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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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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That Kid You Just Can’t Reach

This kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to do anything you say today,” the 5th grader informed me. “I’m going to have a bad day, and so are you. This is what I always do with subs.”

I was a bit taken aback by his statement. While I imagine a fairly high percentage of students consider a similar plan of action when they see a substitute teacher at the front of the room, most of them don’t actually say so. Especially to my face. And most of them choose to go along with me once I convince them it will be more fun than trying to sabotage me.

I pride myself on my ability to win over and motivate difficult students, so it was especially humiliating that I couldn’t get anywhere with this one. Incentives didn’t work. Logic didn’t work. Being friendly didn’t work. Neither did behavioral momentum, peer pressure, or planned ignoring. When I finally resorted to threats, they didn’t work either.

The rest of the class was great, but this kid was ruining my day. And I put more energy into trying to get him to do something – anything – than I gave to the whole rest of the class.

Our Ability to Choose

I am grateful for this student, because he reminded me that one thing we humans all have in common is the ability to choose our actions. We can be encouraged, manipulated, bribed, tricked, or convinced to act, but in the end we all get to decide how we’re going to respond.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And he also said this:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

As educators, we face tremendous challenges every day. There are many things we can’t control. But we can choose where we put our energy and focus, and we can choose to use the situation, however painful, to help us grow.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

What's Going Right?PS – You can change your focus and energy by looking for what’s going right in your situation. Yes, things may be going wrong, but I guarantee you at least one thing is going right! If you are an Awesome Teacher Nation member, feel free to download this coloring sheet from the Educator Resources section of our Resource Library. Not a member yet? You can join here. It’s free!

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Ready-to-Go Lesson Plans – 7 Ways They Can Backfire

As classroom teachers we sometimes get bored with the same old lessons. But trying new ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire. Here’s why.

Lesson Plans BackfireA million years ago when I first started teaching, I spent way too much time and money at the Teacher Supply Store hunting for teaching ideas and ready-to-go lesson plans.

Today it’s Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, Education World, and other on-line databases instead of the Teacher Supply Store, but the idea is the name – fresh new activities to do with your class.

We tend to think we need to keep coming up with brand-new ways of presenting information to our students so they won’t get bored. And that’s true, as long as we don’t overdo it.

But changing things up all the time in our classes may not always be the best strategy because it can waste valuable instructional time and undermine our classroom management.

Here are seven ways ready-to-go lesson plans can backfire:

Backfire #1 – You Won’t Be as “With-It”

A key to great classroom management is “withitness” – the ability read the room and take the right action to prevent problems before they occur. When we are concentrating on following an unfamiliar lesson plan or leading an activity for the first time, some of our attention will be used up and we won’t be as “with-it.”

Backfire #2 – Boredom

This lesson plan backfire is counter-intuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to keep it interesting by doing things differently? But when we are using a new teaching method, we will need to give more instructions, directions, and explanations to our students, which many students find boring. Bored students sometimes misbehave just to keep things interesting.

Backfire #3 – Lost Confidence

Many students enjoy feeling capable. It gives them confidence to know the “right” way to approach a learning task. When we change it up too much, some students can feel uncertain or lost. And unfortunately, sometimes this feeling causes them to act up in an attempt to feel better.

Backfire #4 – Avoidance Misbehavior

Some of our students use misbehavior to get out of an activity if they perceive it as “too hard.” And learning a new procedure at the same time they are trying to learn new content can be too much.

Backfire #5 – Rocky Transitions

Misbehavior MagnetSmooth transitions are crucial for good classroom management. Transitions that are confusing or that take too long are student misbehavior magnets. This is why effective teachers spend weeks developing systems around transitions, and teaching them to their students. When you introduce a new type of lesson plan, even a ready-to-go lesson plan, there will be new transitions to learn, and they will not be as smooth.

Backfire #6 – Teacher Stress

Even if you are excited about a new type of activity, leading it for the first time can be stressful. Stress can make it difficult to respond well to your students.

Backfire #7 – Choppy Momentum

One of the best ways to avoid behavior issues in the classroom is to keep things moving. Even if the ready-to-go lesson comes with great directions, you may need to pause and refer to them from time to time. This can stop momentum and cause student misbehavior.

What To Do Instead

When you find a cool new activity or idea on Pinterest, see if you can fit it into the learning routines your students already know. Or if you decide to try a brand-new learning method, use that method for more than one lesson. Not only will you make it less likely for the lesson to backfire, you will be able to shift more of the responsibility for learning onto your students, go deeper academically, and save yourself tons of time.

