Module 7 – Encouraging expected behaviour

Positive encouragement is the most powerful behavioural change tool teachers have. Encouraging expected behaviours increases the likelihood that desired behaviour will be repeated, focuses staff and student attention on desired behaviour, decreases inappropriate behaviour and enhances self-esteem.

Why and how we encourage expected behaviour

Positive encouragement is the most powerful behaviour change tool teachers have. It:

  • Increases the likelihood desired behaviour will be repeated.
  • Focuses staff and student attention on desired behaviour.
  • Decreases inappropriate behaviour.
  • Enhances self-esteem.

Adult attention has a powerful influence on behaviour. There are 2 types of positive adult attention that create a cohesive school climate, build relationships and help students learn social behavioural expectations are:

  1. non-contingent attention
  2. contingent attention.

Attention is provided regardless of student performance. Examples include greetings and use of name, eye contact and smiling, proximity, positive conversations and pleasant voice.

Non-contingent attention:

  • helps establish positive relationships.
  • sets the foundation for students to display desired expectations.
  • helps students accept correction when/if it is needed.
  • provides students with role models of positive social interactions.

Attention is provided after student performs an identified expectation or behaviour. Examples include praise with specific positive feedback or a tangible reward (sticker, free-and-frequent tokens or tickets).

Contingent attention:

  • increases academic and behavioural performance as well as on-task behaviour
  • increases the likelihood the behaviour will occur again
  • are enhanced when a positive relationship is also present.

Specific positive feedback

Specific positive feedback recognises student effort or success. Continued use is essential in creating behaviour change.

General praise is inadequate for changing behaviours. For example, saying ‘good job’ is inadequate for building and sustaining positive behaviour.

Students require clear, specific feedback on their use of school-wide expectations and other socially appropriate behaviours, such as acts of kindness, compassion, helpfulness and general positive citizenship that are extended reflections of your expectations.

Effective specific positive feedback guidelines include:

  • Specifically describe the behaviour
    • Students need to know what they did correctly.
  • Provide rationale
    • Explains why the behaviour is important.
  • Include a positive consequence (for many, feedback is enough)
    • If a tangible item or preferred activity is the positive consequence, it is imperative that verbal specific feedback is also used.
    • Students ‘earn’, adults do not ‘give’.

Additional information can be found on Feedback to students.

Appropriate behaviour should receive more attention than inappropriate behaviour, with a goal of 4:1 – 4 times as many positive statements from staff as corrective statements.

This 4:1 ratio refers to the environment as a whole. It is not necessary to acknowledge each student 4 times as much as you correct them.

  • Timing and frequency
    • Allow for connection between behaviour and feedback
    • Provide frequently when trying to build up a new behaviour
  • Contingently
    • Only when students demonstrate the behaviour
  • Phase it out
    • Intermittent once the skill has been learned to maintain the behaviour

When students are learning new skills, provide feedback on a continuous schedule. This means that every time the student displays the desired behaviour, they receive specific positive feedback. That is, freely and frequently.

Once the skill or behaviour has been learned, shift to more generalised acknowledgement and occasional use of specific positive feedback. This intermittent use of specific positive feedback helps to maintain the behaviour.

Developing a school-wide acknowledgement system

A school-wide acknowledgement system ensures all staff, students and parents/carers are aware of how student achievement will be acknowledged. It is important to note that not all students are encouraged by the same thing or in the same way.

It is important to develop a school-wide system for responding to appropriate behaviour that is valued by all students. Student voice, agency and self-determination are important parts of determining what appeals to students.

Continuum of reinforcement

A continuum of reinforcement encourages adults to respond to appropriate behaviour.

  • Free and frequent, meaning:
    • used school wide every day by all staff to all students
    • delivered using specific positive feedback
    • gotcha cards may go into a barrel-type draw for a random prize
    • weekly acknowledgement.
  • Intermittent, meaning:
    • more powerful
    • delivered semi-regularly by all staff weekly or fortnightly
    • over time all students can obtain
    • 'Student of the Week' and merit awards.
  • Strong and long rewards are:
    • term, semester or year-long forms of recognition that students work toward
    • are harder to attain, based on sustained motivation
    • usually presented at special events
    • a day where all students are acknowledged for the collective achievement of high number of gotchas
    • annual awards at presentation day.

Guidelines for the acknowledgment system include:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Reinforce frequently in the beginning.
  • Utilise positive, specific and contingent feedback that encourages expected behaviour.
  • Ensure students are always eligible to earn tangibles.
  • Keep ratio of reinforcement to correction high (4:1).
  • Confirm that reinforces are motivating.
  • Establish direct links to the school-wide reinforcement system.

Refrain from:

  • threatening the loss of tangible rewards
  • taking away earned reinforcers as a strategy for motivating desired behaviours.

Considerations for implementation

Implementation of an acknowledgement system requires school-wide agreement and understanding.

Considerations when developing an acknowledgement system include:

  • commitment
  • collaborating with all staff
  • ensuring consistency and sustainability
  • clearly show what acknowledgements are in place, when students can access each level of acknowledgment system and instructions for staff about how to use.
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