School and Behavior Plan is Different

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. I am an educator and discipline is not part of my job description, but lately I have been concerned about a program that we have in our elementary school. This morning, for example, it was announced on the loudspeaker that the 850 plus students in our school have received over 6000 positive behavior slips turned in to the office in the first six weeks of school. There are intermittent individual and school-wide rewards, culminating in a major school-wide event in the spring that includes "rewards" of activities such as throwing pies at teachers.

The concerns I have involve, first of all, the issue of whether each child actually needs to receive an average of six paper rewards in the office for the first six weeks of school. Secondly, it impresses me as rather ironic to reward them throughout the year for "respect" and then have the big, final yearly reward to include throwing pies at teachers.

On the one hand, I certainly acknowledge that student behaviors have changed in the 41 years that I've been in education. On the other hand, I'm still inclined to prefer a much less obtrusive form of classroom/school-wide management. I'd very much like to know your opinion in this regard. Don't be afraid to tell me if you think I've just become a "cranky old lady", because my feelings are not easily hurt! Thank you, and continued best wishes.

A. I can't say that I like the idea of students throwing pies at teachers, but hopefully, it will be carried out in the spirit of fun instead of disrespect. I agree with you in preferring behavioral interventions to be classroom based, but I won't be critical of this plan if teachers find it effective. It is true that discipline problems in many school have increased, perhaps related to less consistent parenting or to the media influences on children. No doubt this school plan has been piloted in other schools and was found to be effective. The six paper rewards per child for six weeks in school equal one a week per child and therefore, seem like reasonable numbers. No doubt the beginning of the school year is a bit of a honeymoon period. I'm guessing that having one party at the end of the year as the reward may not be enough to keep discipline positive all year long. Weekly incentives would seem more effective, but perhaps the positive behavior slips serve that purpose.

Thanks for devoting your lifetime career to teaching children. Since you've been in education for 41 years, you've faced many changes and fads--some good and others disappointing. I'm looking forward to hearing your evaluation of your new program at the end of the school year and I'll be glad to share it with our readers so they can either encourage schools to adopt or avoid this new program.