When Incentive Programs Backfire

This time of year, I see lots of incentive programs going on. Marbles in a jar to earn a class party. Table points to earn an extra recess. Class money that can be spent at a “store” at the end of the year. Tokens that go into a drawing for big prizes.

4 Ways Your Incentive Program Can Go Terribly WrongIncentives can definitely help students regain their focus, but they can also backfire big time, because incentives can feel like threats. “If you do X you will get Y” also implies that if you DON’T do X, you WON’T get Y. This can lead to all kinds of problems, including:
Incentives Are Only For Good Kids

  1. The perception that the incentive program is only for the “good” kids. Students who struggle with their behavior anyway will have a hard time earning the incentive. They may decide to give up without even trying.Incentive Feels Like a Threat
  2. A damaged teacher-student relationship. Students often associate the bad feeling of the threat with the person who made it (the teacher.) This is especially true if the student’s behavior keeps the whole class from winning the reward.The Spoiler
  3. An opportunity for attention-seeking behavior. Many times the student will get more attention from the teacher and the other students for NOT going along with the program. Think about it. Which student is getting lots of reminders?Students Who Cheat on Incentive Programs
  4. Cheating, stealing, and bullying. I once had a counterfeiter in my room when I had a class money system. I’ve also had reports of missing money, bribes, and extortion. If it can be done with real money, it can be done with fake money or tokens. Marbles can be added to that jar when you aren’t looking, too.

Watch Classroom Incentive Programs That Backfire on Awesome Teacher Nation TVIf we are going to use them, incentive programs need to be failure-proofed as much as possible. One way to do this is to avoid programs that encourage students to compete against each other. I prefer systems where individuals earn points that go toward a whole class reward.

Another failure-proofing method is to allow for partial credit. Instead of offering all-or-nothing rewards like “If everyone makes it to class on time, you will earn a class point,” offer two points instead. Then even if everyone doesn’t make it, you have the freedom to say, “Almost the whole class was here on time, so I’m going to give us one point this time. Thank you to those who made it.” This takes the attention away from the students who came late and acknowledges those who came on time.

Then if you want to take it a step further, you can offer a side deal for students who struggle. Take them aside and offer a bonus point for the class if THEY come to class on time. Do this privately so they will not feel threatened. Now they can’t mess it up if they fail AND they can help everyone if they succeed.

Have you ever had an incentive program backfire? If so, what did you do about it? As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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How to Be a Confident Teacher

This week’s Sanity Boost is in answer to a question that came in as an anonymous response to last week’s survey about topics to include in my upcoming book. If this is your question, THANK YOU for sending it!

Question: One thing I see over and over is students honing in on insecurities of new teachers. So, how do you feign confidence in your own classroom?

Answer: You don’t have to be a new teacher to feel insecure. All of us have felt that squishy nervous feeling in our stomachs that happens whenever you are in a situation you’re not quite sure you can handle. Your armpits and hands dampen. Your mouth gets dry. Your heart pounds, and you have trouble breathing. You may even get lightheaded or need to run to the bathroom.

Watch How to Be a Confident TeacherUnfortunately, kids are really good at detecting when we are feeling insecure and capitalizing on the situation to create drama and/or get out of work. You can try to fake confidence (breathing helps, as does deodorant), but wouldn’t it be better to actually HAVE confidence?

So what exactly is confidence, and where can you get it? One definition of confidence (from Dictionary.com) is “belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.” And I think the best way to acquire a belief in your powers and abilities is to have a well-thought-out plan.

What could possibly go wrong in the classroom?I have a friend who jumps out of airplanes. He isn’t nervous about it at all, because he knows exactly what to do in just about every situation that can come up. There are protocols for what to do if the weather is bad, if the parachute doesn’t open, or if he starts to drift away from his target landing area. In other words, he has thought about what could go wrong, and made a plan to either prevent it (pack your chute correctly) or correct it (have a backup chute.)

