned called Love & Logic (, which uses the technique of logical consequences as a result of actions while being empathetic toward the student. I have used this technique with greater success. I tell students what I expect and what the consequences are when they do not do what I expect then I do what I say I will do when they don’t do what is expected. Students maintain their dignity and I maintain my sanity! I also give students choices – choices that are to my advantage, not to the students; choices that would invariably be a consequence to their misbehavior.

    I would like to say that I am glad I read this article. At first, I thought that maybe I wasn’t doing something right with the token economy. Now, I see the fault in the theory behind the token economy. Thanks for your insight!

    • Michael Linsin November 6, 2016 at 7:27 am #

      You’re welcome, Wendy. Thanks for sharing your experience.


  26. Nikki Dunkley November 6, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Unfortunately, my district has bought into a token economy behavior program. I do my own thing in my classroom, but it’s crushing to watch it being used in other classes. It’s disappointing that my district has made this choice.

  27. Sarah Hoops November 6, 2016 at 7:33 am #

    Ah, I was nervous at the phrase “caught being good”, as I employ a chart by the same name in my home for rewarding above-and-beyond acts of generosity and kindness by my children. I modeled it after my elementary school’s program by the same name with the same principle. Teachers would acknowledge generous students by telling them they were writing the ‘good’ down, and entered the sheet for a drawing every couple of months for a trip to a pizza parlor for lunch just eat of school lunch.
    My striking memory of the program was when in 4th grade, I shared a huge number of reading points with a friend who had none so we could both ‘buy’ popcorn for the class movie afternoon. I thought nothing of it (what else was I going to do with lots of points?), but the fact that my teacher noticed and acknowledged it was a great source of encouragement for me – I had no struggles with intrinsic motivation, but perhaps was one of the very polite children who sometimes felt invisible, forgotten, and alone amidst the noise of naughty or needy children. Achievement helped generally, but it didn’t really connect me with people.
    I completely agree; catching others being good as a method to passively shame the one(s) out of line is confusing. A teacher having a tool and school having a system, however, for acknowledging an act of kindness brings humanity into the school and connection in the relationships of the souls inside was enlightening and consoling for me.

  28. Frank Radcliffe November 6, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    Michael, I have been following you for a long time. Your articles have helped me immensely and I regularly share them with colleagues. I’ve never heard such emotion in your writing and for good reason. This is an emotional issue. The research on this topic is very thin and the conclusions drawn by writers, on either side of the debate, cannot be substantiated to any degree. This leaves us to our own beliefs and therefore becomes very emotional. After all, we all want the best for our children. So I find myself just as emotional as you are but on the other side on this issue. I look forward to reading all of your articles in the future.

  29. Tim November 6, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

    Ha. Ha . . . I’m here to point out that something like that works.

    In EFL kindergraden and elementary education, where the teacher cannot communicate to the children, actually rewarding good behaviours works quite well. I’ve turned round classes of 24 in two weeks going from completely dysfunctional to completely teachable classes. Cleary you don’t reply on it as the final strategy, that comes down to something like what’s described in the book ‘Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Leaners’ by Andy Griffiths. But in the ESL classroom, where you are looking to stay in the target language, rewarding children for having their books and pencils out at the beginning of the lesson goes a long way to getting the lesson under way and setting a good president for the day.

  30. Alesia November 7, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Surely it is the lack of “tools” that teachers are given or being exposed to about/for intrinsic motivation that accounts for all the extrinsic behavior rewards and programs out there. Kids should be told that doing the RIGHT THING and how it makes them feel and what it makes them accomplish IS the reward. THANK YOU for spreading the news. It’s logical, practical, and right. Intrinsic motivation is easily built in a classroom where care (trust, and mutual respect) is practiced – even in the earliest of the primary grades. However, when districts adopt those extrinsic programs, it’s hard! I say shut your door, and practice what’s right!

  31. Nunya November 7, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    My last principal tried to demonstrate “catching someone doing the right thing” in a faculty meeting. I knew exactly what he was doing, but had no intention of participating in the inane, time-wasting activity he expected us to do. The “rewards” he handed out weren’t valuable enough to encourage me to “do the right thing.”

    The kids feel, and behave, the same way as I did.

  32. Carl Draeger November 7, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    Confession time. After being a classroom teacher for over 25 years, i took a full-time teacher mentor position. I came upon one of your articles and decided to subscribe in order share another resource with my mentees. Well, now that I’m happily back in classroom, I am using your sound advice myself.

    Thanks for reminding us that students should do the right thing because it’s the right thing; not because they get ‘paid’ for it.

    • Michael Linsin November 7, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      You’re welcome, Carl. Glad to hear you’re back in the classroom.


