Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Praise: make it personal

This week’s learning challenged me to think about how I show my appreciation to students. I am aware of how I demonstrate it to colleagues but have I been as aware of exactly why and how this is shown to my students over the years? I’m not so sure…

You can read about week 1 (managing your own behaviour) here and week 2 (rules and routines) here.

Chatting with a colleague towards the end of the last week, we both agreed that this MOOC is something that we wished we’d had as part of our PGCE or anywhere on our teaching journey thus far. What it contains isn’t rocket science but it is transformational and it’s challenging us to change our practice for the better. The perfect CPD! (So long as we continue the good work and continue learning- we’ve set-up a One Note notebook to gather things for now and we’ll be adding some more meetings after half-term with any luck).

Q&A session 1

Q. How can I make students understand that there are things they just HAVE to do? Whether they want to or not… Resorting to shouting is often the easiest option.

A. If we do shout then apologising for this later on is a valuable action to engage in as it sets a clear model for the student to follow. Repairing the damage creates trust and builds relationships. We can’t MAKE students understand things- if they don’t understand the ‘why’ and the learning is done TO them then this will remain difficult. Create an environment that encourages and empowers them to want to learn and develop.

How many things are we asking them to do and how many of these are absolutely necessary? Giving students too many things that they’re REQUIRED to do leads to their frustration. Once routines are embedded, the things students are expected to do become the norm.

Pick battles carefully- make decisions in advance so that decisions are planed and considered- is a student arriving 10 seconds after the start time of the lesson worth kicking off about and creating a scene that distracts from the learning experience for a far longer amount of time. Make it clear to the students that you follow-up by noting a name down, making a record etc.

Behaviour needs to be a 1-1 thing rather than publicly to satisfy other students’ needs-students have to understand that the behaviour of a student is between the student and their teacher.

Demonstrate that you’re not ignoring the behaviour; you’re choosing to explore it at the most appropriate time. This is a measured role model for them to follow.

Covering a lesson

A. Students have a level of anticipation and expectation from the moment they realise you’re a supply teacher. Bringing along some of your authentic personality is important: create something intriguing that leads to buy-in. Inject a bit of ‘self’ that will lead to magic for the students.

You won’t get automatic respect- we have to prove that we deserve it; don’t go in commanding it and expecting it. The meet and greet helps students to feel safe and this is vitally important too. Find out what routines and rules are already in place with their current teacher and how can you be consistent with that? If this level of detail can’t be obtained then find the school/college’s policy and think how your behaviour could align with this?

Dealing with ringleaders

A. Find out what’s important to these learners- What makes them feel valued? Spend time with them in between lessons and at lunchtime if possible. Work alongside the students rather then generating this attack/defend battle culture all of the time. Think about the students’ possible backgrounds and how this might be affecting their behaviour. ‘Will you be just another adult who walks away from me?’ if you never give up and never leave then this builds trust between you. Smile and say hello to them- you might be the only adult that does this to them all week. Engage them before it gets to the point where a sanction has to be instigated.

Making allowances for specific behaviour needs

A. Yes- we should make allowances but there’s a difference between being fair and equal. We need to differentiate for behaviour as comfortably as we do for ability. A punishment that’s designed as a deterrent or a reward is problematic: we need to focus on our students becoming problem solvers and much more self-regulating in their behaviour. We wouldn’t expect a wheelchair user to get up and go for a run. In the same way, we need to adjust our expectations of students with specific educational needs. Developing empathy helps us to build relationships: its adults who usually struggle with ‘fairness’ and children are usually more comfortable with it. This presents a n added challenge for dealing with behaviour at an FE, HE or adult level.

We often take a default position of teaching to the behaviours we would exhibit; forgetting that our students are human, individual and won’t necessarily behave in that same way.

How do I deal with colleagues who have different behaviour management strategies and approaches?- Especially those less friendly and more dictatorial. 

A. We can be friendly with students- but not friends. They want to feel safe with you. The thing to focus on is what you can control and change in your immediate environment. The climate in your classroom is the one you can control. Be comfortable with the fact that being friendly, warm and nurturing is not problematic and highlight this with colleagues. It’s important to find a school or college that aligns with your own values and this might lie outside of your current workplace. Seeking and finding the voices that match your own are the ones to try and communicate with. A smile is such a human action that creates a safe and comfortable environment. Where teachers rule by fear, students won’t learn in the way they need to.

Q. How do you deal with learners who are slow to start an activity?

A. Having routines in place is absolutely critical. Be relentless in the embedding of this routine with your students. The consistent continuation of these routines makes them habitual and it lessens the excuses a student can give for not getting on with an activity. We take a lot of small routines for granted: working in pairs, moving into groups, writing homework, reflecting on the lesson, starting work… Give these the thought and time they deserve to develop good learning habits.

