I often receive sticker samples at this time of year printed with either my name or the name of the school and available for purchase. In the past it was customary to spend the first few weeks of term ordering up to $1000 worth of stickers to share amongst the students as they 'performed' worthwhile tasks at school. Studies today would indicate that we probably went a little overboard in this regard. In fact authors such as Alfie Kohn whose book "Punished by Rewards" is based on hundreds of studies, conclude that people actually do inferior work when the enticement is a reward. Kohn's research also concludes that reward programs are unlikely to change behaviour in the long term.
So what is the answer? It is easy to put up a star chart and expect children to reach for the 'gold stars', rewarding them for doing what is expected of them anyway. At Trinity Lutheran College, our teachers have spent considerable time reviewing the work on 'mindsets' by Dr. Carol Dweck. She stresses the importance of acknowledging effort and character-building through failure and persistence, rather than just rewarding achievement and compliance. Last year our teachers took part in professional development which emphasised the importance of regular 'circle time', whereby all children in a classroom are encouraged to 'have a voice' and discuss the concerns and highlights of their classroom experiences. This strategy honours the individual opinions of each student and is a powerful tool for building empathy and understanding of one's peers. This year, we have begun working with a training organisation called 'Play is the Way' whose program encourages empathy and community.
I am sure there is some balance in here somewhere. Nothing is more delightful than sharing a sticker with a child who has tried really hard or acknowledging a student who has worked hard and pushed through a challenge, either academically, on the sporting field or in their co-curricular pursuits. At home, nothing is more rewarding for children than your spending time with them and if you have the time for individual outings, this will out play a sticker chart any day of the week!
Mrs Trudy Moala
Head of Campus, Early & Junior Years