Monday, September 17, 2012

Let's Try Some Positive Reinforcement, Shall We?

I can definitely tell that the weekend is over.  Because my mind is racing back in to work mode.  And because I just cringed starting sentences with "because" and "and". 

Isn't that funny?  Now that I'm actually a teacher, it bothers me just a little to start sentences that way.  Of course, it doesn't stop me from doing it.  But, I do take notice - and want you all to know that I'm fully aware of the grammatical mistakes I make while typing - and completely do it on purpose.  Most of the time.

During my Friday's Letters on Friday, I wrote a letter to my class.  That's because I wasn't going to be in the classroom on Friday, but at professional development.  It was my first time to have a substitute in my room, and I was a little nervous.  A lot nervous.

On Thursday, I was sure to go over Friday's schedule with the class.  I was sure to go over my expectations for their behavior while I was gone.  I was sure to build them up and explain to them how I'd told the sub how wonderful, responsible, and well behaved they were...and I had no doubt they'd make me proud.  And that's the absolute truth - I really did say all of that to the sub.

The class was supposed to be going on a field trip on Friday, but it got cancelled Thursday morning due to the fact that it was going to rain all day on Friday - and the field trip was outside.  So, I was sure to explain the changes in schedule, the new assignments they were going to have, and that they would be taking the field trip the next week.  

I left Thursday evening feeling confident that I'd done everything I needed to do to prepare the students for my absence.

The professional development let out a lot earlier than planned, so I was able to make it back to school a little before the end of the day.  I was so pumped about finding out about the day they'd had.  That was until I actually got back to the classroom.

I could tell the minute I walked in the door that things had not gone as well as I thought they would.  Simply by looking at the behavioral clips hanging on the wall.  There were several clips pulled, and names that I just didn't expect to see hanging on the colors indicating that some recess time had to be missed due to behavioral issues.

The sub seemed relieved to see me.  The kids?  Not so much.  I could pick up on fear, panic, regret and shame from the looks that met me from their faces.  My heart sank immediately.

The sub explained that it had been a very tough and trying day.  She wasn't sure if it was because I was gone, the field trip got cancelled, or because it had rained all day - meaning indoor recess.  But whatever the reason, they had tested her patience, not followed directions, and had really given her a run for her money.  In which, she was no doubt ready to run.

I was completely devastated.  And all weekend long, I've been stewing on ways that I can send a clear cut message that behavior issues while I'm away won't be tolerated one bit.  I've gone back and forth between different scenarios.  I've planned out different "punishments".

But, then I got a great idea.  The sub actually left me a list of five names of students that did everything she had asked.  They followed procedures and directions.  They were model students.  Five out of twenty.  So, I have one of two choices.  I could go in this morning with guns blazing, yelling and moody about Friday's events.  OR, I could go in and drown those five students with praise and rewards and showcase my appreciation for them by doing something really special for them.

I have decided on a mixture of the two.

Those that deserve it will miss recess.  They will feel my disappointment.  They will hear a heartfelt lecture (rather than a screaming one) about how sad and disappointed I am with them.

Those that deserve it will be receiving brownies and free time.  They will be rewarded in front of the entire class.  They will enjoy their rewards in front of the entire class.  They will be the example, and my praise will be over the top.

Thankfully, I work in a state that still allows treats to be brought in.  I'm not usually for food as a reward - but there's no doubt that food is one of the best rewards kids like to receive.  And toys.  Which is something else those lucky five will receive.  And, if that's not enough, they will be receiving a free pass for this afternoon's lessons.  While the other students are hard at work, those five students, who just acted the way they are supposed, to will be enjoying an afternoon of reading, drawing or playing games - whatever they decide.  Positive reinforcement on crack!

I've given my class a lecture more than once about how I'm not big on rewarding for expected behavior.  They don't get special rewards for turning in homework, paying attention to the teacher, and being nice to each other.  That's just behavior I expect every single day.  But, they also know that when they are polite, helpful, and go above and beyond the normal expectations - I am thankful, and will show my appreciation.

Except I can bet my last dollar that none of the students are going to expect me to show how appreciative I am of those five students that behaved so well - especially with how much was going on around them.

In all honesty, my class really is a great class.  In a few short weeks, they can be trusted to continue working if I step out of the hall for a second, they will be quiet if a visitor enters our room, they walk down the hallway in silence, and they are responsible enough to form groups to work in - and they work really well with each other.  They know and understand my expectations.  They respect and follow my rules.  Which is probably why I'm as disappointed as I am.

I really wanted Friday to be their day to showcase how wonderful they are.  I wanted them to be the class that subs cheer over having.  I wanted them to understand that the trust and appreciation I have in them isn't just for when I'm around - but for when anyone is there in my place.

But, it was our first attempt.  It was the foundation from which I can base other substitute scenarios on.  It's just the beginning stages.

Hopefully after today, I won't ever have to worry about this type of situation again.



  1. Joanna, I am so proud to know you as a teacher. You are doing an awesome job, and the kids had their first time away from you, and didn't behave as they should have, but now they will believe you that your "power" extends to them even when you are not there. That sounds like an excellent idea, to combine both positive and negative enforcement.

  2. Awww, thanks!! I'm definitely a firm believer in "actions speak louder than words". I can yell at them all day long, but unless I show them how appreciative I am of those that did what they were asked I don't think they'll really understand.

    Of course this means that the next time I'm away, I'm probably going to have to come up with a lot more brownies. LOL

  3. I like how you took the time to think about how to respond to the class without winging it. I have a problem with letting my emotions getting the better of me when I get upset and I regret it later.

    Your plan sounds perfect! You are a wonderful teacher :)

    1. Thank you!! I have to admit that had I not had the entire weekend to think about it, things may have been a little different. But, it is important to me to think about how I deal with a situation before jumping right in. I just hope that the plan works. HA!

  4. Yo JO!

    Thanks for the email this morning!! I was in bed with the kids so I couldn't get into details but it felt nice that you looked for me. Miss you!!!!!!1

    I also totally start sentences with AND all the time. And BECAUSE (lol). My grammar is awful when I blog. I guess it's because I'm writing the way I would speak? Or because I'm totally out of practice with professional writing?

    I'm totally impressed with the way you handled your class! How do you know so much as a first year teacher?? You are obviously a gifted teacher. A real natural!!

    1. I've missed you!! I want to be reading your blog again, too!

      I think that's why I blog the way I do - because I blog as I would speak. And we all know we don't speak the way we're supposed to write.. LOL

      Thanks for the compliment. I'd like to think that I'm a natural - but a lot of watching and picking up tidbits here and there from "seasoned" teachers also has a lot to do with it. :)


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