Think of all the problems you could have in the classroomI recommend all new teachers (and experienced teachers, too) try to think of everything that can possibly go wrong in their classrooms. Then, make a procedure that will prevent that thing from happening, and teach it to your students. If I’m worried that students will sharpen pencils while I’m talking, I teach them what to do if their pencil breaks. If I think they’ll cheat on a test, I teach them how to arrange their desks. And so on.

Experienced teachers have a big advantage here, because they have had so many things go wrong already that they instinctively know what to plan for. But new teachers can do it, too. The problem is, many of them don’t. I know I didn’t. My idea of how to prepare for the classroom was to go to the teacher supply store and buy a bunch of thematic lesson plan books. What I should have done was think about the logistics of my classroom, and write a bunch of lesson plans to use at the beginning of the school year.

I always say “Confidence is natural when you know what to do.” And thinking it through ahead of time will help you know what to do.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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What If I Totally Blew It?

At the end of the school year, after the books are boxed up, the walls are stripped, and the furniture is stacked, it’s natural to reflect back over the year and think about what went well and what didn’t. Sometimes these memories are invited, and sometimes they sneak up and pounce on you when you least expect them – such as when you’re cracking open your first-of-the-summer trashy paperback novel or I-don’t-have-to-do-lesson-plans-this-weekend beer.

Watch How to Recover From a Really Big Mistake on YouTubeFor me, the unwelcome reflections usually involve some embarrassing and/or completely inexcusable mistake I made. Like the one I made last week when I totally forgot about a sub job I had committed to. I felt so horrible! I kept blaming myself and reflecting on how much I had inconvenienced everyone from the teacher I was supposed to work for, to the school secretary, to the rest of the staff at the school, to the kids.

Not helpful, really. My self-blame just made me feel worse, and did nothing to make the situation any better. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

Then I started thinking about our students. How do we coach them to deal with mistakes? If it’s an academic mistake, we may ask them to erase it and do it over. If it’s a social mistake, it might be to apologize and find a way to “make it right.” This is great, if it’s possible. But what if it’s not?

Maybe we can take the artist’s approach. I was taught that there are no mistakes in art. If something shows up that you didn’t intend, you try to see what it’s telling you and integrate it into the project in some way.

That’s what I’m doing now by writing this. It’s also what I encourage you to do if you look back over your year and notice some things that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Were there some actions you wouldn’t take again? If so, and if it’s possible, take the academics approach and correct it for next year. If that’s not possible, take the artist approach and ask yourself, “In what way could this mistake become a healthy part of my teaching practice? How could I use this story to help myself and others?”

Our profession isn’t easy, and it’s inevitable we will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Luckily we don’t have to be perfect to be effective. It takes courage to continue on, and faith to see that you ARE making a difference in the world. Thank you for all you do and for your willingness to try it again next year.

And now, break out that book or beer and have an amazing summer! We’ll see you next Fall!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

In my role as a substitute teacher, my number one goal is the same as a doctor’s – do no harm.

I want the regular teacher to come back the next day with no messes to clean up or discipline issues to resolve, so that the class can move forward as if the regular teacher had never left.

Well, that’s the goal.

What's the BEST Classroom Management Strategy. Watch on Awesome Teacher Nation TV on YouTubeThis week I subbed in a really great class. The kids were calm when they came in. They seemed willing to give me a chance. They went along with my incentive program. They were flexible. They were helpful. They had to be patient because their teacher was unexpectedly sick and had not left very detailed plans. I was winging it and the students knew it. We got along pretty well the first day.

I thought the second day would be easy. I had a better idea of the routine and was able to be better prepared academically. But when I opened the classroom door I saw the students’ faces fall. Their beloved teacher was gone again! As the day wore on their behavior deteriorated. They were less focused, less flexible, less helpful. Less nice. I reacted by becoming more controlling, less understanding, and more negative. The class and I were de-evolving in lower life forms.

As you can imagine, this is a little disheartening for a classroom management “expert” like myself. Why didn’t my classroom management techniques and strategies work?

It’s because the regular teacher uses the very best classroom management technique there is. She builds positive relationships with her students. On her wall it says “In here we treat each other with respect and kindness,” and her students clearly know they are loved. As a stranger I could be politely tolerated, but my fancy-pants techniques and strategies weren’t nearly as effective as her yearlong quest to develop a positive relationship with each and every student.

