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Reward children for positive actions

December 16, 2010

When students perform poorly in math or reading, teachers help children re-learn the proper techniques.

When students misbehave, however, they don't receive positive reinforcement -- they're punished.

Area educators discussed this disconnect in behavioral education Tuesday during a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) workshop at Conover School.

Teachers, principals and behavior coaches from across North Carolina gathered at the school to learn alternatives to traditional negative behavior enforcement, where children are punished for bad behavior instead of being rewarded for good behavior.

Conover School Principal Betsy Rosenbalm said 48 educators registered to attend the event, and more than 70 arrived at Conover School to participate.

"When students don't get something right in math, you re-teach it," Rosenbalm said. "But when they do something wrong with their behavior, you punish them. We're here to look at that from a different way."

Educators and positive behavior experts from Rowan, Caldwell, Watauga and Mecklenburg counties spoke to teachers about strategies to implement reinforcement techniques in the classroom and other learning environments.

"It's the right thing to do by kids. It's the right thing to do by staff, and it's science- and research-based," said Cindy Brown, of Watauga County Schools, about PBIS implementation in schools.

Educators offered these tips for implementing the philosophy in classrooms and beyond:

Give attention in appropriate ways

When children misbehave, they're often seeking a reaction from adults, said Rebekah Pennel, of Caldwell County. Rewarding children for good behavior allows them to receive the recognition from adults they want, without resorting to poor behavior.

Change the environment

External factors can contribute to a child's poor behavior, Pennel said.
These distractions can be anything from an unruly classmate to a visual impairment that makes seeing the board difficult.

When teachers identify and counteract those distracting factors, Pennel said, children can learn better and behave better.

"We need to shape that behavior into what we want," Pennel said. "Academics is not the only thing we should be supporting as teachers.

Communication is important

There are many entities involved in shaping and developing a child's character. These entities, which can include parents, teachers, counselors and coaches, must work together to positively shape and influence a child's life.

"If everybody's always connected and getting that daily contact, those are the pieces (to come together)," Pennel said.

She recommended daily, weekly and incidental contact among key players in a child's life.

Provide inexpensive, easy rewards

Karen Rich, of Alexander County Schools, provided teachers with ways to identify what rewards will work for children of different age groups.

These free rewards include reading a book to the class, enjoying extra recess time, choosing music to listen to and assisting with the morning announcements.

These rewards for good behavior, Pennel said, can encourage and remind children to behave appropriately in the future.

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