Q. How do you deal with a pupil who’s constantly commenting opinion and questioning what’s being taught?

A. Students trying to get out of tasks- dig down to why- why are they challenging this? We can’t challenge them if we don’t allow them to challenge us back so we do have to be accepting of this. Is there a need to be more concise in speaking to students and relaying new information? Train yourself yo respond to their challenges in an emotionally controlled way. Often a peer observation or filmed lesson can help us to identify what’s going on/wrong with our teaching approaches- speaking for too long, giving too many instructions in a row…

Q. How do you motivate disinterested/unmotivated learners?

A. This is the magic question really. If we all had the answer fully then the situation would be quite different (our job would be a doddle, wouldn’t it?!). What’s contributing to their apathy? How can we begin to strategise what’s going on with the learner(s)? Knowledge just exists- we don’t give it out- we just create and facilitate environments where they discover for themselves. This can go a long way to motivation and engagement. They will be more engaged with people who they think care about them than those who don’t. Observe other teachers and see what they’re doing to engage them. Speak to the other teachers who work with a specific student and find out how others have broken down barriers that you could work into what you do. Tap into what they’re great at and share it with the student- that you’ve discovered something about them… Challenge how students have developed negative internal loops by observing how positive and smiley they are- counteract the impression they think everyone has of them as demotivated, lazy etc. This gives them less negative stereotyping to live up to.


Image available from here

Positive Notes Home

A positive note home is 4 levels of recognition they will truly value: it’s for the students who come every day, work hard, are polite and diligent.

  1. Give it to the child- this is you, behaving brilliantly and remember this moment. It’s so much better than a digital reward- it’s something tactile.
  2. They take it home- it’s then a level of recognition at home.
  3. The note gets stuck on the fridge or it’s public at home- family reinforces the positive messages you’re giving them
  4. Where does it go when it’s off the fridge? In the bin-unlikely. A file/scrapbook will exist.

For the entirety of this video- I’m thinking about all of those students we have in FE who can’t share it at home or who wouldn’t get that same reaction but then I think about notes I’ve received from colleagues or managers at work. I treasure each of them personally- they don’t go on the fridge and they’re not shared with my family but I still get a lot from them so I’d hope the same would apply for our students.

Give opportunities for the student to go even further in their learning as part of the positive note/ moment of recognition- an invite to maths club on a Wednesday, a research task, invited to work with some older students on something more advanced… They’re not just rewarded with praise but with more work- an added challenge. Suddenly, you’ve got something cheap and allows them to go even further in their subject.

Which rewards do students value the most?

  • Responsibility/job in the lab/teaching space
  • Selection from a goody bag of pencils, rubbers, pencil sharpeners etc.
  • Time on the computer
  • Cup of tea and biscuit at breaktime
  • Praise postcard or letter home to parents
  • Mention in assembly
  • ‘Free time’ at the end of a lesson
  • Stars on a chart for a weekly award
  • Fun experiment or other exciting activity (relating to your subject) at the end of the week

Giving rewards to the students who behave and work diligently is of vital importance in order to encourage their continued engagement with learning. Giving a naughty badge or an angry phonecall home can create an attractive package, with just the right level of recognition they crave. This is no behaviour that should be encouraged, the other is.

It’s not what you give that makes the difference when it comes to rewards but the way that you give it- how many small tokens of appreciation litter teachers’ desks? I know I have a few and a colleague used to give me a badge or a sticker on frequent occasions- I have kept them all and refer to them often for a little boost.


This hangs from my PC even now- from a group who worked well together, bonded, made friends and who still keep in touch with me 5 years later. We went on a trip down to London and during a free bit of time to wander Covent Garden, they bought me this little token. Many of them had never been to London before and one of them even ended up at University there in the end. I don’t think they really thought of me as the ‘best teacher’ but this token of appreciation meant a lot to me. It really is the ‘thought that counts’.

The reward ladder:

  • It all begins with Positive reinforcement
  • Moving to Sincere, private verbal praise
  • …Addition comments on written work
  • Peer congratulations
  • Work on display in the classroom
  • Work on display in public areas/website
  • Positive referral to another teacher
  • Positive text home
  • Positive note home
  • Positive phone call home
  • ‘Mentioned in dispatches’ in assembly and in staff meetings
  • Extra class responsibility
  • Class award certificate
  • Year award certificate
  • Extra school responsibility
  • School Honours


Image available from here

Reward systems that work aren’t elaborate

Reward over and above – don’t reward minimum standards because that is what you will get, rather reward those who go over and above the required standards.

It’s not what you give but the way that you give it – the system itself isn’t necessarily critical, it’s how staff operate it- ie. not rewarding minimum standards and choosing to be consistent about praising students.