Developing those relationships (especially with THOSE students) is not always easy. It takes time and effort, sometimes superhuman effort. But in the end, love is the best classroom management technique there is.

Now go make it a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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7 Strategies to Deal With The Pencil Sharpener

Nghhhhhhhhhhhhh.

There goes the pencil sharpener again, right in the middle of a spelling test. No one can hear the spelling words, and I actually feel as if the pencil sharpener is grinding into my skull.

7 Ways to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener“No pencil sharpening!” I screech. So the student sits down and immediately starts bothering everyone around him. He has nothing else to do, since he can’t take the spelling test without a pencil.

“Fine! Sharpen the pencil, but make it quick.”

And the entire class waits for the nghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh sound to stop so we can finish our activity. Then another student gives me a little smile as she presses down hard on her pencil. Snap! and the fun begins again.

The pencil sharpener is an annoyance for almost every teacher I know. Fortunately, there are many solutions. It’s just a matter of finding a something that works for you and your students. Here are seven ideas to try:

Pencil Sharpener Solution 1Teach the students when they can and cannot sharpen their pencils. No sharpening is allowed when anyone is talking or during whole-group instruction. During those times, students have to borrow a pencil from another student or the teacher. Sometimes there is a penalty for anyone who violates the pencil rule, such as having to clean the room after class. Sometimes a valuable object such as a shoe or a phone is held ransom for the pencil.

Pencil Sharpener Solution 2Teach the students what it means to be ready for class, including how many sharp pencils they should have and where they should keep them. Some teachers require two sharp pencils in the pencil tray on each student’s desk. Others ask their students to use pencil pouches with two spare pencils. I used to require my middle school students to show me a sharp pencil on their way into class.

Pencil Sharpener Solution 3Take away the big pencil sharpener altogether and ask the students to use hand sharpeners.

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 4Have the students use erasable pens or mechanical pencils.

 

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 5Keep a supply of sharp pencils on hand in a pencil can. Provide another pencil can for dull pencils. Students trade out their broken or dull pencil for a sharp one.

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 6Each table group has a caddy with supplies to share. One person in the group has the job of keeping the supplies in good order.

 

 

 

Pencil Sharpener Solution 7Instead of using paper and pencil, use paperless options such as Google Docs and iPads as much as possible.

Do you have a solution for the Pencil Sharpener Problem that works well for you? If so, please share in the comments below so that none of us ever has to suffer through the ngggggghhhhhh interruption again!

Now go make it a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Why Ignoring Misbehavior Won’t Extinguish It

Students who misbehave to get the teacher's attentionI had just about had it with one of my 3rd graders. All day long it had been one thing after another. Shouting out, clowning around, throwing things, making faces and fart noises, wandering the room… you name it, this student was doing it.

Students who get in your face while you are talkingI finally just about lost it when he walked up to me while I was addressing the class and interrupted me mid-sentence to show me his new watch. Couldn’t he see I was busy? And then I finally realized he was acting out to get attention.

Common wisdom says the way to “extinguish” attention-getting behavior is to ignore it. In my experience, this doesn’t really work. I find what usually happens is the attention-getting misbehavior will keep accelerating until you finally snap and react in some way. Once the misbehaving student gets a reaction, the misbehavior is reinforced, making it more likely to happen again.

Preventative Attention - attention you give a student to prevent attention-getting misbehavior
If you have students who tend to act out to get attention, shower them with attention the moment they arrive in your room, before they’ve had a chance to start misbehaving. Say hello when they walk in. Ask their opinion about something (anything!) Ask them to show another student how to do something. Notice and comment on something they are doing right. Do not be fake and weird about it, but keep it going as consistently as you can for as long as you can.

If your students are already acting out, do what you need to do to stop the misbehavior, then start the positive attention routine as soon as possible. For example, when the 3rd grader tried to show me his watch during direct instruction, I smiled and said, “Show me during recess, honey,” and gestured toward his desk for him to sit down. Then I quickly called on him to answer a question I knew he could answer.

