If you ask me a question about teaching, I will very likely talk your ear off for the next 45 minutes, minimum. Even a simple, “How’s school going?” can turn into a pretty lengthy conversation that you may not care to engage in. There you go, you’ve been warned.
I can’t help it, though! We work so hard to create engaging, innovative systems and activities in our classrooms and when they actually work you want to shout it from the mountaintop! Holy crap on a cracker, this is actually working!! It is nice to be able to share some of those successful ideas with colleagues and friends who are receptive and interested in your work.
I got this opportunity this weekend as I was spending time with a girlfriend
having intellectual conversation over dinner drinking wine and venting about our week. Poor thing got sucked into the cyclone of teacher talk as I explained a classroom economy system I have used for 4 years now with great success. I teach in an inclusion setting, with varying abilities and needs, so finding a behavior management/responsibility/accountability system that is fair for all but still holds everyone to the same standards can be challenging. When she found a break in the swirling tornado of classroom mumbo-jumbo, she shared that she is finding herself faced with a similar challenge at home. Jaime* has 4 kids (God Bless Her), and is finding that creating a family system is hard because the rewards and consequences need to be so different with each child (ages 3, 7, 10, 12, boy, girl, boy, girl, respectively). In a plot twist we never saw coming, her oldest daughter has become moody, unappreciative, and sometimes disrespectful. Now, I know this girl and she is a pretty amazing kid overall-great grades, competitive sports, and she is very self motivated academically. The issues that are arising just come with the territory of a pre-teen. Add to that mix, however, a ten year old boy who is NOT as self-motivated as his older sister, a first grader struggling with sight words and who requires 38 stuffed animals with her at all times, and a “three-nager,” laying down groundwork for a rewards/consequences system is darn near impossible.
As we started talking, the teacher nerd in me went into full force! I grabbed a pen and paper and began to map out a system mirroring the Positive Reinforcement and Classroom Economy system I use. What I ended up with was a Family Responsibility Station that took into account each child’s unique motivators, as well as goals that Mom wanted each child to be able to accomplish. With that large a family, everyone needs to be pitching in, and we wanted to develop a way for the kids to earn their right to use their devices, not assume that it was a given every week. Additionally, promoting (and rewarding) positive family interactions will help them to choose their words and actions wisely.
Every family will require something different, but before sitting down to create a plan for your home, or your classroom, consider the following 5 steps to ensure that your system will set everyone up for success!
Strict but Fair
Three different students, at three separate times, have told me that I am a “strict but fair” teacher. I am actually really proud of that statement. Kids need to know that the authority figure is fair and consistent, basing decisions solely on the outlined parameters. Children also need boundaries, they feel safer and more in control if they know what to expect, and by being “strict” they know there is no grey area. The rules/consequences are clearly outlined and followed.
Show What You Want
This rides on the coattails of #1, “clearly outlining” the rules/consequences. Show your kids/students exactly what you want them to be doing. If you want them to unpack their book bags and organize their school materials a certain way, let them watch you pretend to come home and do just that, so that they see what it looks like. If disrespect is something your kids struggle with, sit down and define what that might look like (eye rolling, not looking at who is talking, etc), sound like (hurtful words, rude behavior), and feel like (how do you feel when someone disrespects you?). By doing this, you can determine together what things are absolutely not OK and help them understand why. Everyone is different, and what is disrespectful to you might not be to someone else. By clearly defining it, kids will know where the line is for you.
Give, don’t take (initially)
We often immediately gravitate towards a mindset of taking things away as a consequence. I like to flip that and use the “nothing in life is free” mentality. Instead of allowing children to have something and then take it away at random intervals, make them earn the right to use it at all. (They are children– they don’t have the automatic right to do anything, really!) For example, if a child wants to play video games on the weekend, don’t arbitrarily “take away” time that was never clearly defined in the first place. Instead, make the child earn minutes of play by completing their daily chores, doing well in school, or whatever your goal is for them. This takes parents/teachers out of the equation and sits the responsibility squarely on their shoulders: you know what you have to do to earn it, so if you don’t do it, it’s on you! Now, sometimes there HAVE to be consequences for a bad behavior; outlining ahead of time what may be taken away and how to earn back will help to make children understand that this is fair and necessary.
Do Not Falter!
This is the hardest part! STAY CONSISTENT! Plan ahead, think of what you need to do to stay consistent with the plan you set up. The first few weeks are the hardest, as everyone gets used to new procedures, but if you follow through every time, even if you feel like one little deviation won’t hurt (it will!) you will be successful. Children are smart, if they see you falter, they will prey upon it!
Keep it Manageable
When choosing goals/chores/tasks for your children to accomplish, think small at first. You can always add on or change later as time goes on. Pick the top 3-4 things you want your child (children) to focus on and be able to do. Do they need to spend more time studying? Practicing violin? Learn how to share? Help around the house? Make goals specific and attainable so no one gets overwhelmed.