How To Teach At A Rewards-Focused School

Smart Classroom Management: How To Teach At A Rewards-Focused SchoolIf you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you know how I feel about rewarding students in exchange for good (i.e. expected) behavior.

A do-this-and-get-that approach to classroom management is damaging to kids.

It snuffs out intrinsic motivation and turns the student-teacher relationship into a cold-hearted transaction.

It also makes managing your classroom far more difficult in the long run.

I’ve written about this topic extensively in The Happy Teacher Habits as well as in several previous articles.

So I won’t rehash it here.

Suffice it to say, I’ve angered some teachers and educational leaders in the process.

A few have even written bogus reviews of my work in an effort to hurt me. But the future of our children is at stake, so I’m willing to take the heat.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I encourage you to put your own career at risk if you work at a school that mandates the use of external rewards.

Nor do you need to.

The truth is, you can still stay true to yourself and what you know is right for your students while safeguarding them from bribery, trickery, and manipulation.

In fact, used in a certain way, you can turn those tickets, tokens, and stickers into an advantage that actually supports the development of intrinsic motivation.

The key is to offer them to your students without connecting them to any particular behavior.

Here’s how:

Give to everyone.

If you’re required to hand out external rewards, then joyfully give them to everyone in your class at the same time.

Show your students that it’s okay to give gifts, as well as smiles and acts of kindness, just because you care and just because it feels good—or for no reason at all.

It sends the message that the true reward resides with the giver.

Give for fun.

Passing out tokens (for use at a school store or prize box), colorfully designed pencils, or smiley hand stamps is fun.

It makes students smile and adds another layer of specialness that makes your classroom a place your students love coming to every day.

Just pass them out at odd times without explanation, even to the student sitting in time-out. It is, after all, a free gift with no strings attached.

Give as a lesson.

When you give just for the sake of it, it reinforces the lesson we all want our children to embrace that learning, making friends, and enjoying school is reward unto itself.

It is, in fact, the greatest reward you can offer.

Free grace has a remarkable way of softening hearts and reawakening intrinsic motivational engines. It’s also a model for what true giving looks like.

Your expression of unconditional generosity—whether smiles, fist bumps, a kind word, or dinosaur erasers—will deepen your influence and cause your students to take up your cue and give of themselves to others.

A Core Principle

Whether or not you’re at a school that requires you to hand out rewards, there is great value in ensuring that all of your giving is a free act of grace.

Simple and consistent kindness, pleasantness, and friendliness, without expectation of receiving anything in return, is a core principle here at SCM.

It builds easy rapport and likability, strengthens your classroom management plan, and provides the leverage you need to have the well-behaved class you want.

There is a lot to this topic, including how to handle monthly rewards and “caught being good” recess tickets. We’ll be sure to cover these and more in future articles.

So stay tuned.

Give to give.

The rewards are real, profound, and life-changing.

PS – If you’re a high school teacher in need of an effective classroom management plan, click here.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.

, ,

38 Responses to How To Teach At A Rewards-Focused School

  1. Mandy January 28, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    Thank you very much for sharing this with us!

    • Susan January 28, 2017 at 11:10 am #

      I used to do the rewards approach but after reading smart classroom management I changed that approach. It makes sense that you should not reward students for something they should already be doing. I have to say it is one of the best things I have ever done. My students know what is expected of them. No rewards for that.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Mandy.

  2. L Ford January 28, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    This is a wonderful concept and come Monday I am going to definitely do this!

  3. Tami January 28, 2017 at 10:28 am #

    Reading this article just validated what I’ve been doing the last few weeks! I recently moved back into a middle school classroom after being an elementary school teacher coach for three years. My new school uses tickets as rewards and after reading everything that Michael has written, I was feeling frustrated with the ticket system. There’s even a raffle ticket for the teacher when they’ve handed out a certain number of student tickets! So I started handing student tickets out to the whole class, just to be nice. And it made them feel good! Thank you, Michael!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

      You’re welcome, Tami.


  4. Katherine January 28, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    My coworker had a formal observation this week. When it was time for independent work, her entire class was on task and engaged. She got marked down because she didn’t “clip up” any students to reward them for doing their work. The principal rated her as “beginning” in behavior management.

    • Christine Kai January 28, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

      I am so sorry to hear about what happened to your colleague, Katherine. What a ridiculous move on the administrator’s part! Then again, that administrator could’ve been pressured by some idiots at the district office!

    • Emily January 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

      Were I your coworker, and clip systems weren’t part of the contract, I’d fight the evaluation.

  5. Barbara January 28, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    I love your ideas and management advice. Keep ’em coming!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      Will do, Barbara!


  6. Janet January 28, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    That is ridiculous! We use the Marshall rubric for teacher evaluation. For classroom management the highest grade is for using an intrinsic model. Luckily my P agrees, but I use the rubric to support my stance if needed.

  7. Lavinia January 28, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    This question was on my lips. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      You’re welcome, Lavinia.


  8. Ramzan January 28, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    This is a reality based article and must be in full practice for ideal class room management.

