Is Positive Reinforcement Positive?


When was the last time your principal gave you a package of gummies for coming to school on time? Did every teacher in your building win a teacher of the year award?

"That's silly," you say. "Why would I be rewarded for doing what is expected of me? Why would every teacher win? If we all won, the award wouldn't mean anything. Winning wouldn't matter."

Yet that is exactly what we do to students when we hand out trophies to all of the teams at the end of the season or give them a Friday treasure for "being good" all week.

Be a good sport. Remember that phrase? When did we stop teaching students how to graciously lose? Learning to share and play well with others is part of life. We learned this in kindergarten. In the real world we're expected to be flexible team members. To work well with others. To listen. To show respect, even when we don't agree.  Coming to work on time and prepared is also part of the expectation of a dependable employee. Can you imagine going to school late and unprepared? Me either. Yet we condition our students to expect rewards and praise for being .... students.

Do you know why baby boomers have an admired work ethic? Because they were taught responsibility and how to be a good sport. We didn't expect a reward for doing the right thing. We did the right thing because it was... the right thing to do.

Too much of a good thing is often bad. As with all things. Moderation. Going overboard simply creates an out-of-shape system.  Time to push away from the table if we see things getting out of hand.

Yes, I'm antiquated. I was educated with the dinosaurs and we all know what they are. Extinct. But there is something to be said for the education I received and for the work ethic that is instilled in me. I think we really need to take a step back and scrutinize our "everyone-wins-feel-good" programs and evaluate if they really are building the type of character that they claim to be building. Are they preparing our students to become leaders with integrity? Or are they installing entitlement practices in future adults ?

Abe Lincoln and the Civil War




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