“Good job!” is a phrase often heard throughout schools. Indeed, one of the features of PBIS implementation includes a system to reinforce students as they learn, and generalize new behaviors and social skills. “Good Job!” has become a tired phrase some teachers use every time students do something. Or they might hand out a ticket to acknowledge a student’s good behavior. Neither of these things teach students to become more self-aware.
In PBIS we look at behaviors differently. We look for skill deficit (they don’t know how to do what we want them to do) or performance deficit (they know the skill but don’t use it). We look for ways for staff to encourage using the skill school-wide and hopefully into the community. The end result of any good behavior or social skills program should be improved self-awareness for students.
When I was a PBIS coach we gave tickets to kids showing awesome behaviors, sometimes highlighting a behavior of the week. We also recognized students going above and beyond in demonstrating new, positive behaviors. Tickets were put into a bucket in their homeroom for safe keeping. On Fridays two names – one boy and one girl – were drawn in each homeroom to come to the social worker’s office for a prize. We had tangibles (pencils, erasers, or a small toy) as prizes, and also offered prizes that would promote social skills – lunch with a favorite teacher, play a game with a friend for 20 minutes, or spend time journaling. We tried to make our school prize box appealing to as many students as possible. This system, with variations, is in place in schools across the country.
“What should I say?”
The problem with this system is that some students begin to expect prizes for everything. Asking them to clean up a table after lunch in the cafeteria could result in “what do I get for it?” instead of watching students just do it for the good of their community. When they ask for a ticket here’s what you can say instead:
- “When you ask for a ticket it denies me the awesome opportunity to give you one because I think you deserve it.”
- “Tickets are for reinforcing positive behavior, and right now I am not seeing it.”
- “You get the great opportunity to make your community a better place.”
- “You get the warm feeling of knowing that you did something kind for another person.”
- “I will give you a pat on the back!”
Helping Students Become Self-Aware
When using a token economy system there must be a way to wean students off of it so behaviors occur naturally. I have seen students wean themselves by forgetting about tickets after a while, even if I reminded them to come and see me to get one. And for some students, tickets are not a motivator anyway, and need something different.
Here are some alternatives:
- Build community by keeping track of a new behavior. If kids don’t consistently use the skill of walking in the hallway, position a staff person in the hallway to collect data on students’ walking skills. Call out to students demonstrating great walking. Ignore small deviations from the expected skill – kids will eventually get it. When data shows at least 80% accuracy for three consecutive observations, the skill is mastered. Then start a new skill.
- For kids who don’t get it, lessons might be in order. Perhaps the school social worker or counselor can help them learn the skill. And remember that no one is ever 100% for 100% of the time
- Use self-monitoring. Teach kids how to collect data about themselves. Here is a great example from Intervention Central on teaching kids this skill.
- Keep your comments real and authentic. Praise the effort. “I like how everyone is walking in the hallway today.” Surprise them with 5 minutes to chat with friends before class starts.
- Offer students who are learning new skills to practice and generalize them. If a student is learning to raise his hand in place of blurting, offer opportunities for rewinds and re-dos. Praise the effort by saying something like, “Excellent answer to the question, but let’s try it again.” With a bit of nudging students will often self-correct.
Buying bulk toys, creating coupons for social rewards, and even designing the reward tickets can be a fun project. I have been caught up in creating the pretty part of PBIS myself. Teams should be creating school-wide systems that encourage students to be self-aware, and reduce the number of problem behavior incidents in your school. That should be the end result of PBIS implementation in your school.