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.