The Colors Of Success: Rewarding Positive Classroom Behavior

Maintaining positive behavior in a classroom is one of the most important things teachers can do to enhance student learning. Early in my career, I developed a system for rewarding positive behavior that I have used successfully for 12 years. My students know what it means to be responsible, respectful, and focused, and they work hard to exhibit these behaviors.

The Colors of Success positive discipline system simultaneously rewards students for positive behavior, discourages negative behavior, and teaches the behaviors that help people become successful. I have little color-coded slips of paper labeled with the following virtues: Cooperation, Creativity, Courage, Focus, Respect, Responsibility, and Perseverance. I give these slips out liberally to deserving students. For example, students who quickly get to work after instructions are given could receive Focus slips. Students with the appropriate materials could receive Responsibility slips. A student who makes a presentation could receive a Courage slip. Students working well together could receive Cooperation slips.

To affect whole-class discipline, I announce that I am “looking for focus,” or “I’ll be seeing who is responsible by taking notes during the film.” or “Responsible students have already written down their assignment.” or “Respectful students don’t talk during the morning announcements.” etc.

So, while students are engaging in positive behaviors, they are learning the appropriate vocabulary associated with that behavior. Students who are not receiving slips are seeing their classmates being rewarded for Responsibility, or Focus, or Cooperation. To add an additional carrot, I give out rewards and prizes from time to time, or take kids out to lunch based on whether they are earning the behavior slips. I believe this combination of an extrinsic reward, with instruction about positive behavior establishes a classroom environment where students learn and practice good habits.

As I teach these virtues, throughout my courses, I frame my discussion within the context of how they help one live a successful life; in education, in careers, and in relationships.

Cooperation: Being able to work together to solve problems and accomplish tasks. Students share ideas, listen to each others’ ideas, create a plan, and divide the work.

Courage: Having the will and confidence to be able to do that which is difficult, challenging, or unpopular. Students can get in front of a group of people and present ideas.

Creativity: The ability to create new works or ideas. Students can share questions, ideas, and hypotheses in class. They solve problems in their own way.

Focus: The ability to concentrate on the tasks that are required. Students quickly move from one lesson to another. They listen to instructions the first time, and follow them precisely.

Perseverance: The ability to keep working on a task. Students do not quit, do not pack up early, even when the work is difficult, and even if others do quit.

Responsibility: The ability to do what you are supposed to do, even without direct instruction. Students have all of their materials and work. They follow all the rules, and do not wait to be told what to do.

Respect: Treating people and things with dignity. Students take care of all materials, use appropriate manners, and are especially kind to guests in the classroom.


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