How about you? Do you agree that changing routines can lead to behavior problems? I’m always interested to hear what you think.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Aggressive Student Behavior – What Teachers Can Do To Calm It Down

Aggressive student behaviors such as destruction of property, shouting, and running away are almost always caused by elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline – the “fight or flight” chemicals.

These chemicals make it impossible for students to think rationally. Worse yet, this impulsive, aggressive brain state can last 30 minutes to 3 hours per triggering event.

So what causes this chemical imbalance, and how can we help our students overcome it?

Prevent Aggressive Behavior

Aggressive behavior and elevated “fight or flight” hormones can be caused when the student feels attacked, especially if the attack is perceived as an assault on the student’s core personality. Working to understand how our students think and validate them can go a long way toward preventing aggressive behavior.

So how do you do that? There are many ways, but some of the best are: talk to them, listen to them, respect different approaches, notice what they like, point out things they are good at, respect their opinions (even when you disagree,) find things you have in common, be honest, and don’t make assumptions.

3 Ways to Clear Out Fight or Flight Hormones

Aggressive Students1 – Exercise. Walking, running, and playing games such as basketball can help prevent and reduce aggressive reactions. Allow students to “walk it off” when they get upset.

2 – Laughter. Reading a funny book, showing a silly video, or telling a joke can make students laugh. Laughter drains away cortisol and replaces it with oxytocin. Oxytocin calms the brain and makes it ready to learn.

3 – Togetherness. It can help to allow your aggressive student to talk things out with a friend or trusted adult. Class meetings, traditions, games, and shared rituals can prevent aggressive behavior by creating a sense of tribe or belonging within the classroom.

Do you have a way of de-escalating aggressive students? If so, I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below, or share your ideas in the Awesome Teacher Nation private Facebook group.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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How to Stop Defiance With This 30-Second Classroom Management Strategy

If you want to stop defiance (and who doesn’t?) one of the best ways is to develop a positive relationship with your students. But how are you supposed to do that when you can’t even have a normal conversation without attitude and challenges to your authority?

A Simple Strategy

Stop Defiance With This 30-Second Classroom Management StrategyLuckily there is a simple strategy that can work wonders in stopping defiance. It only takes about 30 seconds and you can start doing it immediately.

You already greet your students at the door as they come in your class, right? If you do, you probably say something like, “Hi (student)! How are you today?” And then maybe you check in homework, or hand out an assignment. Right?

This is all good, but if you want to stop defiance, you may want to take it one step further. You may want to go below the surface and let your students know you really care by adding another simple question to your routine.

After you greet your students by name and ask how they’re doing, what do they usually say? Something like “fine” or “okay” or “good,” right? (And if they are teenagers, they might just grunt or ignore you.)

The Defiance-Stopping Secret Phrase

The secret for stopping defiance comes after that, when you say, “And how are you REALLY?” and then listen. And empathize. Once you have heard their story, you can say something like, “I’m glad you feel happy. Thank you for sharing.” Or “I’m sorry you’re tired. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Thanks for letting me know.”

When you deliberately invest 30 seconds to find out how your students are feeling, you demonstrate that you care. And students are by far less defiant when they feel respected, heard, and validated.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!
3 Myths

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What About The Student You Can’t Reach?

“Wheeee!” Savante screamed as he spun the teacher chair around in circles, narrowly missing several of his classmates and slamming into the bookshelf. A few of the second graders gamely tried to continue reading with their buddies, but most just watched him careen around and tried to stay out of the way.

What About The Student You Can't Reach?I pride myself on being able to handle most situations, but I couldn’t reach Savante. I called the office for help.

Two years later, Savante showed up in my husband Keith’s 4th grade classroom. Savante no longer spun around in chairs. Instead, he got in fights, destroyed office supplies, and yelled obscenities. My husband couldn’t reach him, either.

We’ve all tried to work with students we just can’t reach. The ones we stay up late worrying about and wish we didn’t have to face in the morning. The ones that can make us feel like failures. It’s easy to get discouraged and think maybe we don’t belong in education.

Have a Little Faith

And then something happens to remind us that we’re not failures just because we can’t reach every student, every time. We only have to do our best during the window of time we have with the Savantes of the world, and have faith that someone else will be there to continue the work.

You see, Savante showed up at Keith’s school a few years later to visit his elementary teachers. He was polite and well-spoken. He had an after-school job. He was passing all his classes in high school. And he came back to say thank you.

