By Kasie Longoria
When preK–12 educators talk about managing student behavior, the focus is often on negative behaviors. In our school district, like many others, we have an online system for inputting discipline infractions. Unfortunately, that means that the only behaviors that are being tracked are negative.
When I was a classroom teacher, I always had a system where students could earn “paychecks” each week for positive behaviors—and it worked amazingly well. I never once had classroom management issues or discipline problems, and I never sent students to the office because they were so excited about earning rewards.
When I became the assistant principal of Central Elementary, I wanted to find a way to track what our students were doing right and help teachers look for those positive behaviors. So, in 2014, we established a paycheck-based positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) reward system and began using a school culture system called Kickboard to track students’ positive behaviors.
Rewarding Positive Behaviors
We now reward students with Kickboard Bucks for positive behaviors, such as producing scholarly work, spending time on task, or getting to a certain level in the Istation Reading curriculum, which is used districtwide. On Fridays, students can spend their paychecks in the school store for supplies or treats such as free dress days.
This has not only improved students’ behavior but also improved their motivation, time spent on task, and academic performance. These rewards also motivate teachers to recognize students for positive behaviors because they don’t want them to miss out on the opportunities other students have.
Rewarding Acts of Kindness
In spring 2016, we also added a new reward to our system—Kindness Bucks—to increase the desired behavior of kindness schoolwide.
To get started, we created a quick button in our Kickboard system so teachers can instantly recognize students for acts of kindness. Now, students who commit at least two acts of kindness during the week are awarded 10 Kindness Bucks. Students can spend their bucks in the school store, or they can save them up to go to our Field Day at the end of the school year, which costs 180 Kindness Bucks to attend.
During schoolwide morning announcements, I also give daily shout-outs to each grade level for the teacher using kindness the most and the student who earned the most Kindness Bucks. In addition, every Wednesday, I spend two or three minutes discussing our overall behavior data, citing exemplary positive behaviors, and giving shout-outs to individual students. When needed, I also pinpoint negative behavior trends and describe specific steps students can take to improve or change those behaviors.
Since we launched our paycheck-based PBIS reward system, attendance is up, tardiness is down, and our school culture is better. When we compared the first 18 weeks of school in 2014 to the first 18 weeks in 2015, we saw a 44 percent drop in discipline infractions.
Because our culture has improved, students are now able to focus more on academics. As a result, they’re demonstrating measurable academic gains, including progress in the Istation Reading curriculum.
In addition, thanks to our focus on kindness, students are now being extremely kind to one other and themselves. When we compared the six-week period before and after the launch of our kindness initiative, we saw a 30 percent drop in classroom disruptions.
Involving Teachers and Staff
It’s important to note that kindness isn’t just for students. We also wanted to encourage teachers to look for kindness and to be kind to each other. So, we created a school within our school called Central SWAG, which includes all of our teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, and other staff members.
Every week, I ask teachers to look for acts of kindness from their team or other staff members and e-mail them to me. I then award them Kindness Bucks. Students, too, can tell me which teachers deserve Kindness Bucks and why.
On Fridays, all staff members who have earned at least 30 Kindness Bucks can go to the Central SWAG store. The store is simply a cart I push around with school supplies, snacks, soft drinks, and coupons for Starbucks or Sonic drinks.
The teachers love it and it’s made a difference in the way they work alongside each other. It has also made a significant, positive difference in our school culture, according to a recent survey of our teachers.
Improving the School Culture
Thanks to our programs, teachers now look for the good instead of focusing on the negative—and that’s changed the way they see our students. Further, because we’ve chosen to focus on kindness as the main behavior we want to see schoolwide, it has made a big difference in the way we treat one other.
I firmly believe that positive reinforcement increases academic achievement, and the data is showing me that this is true. Because our school culture has improved, students are able to focus more on academics, spend more time on task, and perform at higher levels. Teacher satisfaction and morale have improved, too. It really is true that a little kindness goes a long way.
Kasie Longoria is the assistant principal of Central Elementary School, a preK–5 Title I school in the Dallas Independent School District.