One reason CRREW was founded was the idea that silence is compliance, if you choose not to speak, you have sided with the oppressor. With that in mind, I felt like speaking out to an email would be a great response for our first blog.
The email came from an elementary school with high rates of families in poverty where we have an abnormally high rate of homelessness. Where, by the 3rd grade, students have already decided school is not for them and that there are certain “rules” you follow to make it through the day. As a district, a choice has been made to follow PBIS initiatives and frameworks. However, the idea of PBIS is on relationships building and staff interrogation to improve student behavior. This is what our school, or at least the person who sent the email, believes PBIS should look like:
PBIS refers to the application of positive behavioral interventions and systems to
achieve socially important behavior change. As a school and as a district we strive
for proactive and preventative rather than reactive and punitive interventions. As
someone who has been a behavior interventionist for twenty years a concern that
parents and teachers always seem to have is that they don't want to use "bribery" to
get a child to do what they should be doing. So I am going to clarify the difference
between bribery and reinforcement. When using bribery the reinforcer comes before
the child has engaged in appropriate behavior. When using positive reinforcement,
the reinforcer comes after the appropriate behavior. This rule is called the Premack
Principle. Does the district bribe you to come to work or do they reinforce you with a
paycheck? Thus, the … Thank Yous when used properly are a great positive
In the past a student would earn a … Thank You for appropriate behavior and once a
week get a chance to have his/her name drawn to come to the library and pick a
prize. This led me to another question. If you were told to work really hard and be
the best teacher you can be and at the end of the week your name would be put in a
drawing along with all of your co workers and if your name was pulled you would
get your paycheck but if not, no worries you have another chance next week. What is
the likelihood that you would work as hard the next week. This is why I have decided
to link the Thank Yous to a school store. This gives the children a chance to earn and
spend their Thank Yous every week. It will encourage them to work harder and
behave better. It will also empower them and give them a sense of accomplishment.
Reinforcement is a practical way to shape appropriate behavior. Thank you for all
of your support and cooperation. I understand that change isn't always easy but if
we can remember that we all have the same common goal and that is making sure
that all of our students needs are met. Please also keep in mind, fair isn't everyone
getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need in order to be
As a staff there was never a meeting to make this decision together, if there was here are some points I would make in opposition to this idea:
First is the analogy of paychecks. As an adult who has chosen a career in the field of education I am earning my pay for my work as all workers do in a capitalist economy. To say that I am reinforced with a paycheck is absurd. I am paid for my work. If I do not like my job, I can get a job somewhere else. Which is not the case for our students, as long as they live near the school, they have to go to the school. Also, to think their work as students does not offer some sort of “pay” is also absurd. It is called grades. The teachers offer engaging, applicable, and challenging work and students earn grades by participating, questioning, and learning. Also, the analogy of working hard and then maybe getting my paycheck amounts to a school system I worked in where bonuses were going to be given based on certain criteria. The idea that I would work harder because I might get a bonus that could give me more spending money on a vacation was insulting. It caused competition, strife, and a pretty horrible existence at the school. I lasted one year and I’m an adult. The idea of putting children in a similar position is heartbreaking.
Secondly, this is extrinsic motivation and research has suggested over and over that intrinsic motivation is what our students need to become life long learners, active citizens, and good people. Schaps & Lewis (1991) say, “extrinsic rewards aren’t necessary when schools offer engaging learning activities, programs that address social and ethical as well as cognitive development, and a supportive environment.” They go on to say that, “…extrinsic rewards are not needed to stimulate students’ engagement and perseverance. Rather, we find that rewards may indeed undermine intrinsic motivation and thoughtfulness…” They suggest that the rewards for students happen when teachers change their behavior by providing stimulating and engaging educational activities. Kohn (1993) suggests that rewards are inherently controlling, ineffective, make learning less appealing, and ignore curricular questions, “Rewards, like punishments, can usually get people to do what we want for awhile. In that sense, they ‘work.’ …rewards can never buy us anything more than short-term compliance. Moreover, we – or, more accurately, the people we are rewarding – pay a steep price over time for our reliance on extrinsic motivators.”
Also, this, as a system, is still bribery because students understand the “if I do this, then I will get this.” Once the student has purchased what they want from the store, there is no intrinsic motivation to keep up the positive behaviors. Even though it was not framed as a bribe it is still perceived that way in the students’ minds. As Smith, et al (2015) say, “rewards and consequences don’t work – or at least, they don’t teach. They may result in short term changes, but in reality they promote compliance and little else,” compensating them for “engaging in an unpleasant obligation.”
Finally, as we move forward, here are some questions we must deeply consider:
Are we trying to teach kids how to engage in productive learning or are we trying to control their behavior?
What is the behavior we are looking for and how are handing out these slips of paper going to make these behaviors happen intrinsically?
Was this decision made through a race and equity lens?
Is anyone worried that white women in a school that serves predominantly students of color are making these decisions?
And, most importantly and a large part of the PBIS framework, what are teachers doing differently to better improve student behavior?