It may seem like this takes a lot of time and energy, and it does. But it takes even more time and energy to deal with all that attention-getting misbehavior all day long while trying to stay positive and maintain your sanity.

Do yourself a favor and give your needy students a little preventative attention. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Why You Can't Extinguish Misbehavior by Ignoring It

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Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading

Watch Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading on YouTubeWhen my class was out of control, I didn’t get much work out of my students. I was wasting so much time on power struggles, warnings, arguments, and waiting for the class to be quiet that there wasn’t much time left for class work.

Stop Taking Grading HomeOnce I got my class under control, I started to have another problem – how to keep up with all the work my students were turning in! Maybe you’ve been there, too – you give your students a few assignments, and suddenly, you have a huge pile of papers to sort, grade, and record.  It looks like hours and hours worth of work, and your weekend is looking like another boring round of sitting on the couch, watching TV and trying to get through it all.

Use Notebooks to Collect Student WorkOne way to cut through the clutter and possibly reclaim at least some or your weekend from the Paper Mountain of Doom is to have your students work in spiral notebooks or lab books.

For elementary classrooms, I recommend a different color notebook for each subject, say one for writing, one for math, and one for science or social studies.  For secondary, you can have one color of notebook for each period of the day.  That way you can tell at a glance what the notebooks are, and you don’t have to spend lots of time sorting all that paperwork out.

Kids can copy assignments off the document camera or board, or out of workbooks.  If the students are too young to do that, or if you need worksheets with lots of detail that would take forever to copy, the students can glue the worksheets into the spiral binders.

When you want to check work for completeness (but not for correctness) have the students open their spirals or lab books to the correct page and lay them flat on their desks. You can do this for homework at the beginning of the day, or at the end of the period as a dismissal procedure. The teacher, an instructional assistant, a parent volunteer, or student volunteer can go around and check for completeness while the students are occupied with the next activity, such as a reading assignment, small group discussion, or lab.

To check work for correctness, collect the notebooks from a quarter of your students every day, Monday through Thursday. Have the students stack the notebooks in a pile on your desk, open to the first unchecked assignment.  Then between classes, or when you have 5 minutes here or there, check one, make corrections to it, and close it up.  You’ll be surprised how many notebooks you can get done if you don’t have to get them out at put them away every time you want to work on them.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Should Students Sit Where They Want?

No. End of story. Have a nice day.

Haha! Just kidding. I can actually think of two good reasons for students to choose where they sit:

  • As a reward or incentive.
  • So the teacher can learn which students are dysfunctional when they sit together and separate them when making a seating chart.

Use a seating chart, or let the students choose where to sit? http://www.positiveteachingstrategies.comOn the other hand, I can think of a whole bunch of reasons to assign seats. A few of the reasons have to do with making things easier for the teacher, but most make it better for the students in some way. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Reduces anxiety for students – Most people like knowing what to expect. Your students are no different. When they don’t know where they are going to sit, they can feel insecure.
  • Cuts down on bullying opportunities – Some students intimidate other students to get preferred seating. Having a seating chart makes this less likely to happen.
  • When given a choice, the more eager students are likely to sit up front and the students who struggle will sit in back. The students who struggle will then struggle even more.
  • It’s real world practice for your students –In the real world, you don’t always get to sit by who you want (particularly on airplanes) and your students need to learn how to cope.
  • Allows for differentiation for multiple special needs, including:
    • ADD/distraction
    • Left-handed vs right-handed
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Movement needs (such as standing at their seat or walking around)
  • Saves steps for the teacher – Putting students who need extra help near the teacher saves steps for the teacher and allows the student to get help faster. (That’s really two reasons.)
  • Is usually perceived by the students as more fair than letting dominant student get the best seats.
  • Helps the teacher learn students’ names, a great way to develop positive relationships with students.
  • Helps a sub (assuming the students actually sit in their seats).
  • Makes attendance easier – No need to call out names or ask students to report who is absent. Just look for empty seats.
  • Can facilitate efficient paper passing – If you can create a seating chart that is aligned with your grade book, it can save you hours.
  • Can help students make new friends – I discovered one of my best friends in high school when we were assigned seats next to each other.
  • Tardy students don’t have to disrupt class to find a seat – They already know where they belong.
  • Can make sure desks and chairs are the appropriate size – Have you ever sat in a too-small chair or tried to write on a too-tall table? You can make needed adjustments when the student uses the same chair each day.

