The Reward of Rewards?

Straight from a faculty meeting, I felt that this warranted further exploration (particularly because it was impossible for anyone to agree) and I am keen to see the link between progress, development and reward. Our SIMs reward system is being re considered for a VEVO revamp, and the option of reward categories caused a rather mixed debate; I am interested to establish to what extent rewards reward. More importantly, are reward systems now being manipulated and moulded to fit a teaching function rather than traditional student recognition?

Current reward systems function with an accumulation system, usually within Houses that follow a particular theme. It seems to be a familiarity within Outstanding schools to present a firm method of provision for those that are engaged and perform consistently well. Point systems allow for a spectrum of positive behaviour, and give SLT the opportunity to draw summarise data from departments to see how students respond and perform. But are we setting ourselves up to fail? Have the reward systems that we implement working for the staff more than the students?

A conference led by Paul Dix of Pivotal Behaviour at the beginning of the year allowed me to view reward systems in a whole new light. Working with other PGCE students, we compiled a list of known and tested reward systems; phone calls home, post cards, point systems for prizes or cash and the like. Research demonstrates that students will always choose the more personalised of approaches over larger, more established systems that whole schools will use to provide specific points. A phone call home on a Friday evening can be the single most powerful tool in your teaching toolkit to keeping positive behaviour to a shining standard, and more importantly, to keep it consistent. Kids love that you have spoken to their Mum. They love that you had a chat with her whilst she cooked the dinner, and joked about pasta bake recipes. That alone is more powerful than a year’s worth of points and a school mug in June. Hands down.

I took away the idea of personalised postcards and have used this consistently with all groups, 7-10 since January. Combined with stickers and phone calls, this is admittedly my only reward system. Why? Because the school points system does not leave me with responsive, engaged students.

So the question is, do we need whole school recognition? Yes. But in a way that doesn’t just have the same two students stood up in assembly every summer, feeling a little bit sheepish as they receive their speed boat. Ok, they were 13,421 points off a speed boat but you get the idea….

Can we formulate a way of establishing a whole school initiative that rewards the boy who turns up with a pencil for the first time in weeks, and the Mensa candidate all in one to?
This key question led the meeting onto linking rewards to APP guidelines. I just wanted to throw that out there for a second. It’s not something that sits with me.

So what ARE we rewarding for? Surely, we need to decide upon the behaviour that we would like to be exemplified first of all. My brain toys with the concept of linking rewards to PLTS; that way we can allow for creativity, collaboration, participation, leadership skills. All those great things that great people are made of. Great people who work DIFFERENTLY, where their goal posts may differ but they’re all pretty good at what they do. Because surely that is ultimately how you reward people in the same way, for the various ways that they approach ideas in such a unique fashion? Right?

This is by now means a ‘this is how it’s done’ blog; it’s a ‘juicy-get your brain squishing’ blog. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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