The system itself or what we spend on it is not what counts. Make the reward system simple to operate – it must be simple enough to fit in with the rhythm of the teaching of the busiest staff e.g. if you have to log into a computer between lessons to use the reward system then you are storing up work for yourself because it doesn’t fit in with the pace you need to be working at – this leads to teachers using their own, simpler systems rather than the consistent school one.

Make the reward system personal – personal praise which is sincere and rewards students for going over and above is one of the top three things learners say they want – the danger of using a technological system for rewards is that it can take away the personal touch. I recognised this last week. I was giving students points using Class Dojo but it was the personal comment I made to a student at the end of the lesson that I believe will have had more impact- it felt good at my end and I’m sure he recognised this. It has provided an interaction I can refer back to when his behaviour slips too.

Recognition beats material rewards every time – the tiny moments of appreciation and feeling valued are far more important to the majority of learners than raffle tickets to win an iPad at the end of term which distances the reward far too far from the behaviour to be effective.

Attendance rewards are seen time and time again by Paul Dix- attend 100% of the time for a raffle ticket to win an iPad. Get up on time and attend College every day for a whole term… for a raffle ticket! Far better for a personal piece of recognition- a word at the end of the lesson, a piece of encouragement written on a post-it note…

You have a chance of making it fairer and more right if it’s personal praise rather than a longer-term points system where you’re attempting to manage points for 30 students. The why behind the reward/recognition it is so crucial as well- students need to know why they’ve been rewarded points or what they’re being rewarded for. Otherwise, it has about as much impact as a delayed sanction or not doing it at all.

Rewards ceremonies are problematic too- many students will be made to feel uncomfortable with the adulation that might occur at a certificate-giving ceremony.

Differentiating praise is important- for different age groups of students and you need to differentiate between the long and short-term rewards. Positive notes home can be more easily controlled so that they’re not given out like beans.

Electronic systems are great when they’re carefully managed. When they’re also linked to charity- students can choose to award their points to a charity of their choice. Systems can be used really well AND really badly: buy-in from staff is crucial: it’s not what you give but the way that you give it.

Praise, positive notes and phonecalls home simplified one school’s system and allowed them to focus, in a clear way, on their practice and improving its impact as much as possible.

Prefects, responsibilities, awards- should be lead by the Senior team- including earning rewards that will help students to engage employment (a passport to employment- one college has achieved this through engagement with Reed: arranging mock interviews).

Short-term rewards- recognition boards, verbal praise, post-it praise- showcase your work to someone in another classroom- another teacher, an external person (they will re-affirm that it is of a high standard). Don’t assume that because a learner is of a certain age that they won’t respond to recognition in the same way as children.

Join this up and recognise staff as well! Small notes to them have impact too!

Teachers need to reward in their own way- based on their character so that it doesn’t feel contrived. The freedom needs to exist for teachers to change systems and reward in new ways- a system or policy at a school/college shouldn’t be a blanket one.

The best reward he’s seen (in terms of impact) is in schools where it is a Friday evening routine to make a positive phonecall home. Friday evening- every single adult picks up the phone and makes a phonecall home- those learners that have consistently gone over and above (not just those that have decided to behave one week).

You can listen to lots of Pivotal podcasts on behaviour here.

Recognition Boards

  • Targeted at ‘Learning Attitudes’ not just functional behaviours.
  • Names or tallies go on the board to recognise learners who are demonstrating the desires learning attitude.
  • Names or tallies are never removed from the board. Learners who disrupt are dealt with privately.
  • Learners can nominate others to be put on the board.
  • The key is to generate peer responsibility. It is not a competition between individuals, rather a whole class helping everyone to get their name up.
  • Recognition boards need refreshing daily or weekly.
  • Learners are recognised for effort and not for achievement.
  • When everyone has their name on the board a collective ‘whoop’ is appropriate; large rewards are not necessary.
  • Use the recognition board to persistently and relentlessly catch learners demonstrating the right learning


Image available from here

Giving Importance

Written by Chris Sweeney- Pivotal Education Trainer for the Pivotal education Blog:

Chris writes about the lessons he learned about behaviour from a pub landlord when he was working in a pub for a year. He learned about the importance of getting to know the customers and going above and beyond to make each one of them feel important (in whatever way seemed most suitable to them and their personality). You can read his reflections here:


Amjad Ali often reminds teachers on Twitter that school might be the best part of the day for some of our students (even though they won’t let on that it is!). We should therefore be mindful of this and give them a smile, show that we know who they are, and make them feel important. One of the images he shares:



Some recommended reading:

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

For best results, forget the bonus

Learning behaviour: lessons learned

Raising behaviour: a school view






My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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Praise: make it personal

This week’s learning challenged me to think about how I show my appreciation to students. I am aware of how I demonstrate it to colleagues


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