Thursday, 9 October 2014

Rewards & Sanctions: Starting Points

Image courtesy of SSF

Behaviour is perhaps the single most important item on any teachers' agenda; poor behaviour leads to an incredibly stressful working day, with a big impact on learning. It should also be high on the agenda of any middle or senior leader; it may not be a big priority for you, but no doubt it is for someone on your team. Tom Bennett and Andrew Old have written extensively on the topic and Tom Sherrington has recently added his vision of 'Impeccable Behaviour'.

I did my MA dissertation on rewards and sanctions, Rewards and Sanctions: A Positive Behaviour Model Based on Gospel Values, which came to the clear conclusion that "creating an environment based on reward and praise" was desirable. However this this does present many challenges for leadership. My focus was particular to Catholic schools which often prided themselves on excellent behaviour enforced by many rules, many of which are not written down. Often praise systems do not match sanctions.

In any school, there should be "a shared ownership and commitment to the common beliefs and goals of a community, and these should be made clear in policy and lived out by the stakeholders as they will hopefully reap the benefits.". Perhaps the two most key stakeholders are students, who need to feel safe and able to learn, and staff who need to teach without the distraction and stress of poor beahviour. 

In a school utopia, a set of simple rules would be sufficient, however that is rarely the case. Many students feel disengaged with systems in schools,"whereby they feel they miss out on all rewards and receive disproportionate sanctions, or feel they work hard with little recognition. Additionally due to the way in which they often receive both the rewards and sanctions, they feel detached from their actual work and behaviour. A student may be pleased with a certificate received at the end of term, but maybe unaware exactly what they are being rewarded for. In a similar fashion, to receive a detention a week after an event has taken place, or due to a number of smaller indiscretions that build up, unbeknownst over the week."

The key thing with any rewards and sanction systems is the shared responsibility involved;"Teachers need to be empowered as leaders, recognising their individual responsibility within the classroom. If this is not taking place, senior leaders need to offer support, but also challenge so that this does take place. 

The classrooms are the 'battleground' [cf Andrew Old] between teacher and student: "If rewards are happening regularly in written, visual and aural forms, an environment of praise can be created engaging students and enabling them to work to their best of their ability and fulfilling their potential as individuals and images of God [RC context]. Likewise if lower-level sanctioning takes place in this often intimate and more immediate environment, students can be offered greater guidance as to how to seek reconciliation and improve their behaviour in future."

However, lower-level sanctions are not always enough, and to believe that exclusion (from a lesson, from lunchtime, permanently) is not required is both naive and dangerous: "The question of exclusion is a recurring problem for school leaders. Sometimes it can be essential for the greater good of the school community. The open and welcoming gestures modelled by Jesus need to be evident in the Catholic school. There must be a demonstration of forgiveness and reconciliation evident; no student must leave feeling excluded as a member of the Kingdom of God. Even if excluded, the student should have felt the love of the community and be given opportunities to repent. However, if these are rejected by the student, then the school is given little opportunity, like the Rich Young Man who walked away from Jesus and the opportunity offered to him."

Crucially the balance of rewards and sanctions is vital; they must be varied in scope, awarded frequently, but not too frequently and affect as greater number as possible of the students. This is potentially hard to achieve: "Leaders should be suggesting targets to staff if there is to be a culture of reward rather than sanction. It can be easier to focus on punishing students in order to create academic excellence and high standards of behaviour, yet as seen in this study students can end up feeling excluded and disengaged. They want rewards, and even those students regularly in detention appreciated and felt guided by rewards offered to them for their good behaviour. Additionally recognising that students are not ‘all bad’ and that even students who are often poorly behaved do do praiseworthy work and actions on occasion."

There were several recommendations made to the case study school (not my current employer), and these still effect my thoughts on rewards and sanctions:
  • The School Discipline and Pupil Behaviour Policy must reflect the distinctive Catholic ethos of the school. It is important that this policy, like all within the Catholic school, is a direct reflection of the schools’ Mission Statement. As such these policy documents will reflect a vision for all leaders in the school; one which must be focused on Gospel-values and the model of Christ.
  • All staff must take their responsibility for leadership seriously with the support and challenge from senior school leaders. Rewards can create an environment of praise in the classroom and lower-level, immediate sanctions can be more appropriate and useful to the students. 
  • Reviewing the number and frequency of rewards and sanctions awarded needs to continue, as does the recording and reporting structure. The current system does not work for students, parents or staff.
  • Leaders need to ensure students are provided with enough guidance to ensure that high standards are maintained in all areas of school life. Greater consistency and fairness must be strived for, and leaders must do their uttermost best to ensure this.
  • Constant opportunities for students to make amends for their indiscretions must be offered, both in a sacramental and practical sense. These opportunities must be provided, promoted and monitored by school leaders. A true spirit of reconciliation must be evident and explicit to students in order to feel a meaningful connection to their school community.

And it is with revisiting all of these, I return to my task of reviewing our current school sanction policy with the rest of our Heads of Year team. We currently have several documents in circulation and we need one, concise clear point of reference for students, staff and parents. This is where we are at the moment (see below), but there is more work to do. Any suggestions always gratefully received. If you want a copy of my MA dissertation, drop me an email.

Click to enlarge

Further Reading:

Tom Sherrington: Towards Impeccable Behaviour

Andrew Old
What Makes A School Discipline System Work?: 
Seven Signs of a “Good Enough” Discipline System: 
The Behaviour Delusion (or “Why do Kids Kick Off?”): 
Why Most Behaviour Management Advice Doesn’t Work: 

Tom Bennett
Shoot the elephant: The Ofsted report into low-level disruption: 
Bennett's tenets: My behaviour guides for going back to school: 

Two schools bad, one school good: Ideas for improving school behaviour: 

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