This strategy helps to build a positive reinforcement system or economy in the classroom in a way that should feel more meaningful and aligned to a teacher's key values. By first determining a teacher's "Cultural Big Rocks", the key values and soft skills students should demonstrate in the classroom to move toward a more student centered culture, the strategy helps teachers develop a meaningful positive reinforcement system in which students will be held to high expectations and will be able to verbalize the value of them. While this strategy can be used all year and for any grade level, it should be designed before the school year and implemented once the semester starts.
The desired outcome of this strategy is to create a positive culture in the classroom, one in which the teacher focuses most of his or her energy on observing, narrating, and rewarding students when they meet or exceed high expectations, as opposed to focusing on behavior corrections. Its effectiveness resides in the way it makes the teacher think about building a system that reflects the cultural values they are working with their students to build together.
1. List the different types of academic and social skills you would like to stress in your culture this year in order for your classroom to feel like the vision you drew for it in the summer. Ex: Showing a Growth Mindset, Resilience, Perseverance, Supporting claim with evidences, citing the text, etc….
2. Narrow down your list to 5-10 "Big Rocks" of your classroom culture.
3. Communicate to students the rationale behind these big rocks and their meaning in the reality of your class. In other words, what will it look like in our classroom to display these key values/skills?
4. Commit first to narrating these key values/skills every time you see them in action in your classroom. Catching students doing the right thing, even without a reward attached, is already extremely rewarding for them and for you!
5. Determine your system to award a point when you see a students meeting or exceeding your expectations. In particular, make sure to answer the following questions:
Which skill/behavior displayed will be granted a point vs. simply acknowledged?
How will you keep track of the points each student receives in a manageable way (for example, a clipboard with a roster, an app like Class Dojo, etc…)?
How will the points translate into "virtual dollars"? In other words, after how many points can one individual claim a reward? Should there be a different reward for different amount of points?
What rewards will be both manageable for you, aligned to your vision, and interesting for your students? After you asked yourself, feel free to survey the students. They will come up with great ideas of privileges they'd like to earn (Special seat, 10 minutes of free time, etc…)
6. Introduce and launch your system, and keep track right away of the points you award. Celebrate your students reaching their first goal and show them that this new economy will become a true reality. The moment students earn their first reward is very important to building momentum around your system.
7. Create a daily/weekly opportunity for you to reflect on how you have been awarding points and look for evidences of inequity in your practice. Ask yourself questions like, "Am I awarding some students more than others? Does it truly align with their work and behavior? Do I award points during certain phases of the class (warm-up) more than others (group work)?" Let this reflection drive some intentional changes in your practice.
8. Create a daily/weekly opportunity for your students to reflect on how they have been earning and not earning points. Let this reflection drive a goal setting process for them before the day or the week starts. Have students write these goals in a place that you can both visit together (i a folder, in an app, etc…)
9. Continue to monitor progress made by the class and individual students in relation to their goals. Share with the group progress and areas of growth regularly. Share with individual students suggestions for growth. One-on-one check-ins can be very helpful in that regard.
When students will be working on a collaborative project, it could be interesting to think about a specific and separate system to reinforce positive collaboration skills, at the group level or at the individual level but within the context of a collaborative group project.
Define the key collaborative skills you would like to see students display during their collaborative project. You can invite students to help you define them during a collective brainstorm.
Derive from these skills a rubric that will help students know from the get-go what is expected of them during the process of collaboration, and not only when it comes to the product they will submit.
Adapt your point/ticket system to also focus on these collaborative skills during this project. Determine if you want to continue to award points individually or if you want to award these points at the group level for the duration of the project. A tool like Class Dojo will allow you to create separate groups, and group points (see Tech Tool section below to learn more about ClassDojo).
Launch your project and track the points you are giving right away, at the group or individual level. Narrate with intentionality the new skills you are trying to promote during this project.
Create an opportunity for your groups to reflect and set goals regularly, driven by a self-assessment using their rubric and the breakdown of points they have received so far. This will help them monitor their progress and make adjustments to continue to grow in their collaboration.
For students with disabilities that impact their ability to meet classroom expectations, it is particularly important to ensure that a) all IEP accommodations are in place and b) that student growth towards their IEP goals is recognized with positive reinforcement.
For students who struggle with transitions or procedures, providing visual references with reminders of what to do can help them navigate difficult moments. For example, you might add a "What to have on your desk at the start of class" poster or a "What to do when you're stuck" anchor chart.
Never forget that the greatest reward for your students is often you noticing their effort and acknowledging them. In other, a positive reinforcement system is no substitute for telling your students they did a great job and why!
Keep raising the bar! As your students start consistently meeting your initial expectations, revisit your system and your big rocks. Make your expectations more and more rigorous and challenging and they will keep rising to the challenge!
To learn more about building a positive classroom environment, explore the Classroom Management Reconsidered strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.