Have a Little FaithSo when you are tempted to give up on a student you can’t reach, just remember… Your job is not to fix them. That responsibility belongs to them. Your job is to do everything you can for them, and have faith that the right person will show up to take over when your part is done.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Transitions – Save Time With This Simple Mind Shift

We’ve all had transitions go sideways in the classroom. You ask the students to do something simple like put away supplies, and suddenly chaos erupts. The noise level goes way up, the pencil sharpener grinds, and students roam everywhere. And you find yourself spending 10 minutes or more struggling to resettle the class so you can get on with the next thing.

Transitions can spiral out of control even when you explicitly teach the students your expectations and cue correctly. But if this happens often, it can cost you hours of instructional time. Think about it – 10 minutes for each transition of the day times 5 days a week – YIKES!

A Simple Mind Shift to Reclaim Your Transitions

If you’d like to reclaim your transitions, I suggest a simple mind shift. It has to do with your belief about what a transition actually is.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction?

Save Time on Transitions With This Simple Mind ShiftI’ve noticed that students and teachers both tend to think of transitions as break time. Students feel free to get a drink of water, come up and ask questions, and so on. A parent or other adult who would never interrupt a lesson thinks a transition is a good time to start a conversation with the teacher or a student. We ourselves often use transition time as a chance to take a sip of coffee, get our supplies ready for the next lesson, and so on. We are modeling “take a break” by our actions, if not our words.

What if would happen if you changed your belief about transitions, and decided they were just as important as direct instruction? That both you and the students have an important job to do, and that you would no more tolerate an interruption to a transition than you would an interruption in direct instruction?

Definition of Transition

The Dictionary.com definition of transition is “a process or period of changing from one state or condition to another.” Some synonyms are metamorphosis, alteration, and changeover. None of that sounds like break time to me! Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great idea for students and teachers to stay hydrated and to move around once in awhile. But I don’t think every transition needs to turn into a break.

One of the best ways to signal that a transition isn’t a break is to require the transition to be done without talking and/or within a short amount of time. Be active during transitions. Watch what’s happening. Correct students as needed, and reinforce those who are staying focused. If someone tries to talk to you, politely ask them to speak with you during independent work time, or during an actual break.

How to Fix Inefficient TransitionsFree Resource – How to Fix Inefficient Transitions

If your transitions are in need of some spiffing up, I recommend the Target-Challenge-Reward method of fixing inefficient transitions. Awesome Teacher Nation members can download it from the All EducatorsAll Educators section of our Resource Library. Not a member? Get free access here.

 

Katrina Ayres – PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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Why Joy Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

Joy can sometimes get lost in the checklists, schedules, and gazillions of details that need our attention in the classroom every day. And while joy may seem like a bonus extra, I believe it can be an important strategy for encouraging positive student behavior.

Magic Joy Moments

Why Joy is a Good Classroom Management StrategyHave you ever had one of those magic moments when your students were completely “into” an activity? A light bulb moment when the class seems to “get it?” An instant of community over a shared joke or experience? Those moments are all examples of joy showing up in our classrooms.

When student are into what they are doing, or into you, their teacher, there’s little need for fancy classroom management techniques, rewards, and consequences. Students may misbehave out of ignorance, habit, or getting carried away, but that willful defiance disappears. If you think about this for a minute, you know it’s true. When you were a student, which of your teachers did you behave the best for? The playful, enthusiastic ones, or the grumpy ones? Right.

Even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing.

Joy is a Good Classroom Management Strategy - Watch on Awesome Teacher Nation TVSo where does this joy come from? Many times, it comes from you! When you’re enthusiastic about your subject, or enjoy kids, or simply like to play, your kids catch that energy from you. And even if you aren’t extroverted or funny, your students will still respond if you show a sense of wonder or satisfaction in what you are doing. In other words, geek out a little! Get excited about making a connection with a vocabulary word. Admire the beauty of a perfect geometry proof.

I once knew a teacher who was able to easily manage a very difficult student using his somewhat nerdy love of plants. I even wrote an earlier article about him. Read it here.

Why Sharing What You’re Into Is a Good Classroom Management Strategy

What if you are frustrated and have lost your joy? Sometimes, all it takes is a step back from all the intensity. Remember why you started teaching in the first place. Remember your own zesty teachers. Take a joy break!

Now let your joy shine, and go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStratgies.com

Joy Checklist

PS – I’ve created a checklist to help you tap into your joy.

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