Older folk are familiar with these adages: Leave things nicer than you found them. Think not of what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. These messages have a focus of others, not self. They encourage individuals to look beyond their own wants and needs and show concern for others. They emphasize selfless rather than selfish acts. Unfortunately, a new message has crept into the language of youth over the years: Whats in it for me? And to some degree, this message is continuously reinforced every year in schools across the country through our common practice of rewarding students for the good behavior.
Please hear me out. I understand the importance of focusing on positive, rather than negative behaviors. I also believe it is a good practice to show genuine appreciation when students make good choices. There is a difference, however, between acknowledging positive behaviors and rewarding them. When we reward positive behavior, especially on a planned, rather than intermittent schedule, the emphasis can easily be placed on the acquisition of the reward itself. I dont want a child to behave in order to get a reward. I want the child to behave because it is the right thing to do. I also want the child to focus on the continuous process of improving behavior rather than on the finite product of receiving something.
Students do not receive tangible rewards for academic milestones because continuous learning and growth is the expectation. I believe behavior should be no different. We should assess, teach, monitor, and continually encourage. If we really want students to intrinsically do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, we have to re-examine the aspects of our extrinsic practices which seem to be working against us.