“People should not be paid for doing the right thing! I should not be teaching people basic social skills at this point!” These are a few things I have heard from secondary teachers about teaching and acknowledging students.
We know that acknowledging students is a key component of schoolwide supports for climate. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink describes two ways to acknowledge: If then (e.g., if you do your work, then you get…), and now that (e.g., now that you have done.., you get..). In the first students are aware of the possible reward, the second they are not until they achieve the goals.
Having some type of reward or acknowledgment can be helpful for everyone when reaching a goal. It does not have to be money. In fact, one study found that students who were given a certificate of completion attended more tutoring sessions that students who received money.
Some keys to acknowledgment
Think about three kinds – high frequency (e.g., tickets, coupons, praise), intermediate (e.g., classwide drawings, student preferred parking) and large scale celebrations (e.g., school picnic, sky box for student and 20 friends at school ball game). This is a link to a planning tool that might help you think through each step. This link provides an example of the tool.
Prepare your staff for implementation. Do not hand out any tokens, buzzy bucks, or whozzie whatitz until you have prepared staff for why, what, and how to acknowledge. For example see this one page key practice guide you can share with your teams before rolling out acknowledgement. Here are some practice scenarios for your staff on acknowledgment.
Involve your students. This is a great chance to have your students contribute their ideas to your school acknowledgement system. Ask them what they think might work for acknowledgment.
Look for examples from other schools. There is a general rule in high schools, if it did not happen in high school, it did not happen. Look for high school example! This is a nice Prezi from a high school on their positive behavior support implementation. Also, check out a few of these examples of tokens in high schools. Here is a study we conducted about obtaining buy-in from high schools that included acknowledgement.
Think free. There are resources for finding acknowledgement ideas that are free. This website has resources and sample letters for asking for donations from your community. Here is a list of free incentives for students from a post on the PBIS.org website. And finally here is another list from PBIS Rewards.
The keys for acknowledgment, from my research and experience, include preparing your staff and making sure you have the systems in place to support your efforts. Whatever you do, do not roll out any approaches until you have the systems to support them or the data to evaluate them! I would love to know what works for you when acknowledging your students and staff.