Positive recognition is essential in establishing a harmonious and productive classroom culture. And, rewards for positive behavior don’t have to be anything fancy (or expensive). Avoid being the teacher who relies on candy for everything with these ideas for student-centered rewards that only require the investment of a little time.
Underneath any shyness or indifference they might show, kids really do enjoy sharing their passions with their friends. Invest some class time in rewarding performance or behavior by giving students the floor for a special show-and-tell or a presentation designed to introduce classmates to more esoteric hobbies they enjoy with which others may not be familiar. Even just the ability to share an online video of their choosing (previewed by you, of course) can work. Five minutes of a cat video on YouTube can pay big dividends in piquing other students’ interest in self-expression.
Every child wants more freedom. Regimented classroom norms are important, so students appreciate when they are allowed to deviate from them. This can be as simple as allowing students to sit on the floor during group or individual work, offering the option to take their shoes off or listen to music while they work, or (for elementary classes) the occasional pajama day. Depending on your level of trust and the clearances you’ve obtained, you can also allow chosen students to work in other areas of the school, like the library or a lab.
When I was in the classroom, one of my favorite rewards was to send a surprise positive text to a parent when warranted. The parent always appreciated it, and the student would come in the next day telling anyone who would listen about what happened when they got home the previous day. It got to the point where students would try to negotiate the sending of such a text to coincide with when they would be asking their parents for a new phone, a raise in allowance, or a release from grounding.
Believe it or not, most students even appreciate positive feedback from school administrators. See if you can get your principal to stop by to offer some quick encouragement and reinforcement. Again, the principal will probably be as pleasantly surprised as the student(s).
Educators are increasingly recognizing the value of incorporating as much choice into the curriculum as possible, but you may want to consider holding some decision-making power back to use as rewards. Frame such a system as students who have demonstrated the right amount of maturity can be trusted to choose their own assignment/book/project or other relevant option. Of course, you can also reward students with the ability to simply choose with whom or where they sit.
Looking for more classroom management tips to encourage student agency and build a positive sense of community? Check out our Teachers’ Ultimate Guide to Revamp Your Classroom Processes!