Yesterday I asked my son to take out a bag of trash. “What will I get for doing it?” was his immediate response.
I sighed. Somehow I knew that ‘Warm fuzzy feelings for helping out the family’ wasn’t exactly the reward he had in mind.
Which brings me to this post. Virtually every educator I know strives to create students who are intrinsically motivated to learn and who instinctively treat others with kindness.
So why is it that so many of us fall back on extrinsic rewards and punishments that do nothing to create the type of intrinsically motivated students we desire? It’s clear that we sabotage ourselves (in the long term) with every “table tally” system we introduce and with every promise of treats-later-for-work-now that we make. We trade true character development for one fleeting moment of instant obedience.
Sure, it’s easier — at least in the moment — to lob a threat or promise a reward than to actually discuss a conflict between peers in an attempt to help a student gain some empathy. It’s faster to threaten a punishment than to actually take the time to figure out why Johnny won’t write anything at all in Writing Workshop today. But what kind of student will emerge from a K-12 schooling that operates like that?
My challenge to you, my fellow educator, is this: ruthlessly eliminate extrinsic rewards and punishments from your classroom, and take some time (through proactive classroom discussions and reactive interventions as needed) to discuss the types of intrinsic rewards that can come from hard work and kindness to others. The payoff — even if it comes slowly — will be worth the additional effort.