  33. Rebecca November 7, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    You continue to challenge my thinking and cause me to pause and re-evaluate and reflect. I appreciate your thoughts. I struggle with the philosophy of the token economy and all that it encompasses. I purchased the 11 Habits this summer and shared it with a colleague and we continue to “chew” on the information. Our school embraces the token economy. How do you feel about a classroom economy that uses a classroom banking system? Students are able to “earn” money by doing classroom jobs, etc. and are also assigned “fines” for a variety of infractions. They pay rent and utilities at the end of the month and at the end of a quarter, they are able to spend excess money on school supplies or snacks. This is a very short summary of the system, and I’m wondering if this too, takes away the intrinsic desire to do well for the sake of doing well, choosing right because it is the right thing, etc. Please comment. Thanks for your time and effort!!

    • Michael Linsin November 8, 2016 at 9:07 am #

      Hi Rebecca,

      Good teachers reflect and think deeply about what is best for students, so I think it’s great you and a colleague talk about this important topic. I have no ill will toward anyone who uses a token economy, and I certainly see value in teaching students a practical understanding of money, but what you describe falls under the category, which I don’t recommend for the reasons stated in the book.


  34. Lindy Dunn November 7, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    Thank you Michael for this wake up call to better classroom management.

    I will share this with members of my faculty and we should all speak the same language.

    Lindy Dunn. November 8, 1:36 pm #

    • Michael Linsin November 8, 2016 at 9:12 am #

      You’re welcome, Lindy.


  35. Mary Andres November 8, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    I totally disagree with your advise. The previous comments of others who accurately dispute your logic express my sentiments also! Evidence based practices include a ratio of positive to negative feedback to be 4:1 and acknowledging positive behavior (even though it is expected behavior) is highly supported in the research, as a “Best Practice” in classroom management. I also think you have misunderstood the philosophical as well as the scientific foundations of acknowledging appropriate behavior. I think you should look at the research and rethink this area of classroom management.

  36. Diane Galloway November 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    I prepare new teachers and Michael’s Blog and books are top on my list to assist them in navigating the ‘troubled waters’ of classroom management.

    This particular blog reminded me of a Hispanic student I had that shared when he was in school teachers would rave if he turned in his homework. Talk about LOW EXPECTATION. What Jose shared was that he clearly knew that teachers didn’t expect the “Mexican kids” to do the basic level. Rewarding and acknowledging the lowest level is indeed a sound blast message to the students. I share this story to remind these future teachers and tokens, points and rewards are a ‘false front’.

    Readers may recall Alfie Kohn’s, “Punished by Rewards”. His work is so relevant to this behaviorism that is being dug up. Certainly there are those companies t”rying to get in on the profits of ‘selling a program’ based on the U.S. Dept of Education’s Rethinking Discipline.”

    Thanks again Michael for being spot-on~!

    • Michael Linsin November 8, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

      You’re welcome, Diane. Thanks for sharing!


  37. Mrs. J November 12, 2016 at 1:41 am #

    Couldn’t agree more! Our schools seem to be trapped in this kind of strategies for many years and it irritated me to no end and just plain did not and does not work. My principal expected me to show up for work at a certain time everyday. It was expected! If tardiness was a continual habit I would have been pulled into the office and given a good talking to. None of the principals I worked under ever stood at the door handing out tokens for everyone of the staff that showed up on time everyday. It was expected! If we wanted to continue to work as a member of the staff that is what was required. Our job is to help children become productive citizens! It’s not to produce people who think that they have to have something every time they do something right. I think this strategy is why we see so many young people who think they are entitled to evrything. That nothing comes from just doing what is right unless there is some sort of “prize” attached to it!. Thank you for writing this. Just wish school districts and schools themselves would wake up and realize that this strategy is not a good one and we need to help our children realize that doing what is right, because it is right, is the best strategy of all.

  38. Sarah Harvey November 21, 2016 at 6:43 am #

    Mr. Linsin,

    I was just introduced to your book “The Happy Teacher Habits” and already I see many changes that I need to make in order to last in this profession. I am a first year teacher and a single mom so I have a pretty full plate.

    I also read your article about “Token Economy” schools and unfortunately I work in one. We use a school-wide system called PBIS. PBIS itself is not necessarily a “bad” idea, but I hate the idea of rewarding students (with material objects) for doing things they should be doing anyway. It seems so wrong. I also despise over praising students in order to get a student who is misbehaving to do what I want him/her to do. Totally phony. So what should I do. My school is totally promoting PBIS like its the latest greatest and best thing that was ever thought of. They even want us teachers to give “HAWK” feathers to other teachers (HAWK fathers are little slips of paper that say “”Good Job”) Honestly I would rather have that person come up to me and face-to-face say “Hey Nice job, or like how you….” Should I pretend to be “on board” with this phony system of rewards or say how I feel. Keep in mind I am a new teacher… Thanks and I look forward to your response. Regards,
    Sarah Harvey

    • Michael Linsin November 21, 2016 at 8:04 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      In your situation I think it’s best to hold your opinion (for now). While at the same time, you may consider minimizing external rewards in your own classroom.