Motivation, Systems, and Rewards


Attending EdCamp Chicago this past weekend was a great experience for me because all the sessions and people and ideas achieved three goals: meeting and connecting with awesome educators, reinvigorating my love for teaching, and giving me ideas I want to try to implement in the classroom.  During a couple of sessions, the topic of extrinsic motivation and management systems came up.  I know this is a “hot topic”, but it is also one I’ve been observing and reflecting on since the beginning of the school year.

For the past two years, I have implemented and used a variety of systems and rewards in the classroom with my students.  I have had class meetings with my students to discuss, develop, and review the rules and expectations, but then I have systems and incentives on top of that.  I learned I had to be forceful and consistent, or the systems wouldn’t work.  Last year, with 30 students in my classroom, I had 3-4 systems going on at once, plus some for individual students!  It was a lot for me to handle, in addition to the actual teaching.  Some days I felt more like a police officer than a teacher; this was not the reason I wanted to be an educator.  I once had a conversation with my aunt, who also taught 2nd grade but only had 15-20 students in her class, about her behavior management systems, and she said she didn’t really have any.  I didn’t understand how she didn’t use any systems in her class!

Over the summer, as I searched and interviewed for a new job, I started thinking more about management systems and the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  I did some searching and read blogs and articles how people only used intrinsic motivation in the classroom and were against all the fancy behavior management systems.  I have always had high expectations for my students, hold them accountable, and communicate praise or help students’ problem solve to make improvements.  Although I read of others’ successes, I was unsure how to do it myself because it did not correlate with my personal experiences.

This year, there are only 20 students in each 1st grade class.  One of my first realizations was how much you can get done during the day and work with all the students in the class; 10 kids makes a huge difference!  I spent the first few weeks feeling the room looked empty and something was missing because there were so many less kids.  Each teacher has a management system-stoplight cards, clip chart, Class Dojo-but she doesn’t use it all the time; she doesn’t need to.  With the routines and expectations in place, things just roll and work gets done and the kids respond!  Yes, some students have individual systems to support their specific needs, but that is a form of differentiation.  Yes, the school uses a school-wide PBIS motivation of handing out individual Panther Paws and whole class Golden Panthers.  One class received their first celebration last week (5 Golden Panthers), and it was so much fun watching the principal deliver the award and “Celebration” was played over the loudspeaker and the kids had a dance party!

Yes, we should focus on the positives, offer praise when students are successful or make baby steps towards a larger goal.  Yes, sometimes there need to be consequences, but they should not be the overall focus.  Yes, management systems need to be in place when class sizes increase in order for any learning to be successful.  I’ve realized it is possible to be a successful teacher and do what you love, teach, without always worrying about or focusing on behavior and systems.  Students know when they’ve done a good job, when they’re successful, when they’ve given their best effort.  And that smile on their face is the biggest reward of all.


The Power of We: PLCs

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teamLast week, I had an amazing opportunity of 2 days of Professional Development provided by my school district to learn how to become better and stronger PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).  There were so many ideas and information presented to us as we learned what makes up a PLN and how some of these ideas can be applied to make us better teachers.

The presentations gave me many opportunities to reflect and ask questions: What aspects of a PLC do we already do well?  What are some components we need to implement or do better?  How can we change the schedule to better utilize our time and resources to become a stronger Team?  When will we start this process?


I was able to also reflect on how lucky I am to be working in a welcoming and strong school.  As an assistant, the first grade team has welcomed my knowledge and experiences as an additional resource; I know what is going on with the schedule, help plan lessons and activities, and share my observations and suggestions.  The support team has also welcomed me and been appreciative of the assistance I’ve provided in the classroom and data I’ve collected for specific students.  We meet and collaborate often to continue supporting students and best meet their needs.  Slowly, these teams are becoming more aware of creating common assessments and collecting data.  While we have a lot of strengths, there are still areas we can improve; with everyone working together, brainstorming, trying new assessments, analyzing data, and providing additional teacher, I am confident we will be able to get better and stronger.


