What your pupils really want

I am not greatly in favour of using unrelated rewards to encourage behaviour change, but if you are, then you may as well make sure that the rewards you offer are the most suitable ones. School advisor colleague, Margaret, told me a tale today from her teaching days which illustrates this well.

“There was a group of pupils who decided that they did not want to be on the receiving end of any certificates or other forms of recognition and approval generally given publicly in school, so they did everything they could to avoid this.

Their behaviour was a puzzle to their teachers, until one of the group let it slip that this was their strategy!

Margaret took the pupils aside and asked them what kind of recognition and encouragement they would settle for. Their responses were surprising: being allowed to wear perfume or aftershave to school, going to help the younger pupils with their work and having the teacher write their approval on a post-it note so that the pupils could show it to their parents or whoever they chose.”

The principle? Ask the children and be prepared to hear something you don’t expect.

Margaret also told me about a primary school in Potters Bar where the head teacher regularly takes a group of pupils for a walk around the school. He gives them each a clipboard upon which they can make notes about changes that could be made around the school, and they sit down together to discuss their observations and ideas. Sounds like the pupils in this school must really feel like the school belongs to them!

In 2008, I was in a group of 15 professionals from all over the EU who took part in an educational study visit to Slovenia funded by the EU.

The visit was designed to encourage the exchange of ideas and practices that lead to quality in school management and learning processes. A fellow traveller was a Swedish head teacher, Elisabeth Bäckman, who had co-authored a manual on the Democratic Governance of Schools with a Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne. The manual makes interesting reading for those heads who want to investigate ideas for increasing the democracy in their schools.

Now read:

Choice Theory: The Quality World

9 Questions about Detention

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