  9. Christine Kai January 28, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks! It is good to know that experts like you are out there to support us! Teaching since 1998, Christine

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Christine! Thanks for being a SCM reader.


  10. Jack January 28, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    Thanks again for a great way to implement this topic. My building has now mandated a token system. Once again your articles have given me the tools and insights on how to approach the daily challenges of teaching..

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jack. Sounds like the article came at a good time.


  11. Katie January 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Thank Micheal! After teaching using SCM strategies last year I can’t go back to the craziness and unfairness of ‘extrinsic’ motivation. I want to do what’s best for the students in my class! But at the end of last year my school mandated this PBL (extrinsic rewards) and they now come and check our rooms to ensure we are using it! This article helped me heaps because I didn’t want to make a fuss as a third year teacher in our school. Thank you for everything you post, it motivates me to be a better teacher each day 🙂

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

      You’re welcome, Katie! Glad to help.


  12. Lilian Dcosta January 28, 2017 at 6:15 pm #

    I just bought the high school management system and am a bit confused because that system supports the points system. Am I missing something or is it a mixed message?

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 9:16 pm #

      Hi Lilian,

      There are stark differences between the two—making them virtually unrelated, even opposite—the most notable being that the points described in the guide are an assessment, not a tangible reward. There are many others, which I’ll be sure to cover in a future article.


  13. Ginny January 28, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    Amen! So refreshing to read to read this article…thank you!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

      You’re welcome, Ginny! Thanks for reading.


  14. Julia Scott January 28, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

    Thanks Michael for creating this website, it saved my life about 2 years ago (and ever since) when I had the toughest class in my 20 year career. This is a very timely article for me. My school just implemented a point system for the whole school. eg 10 points = reward from the teacher, 20 points = reward from the teacher, 30 points = reward from administration and then it keeps repeating… My idea was to reward all children as a ‘team’ instead of individually…Throwing tokens in a jar for random acts of kindness and effort. But I don’t know how I am going to get around the reward from Administration?? They will know I’m not using the system correctly if I never send anyone to the office for their reward!? Any ideas would be welcome. Thanks : )

    • Jenny January 31, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      Hi Julia,

      Could you randomly choose a student or students at whatever intervals you feel you need to send a student to admin for reward–with goal of giving all students a chance at some point?

      • Julia February 3, 2017 at 6:14 am #

        Thanks Jenny, that’s a good idea!

  15. Becky January 28, 2017 at 11:53 pm #

    A timely post as I start at a new school in Australia that uses extrinsic rewards both in class (peg chart) and on the playground (caught being good). I don’t like to use either but as I’m in an open plan room teaching collaboratively with 3 other teachers I dont feel that I can avoid it. I like your advice to give out many (peg ups) randomly but fear that my teaching partners will not be impressed as this will be inconsistent with their approach. Do you have any suggestions of how I can best manage this as the new kid on the block?

  16. Suzanne January 29, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I was wondering if a strategy I am using is considered, “extrinsic”. I teach kindergarten and on occasion, I will have a child give me a “Star” answer or be a “Star” listener and will give them a Magic Marker star that I draw in their planner with the color of their choice. I tell them to tell their mommy or daddy what they said or did to receive the star. For example, I might give a child a star if we are discussing a story and I ask a question and it’s not until the third child that I pick, knows the answer. For something like this, I will draw a star in their planner and write Star Listener. I sometimes put a star, again with a marker on a child’s paper when after two or more children come up to me to have their work check and missed part of the directions or didn’t complete their paper following the given directions. I am very selective about giving out stars and don’t give them out everyday, only on the occasion when I feel a child has given me star work or a star answer. Thoughts?

  17. May Ryan January 29, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    I am so glad that you are posting about the unintended consequences of rewards based management. With educators like you and Dr. Marvin Marshall, at some point the tide will turn. For those teachers who resist and have found a better way, keep sharing your non-extrinsic reward behavior strategies with your fellow teachers and principals. Let’s develop responsibility, not reward based conditioned behavior.

  18. Judy January 30, 2017 at 8:28 am #

    thoughts on using Mystery Student ? During transitions you choose a mystery student to observe and reward if they are successful . .

  19. Adrienne January 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    Thank you for this! It was timely and much-needed.

    • Michael Linsin January 31, 2017 at 7:54 am #

      You’re welcome, Adrienne.


  20. Eileen January 30, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve been a faithful reader of your blog for the last three years, and you have helped me so much with my classroom management. Teaching second grade has been an absolute joy! However, this year our school is following the Positive Discipline program, and I was told by the administration that I cannot write students’ names on the board or send a child to a time-out as it is a punishment masquerading as a consequence. I can only ask a student if they would like to sit in the cool-off area. Needless to say, it’s not going well. Please help me!

    • Michael Linsin January 31, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      Hi Eileen,

      This is a big question that I don’t have the time or space to cover here. It’s already on the list of future topics. I hope to get to it soon.


  21. John February 4, 2017 at 3:20 am #

    I wished the real world worked that way. No contribution…you just get a paycheck. Alas, it doesn’t and never will.