Also, I have continued to realize the strong PLN I have connecting with others via Twitter.  I have access to many articles and blogs, can ask questions, share my ideas, and participate in chats when possible.  I have learned a lot and gathered ideas I have used or want to try in the future in my classroom.  I have also participated in three EdCamps, where I have met some of the people I communicate with in person and have continued learning and growing.  I’m grateful to everyone I have connected with and learned from.


PLCs and PLNs are powerful tools that have helped me become a stronger teacher and learn ideas I never would have created on my own.  I can’t wait to see what the future brings as we continue working together and becoming stronger.


Sharing the Love of Reading

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I love reading.  Losing myself in a story and connecting with the characters is a great way to relax and enjoy myself.  I could spend hours in a bookstore browsing, including in the children’s section.  I believe it is my responsibility as an educator to inspire a new generation of children to become life-long readers.


Last year in 2nd grade, I loved sharing my favorite authors and stories with my students.  It gave my joy watching my students go to the classroom library and pick out some of my favorites, or what had become their favorite series.  When I introduced Amelia Bedelia stories, one of my favorite characters, the students laughed a lot and then those books were flying off the shelves.  I loved when students asked me to read a book during Daily 5 that I had read during a Read Aloud or introducing a reading strategy.  It was very rewarding at the end of the school year to hear from parents how much their child loved to read all the time, even compared to some of their older siblings; they attributed the love of reading to the teacher.  It helped me realize that I had accomplished my goal of sharing my love for reading with my students.


This year in 1st grade, we have an Author of the Week.  Each day, we read a different book written by that author for a read aloud.  We talk about the author and illustrator, and sometimes they’re the same person, if the book has a dedication page, and styles and similarities between the authors.  This theme really helps students understand the purpose of writing and the parts of a book.  When it is library check out time, students love finding books written by the current, or past, Author of the Week, and they proudly share these with their teachers!  The librarian loves having a theme because she can more easily direct young readers to good books, and she creates a stack of books by that week’s author for the teachers to use.  So far this year, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Jan Brett, and Mo Willems have been the favorite authors.  I helped introduce Mo Willems using the Elephant and Piggie books; I have never had students laugh out loud as loudly as mine did when hearing these stories.  Even at this young age, students have a joy for reading and hearing new stories, and I think we are successful at instilling a love for reading in them.


What are some of your favorite authors and stories?  How else do you share your love for reading in the classroom?

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Take a Risk

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When I heard the Color Run was coming to Chicago, I was intrigued due to the popularity of the event and pictures I’ve seen of friends who have participated.  I immediately emailed a group of friends, and we organized a team.  I was excited for the event because it would be a fun and different race to complete with friends.


As the race approached and I figured out what to wear, I was excited and a little anxious.  I am not a fan of getting messy, especially my hair.  The idea of color being thrown at me was not the most comforting feeling.  I talked with people who had participated in similar races to get an idea what it would be like, and I bought a hat to protect my hair.


On race day, even though I was a little nervous, I was also very excited.  There was so much positive energy and excitement at the beginning of the race that I was ready to go!  My friends and I started the run, and it was a lot of fun walking and talking.  As we approached the first color station, pink, I was a little nervous, so I ran through the middle to avoid getting fully splashed.  It wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I loosened up a bit as we kept going.


I then strategized with my friends to figure out how we could get more color at each station.  At the next color, orange, we ran on the right side; for the blue station, we ran on the left side to even out.  We ran through the colors getting decorated and laughing along the way.


After crossing the finish line, we circled up as a group and opened up the extra color packets to celebrate.  The color got all over to finish the decorating, but we were smiling and laughing.  We then took a picture to prove we successfully finished.  Everyone said they had a great time, and we can’t wait to do it again.


Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone, take a risk, and try something that may be scary or new.  If I hadn’t taken the risk of running the Color Run and getting a little messy, I would have missed out on the chance to have a lot of fun with friends.  It was a risk, but definitely worth it!