Do you agree that assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom? Why or why not? Feel free to email me with your comments, or go on over to www.Facebook.com/PositiveTeachingStrategies and leave your comments there.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Avoid Teacher Burnout

As any educator can tell you, the beginning of the year is the most time-consuming, crazy-busy time there is. It’s like moving in to a new house, starting a new job, finishing up your Master’s thesis, and hosting a big party all in the same week.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it. Everyone is busy the first six weeks or so, and everyone puts in extra hours – even educators who’ve been at it for years. But for some, the busyness becomes more manageable as the year goes on, and for some it doesn’t. And you don’t need me to tell you that the first-of-the-year level of activity just isn’t sustainable, especially if you want to have what’s commonly known in the non-teaching community as “a life.”

So how do you convert the crazy-busy time into a sustainable schedule? I believe it all comes down to habits – actions we take automatically in response to a situation.

Play Video ThumbnailThe cool thing about habits is they don’t require a lot of thought once they are learned. They just become what we automatically do. That’s why I believe the most important thing to do in the first six weeks of school is teach the students (and ourselves) habits that will automatically save us time. If we do this, we will eventually have a sustainable schedule instead of a burned-out-train-wreck schedule.

Think about it. If the students have the habit of running around for 15 minutes before class starts, you will be wasting time getting them to settle down – time you could be using to take care of all those little administrative tasks you need to do, like checking in homework.

If the students instead have the habit of putting away their things, preparing for the day’s activities, and getting started immediately on the first learning task, you won’t have to use your prep time for the administrative tasks. And the students will feel more in-control and successful, too.

So use these first weeks of school to create good habits and enjoy the benefits for the rest of the year.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Reflect So You Can Relax

Before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year.

Whoohooo! It’s finally the end of the school year! Time for some R’s – Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation!

If you had a tough year this year (as many of us did) you may be especially eager to leave it all behind and get on with your Summer Break. But before you lock your classroom door, turn in the keys, and turn off your teacher brain, I’d like you to take a moment for one other R – Reflect.

Specifically, I recommend you reflect on anything that didn’t go well this year (anything Rotten, to continue our R-word theme.)

Why Reflect on the Negatives?

Now why would I ask you to wallow in your misery instead of playing and having fun? Why be so negative? Why not reflect on the positive things that happened instead?

Because you want next year to be better, that’s why! And if you’re anything like me, you tend to get a little fuzzy about the specific details of what went wrong. You just remember that you didn’t like it, and rejoice (another R word) that you don’t have to face it for a few weeks. Then all that summer relaxation tends to erase it from your memory, and you forget to make a plan to fix it.

But things aren’t going to get better next year by accident. The definition of insanity is taking the same action and expecting different results.

Don’t Try to Fix It Now

I know you don’t have the energy right now to figure out how to fix everything, and I’m not asking you to do that. I’m just asking you to make a list of things you’d like to improve for next year. Then, once you’ve rested a little and you’re ready to think about next year, you’ll know what you need to work on.

So what drove you crazy this year? The transition after lunch? Tardies? Kids throwing things? Backtalk? Eyerolling? Side conversations? The pencil sharpener? Write it all down and lock it away in a drawer somewhere until you’re ready to start thinking about next year.

Reflect Now, Fix Later

Chaos CauserOnce you’re ready, dig your list out of your drawer and create a routine for each one of those “drove you crazy” items. I recommend using a process such those I teach in Taming the Chaos [video class] or the Take-Charge Teacher [DIY workbook.] Or use the Teach-To process from the Time to Teach Classroom Management Strategies That Work seminar, or any other process that works for you.

Making your “what went wrong” list now can help you let it go so you truly can Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate. Have a great break, and I’ll see you next year!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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