The Five Key Principles of an Effective Reward System

September 26, 2023
Classroom of students raising hands to answer a question

I am looking for guidance about reward systems and some principles that should be applied when finding the right rewards system. (Chris)

There are five key principles of a good reward system. 

1. Over and above

Do not reward students for delivering minimal standards of behaviour because if you do, all you end up with is an institute that runs on minimum standards.

You must recognise and reward learners who go over and above your minimum standards.

2. It’s not what you give but the way that you give it

Expensive and flash reward systems look fantastic and shine brightly but often within a couple of months (because it’s been badly managed and staff have bought into it on a superficial level), they’re not monitored enough.

Subsequently the system falls by the wayside. Schools with very simple recognition systems can be highly successful if people buy into them.

3. Keep it simple

The system must be simple to operate for a class teacher who is teaching six lessons a day, 30 children per lesson, 5 days a week.

The system needs to fit in with the rhythm and pace of the teaching.

If you have to log into a system on your computer to separately issue a reward for an individual it isn’t realistic to be able to do that between lessons, so you’d need to do that in the evening.

Most teachers will not use the system if it is complex, they’d opt for a simpler system they prefer.

4. Make it personal

It must be personal.

It is critical that when you recognise young people for their behaviour, achievement, or effort this must be done personally.

Personal praise that is sincere and that appreciates learners for going over and above is one of the top 3 things that learners need.

It beats a material reward, what they really want is a bit of appreciation from someone they respect and someone who matters to them.

Reward systems accessed via a website, or an app often takes away the personal touch.

By giving praise, a token, or a positive note, in that moment you are framing that behaviour you want to see, you’re pegging that behaviour with that learner, and you can come back to that peg when you need to.

5. Recognition beats material rewards

You cannot bribe children; you must make them feel appreciated and valued.

It is the little moments of recognition such as a smile, a nod, a smiley face on their work, a tap on the desk, it is these moments children crave, not the big rewards.

Children just want to be appreciated.

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