Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A stumble down memory lane....

A few weeks ago I started the daunting task of cleaning my garage.  I will be spare you the gruesome details however I did stumble upon a box full of old file folders.  As fate would have it, the first thing that caught my eye was series of files from my Bachelor of Education days (1994-1995). 

The first thing that “fell out” of the file folder was an excerpt from a book that was photocopied and given as required reading.  The excerpt was form Learn to Teach, pg. 189-191, Richard Arends, 1994 (newer edition 2008)

As I skimmed the excerpt I was mesmerized by the author’s assertions on pedagogical issues related to rewards, punishment and the use of grades.

This exercise was particularly intriguing in light of the fact that I have also started reading Alfie Kohn’s, Beyond Discipline (#kohnbc).

Here are some of the more jaw dropping and head scratching sections of the excerpt:

Rewards and Privileges:Teachers can also encourage desirable behaviors through granting rewards and privileges to students.  Rewards teachers have at their disposal include:
1.     Points given for certain kinds of work or behavior that can enhance a student’s grade
2.     Symbols such as gold stars, happy faces, or certificates of accomplishment
3.     Special honor roll for academic work and social conduct
Privileges that are at the command of most teachers to bestow include:
1.    Serving as a class leader or helper who takes notes to the office, collects or passes out papers, grades papers, runs the movie projector and the like
2.    Extra time for recess
3.    Special time to work on a special individual project
4.    Being excused from some required work
5.    Free reading time
A carefully designed system of rewards and privileges can help immensely in encouraging some types of behavior and reducing others. However, reward and privileges will not solve all classroom management problems, and beginning teachers should be given two warnings. First, what is a reward or a privilege for some students will not be perceived as such by others. The age of students obviously is a factor; family and geographical background are others.  Effective teachers generally invoke their students in identifying rewards and privileges in order to ensure their effectiveness. Second, an overemphasis on extrinsic rewards can interfere with the teacher's efforts to promote academic work for its own sake and to help students practice and grow in self-discipline and management.
Rewards and privileges are used to reinforce and strengthen desirable behaviors, Punishments and penalties are used to discourage infractions of important rules and procedures. Socially acceptable punishments and penalties available to teachers are, in fact, rather limited and include:
1.            Taking points away for misbehavior 'which, in turn, affects students' grades
2.            Making the student stay in from recess or stay after school for detention
3.            Removal of privileges
4.            Expulsion from class or sending a student to a counselor or administrator

As I read this excerpt I was left with a few thoughts:

  • I couldn't help but notice the stark contrast between some of what this teacher training book was advocating and what I believe and advocate now as a principal – from reforming our school’s grading and assessment practices  to understanding rewards and punishment.
  • In few weeks I will be celebrating my 41st birthday and will have completed my 6th year as a high school principal.  I don’t consider myself old (don’t ask my students or my children).  This was assigned reading 16 years ago.  That’s not that long ago is it?  Are they still advocating some of  these practices in our teacher training schools today?
  • At times I see myself as an agent for change.  This little stumble down memory lane is another reminded of why,  perhaps, some find change so difficult.  

If we want to affect real change in our school’s we need to understand where we've come from  and, more importantly, come to a deep understand about our underlying assumptions about students as learners and persons. 


  1. What about my Irish gramma's firm belief "spare the rod, spoil the child?" :)
    Good piece, Johnny.

  2. Johnny, I only finished my teaching practicum 10 years ago, and I remember reading the same kind of information.

  3. I remember that book! I don't, however, remember how antiquated some of the ideas must have seemed. It seems more 19th century education!
    A good laugh, though.
    Thanks for the memory...and you need to clean out your garage more often.

  4. It's funny Johnny as I am reading Beyond Discipline, I continually think the practices he speaks of are not part of my context. I couldn't imagine anyone teaching that way...I am about the same age as you and would have gone to University about the same time, so perhaps I am not so far removed. Interesting.


  5. Glad I missed that required reading...err...more than 16 years ago :) Must have been powerful at some point...as the practices still seem to linger....and were in my practicum days too....

  6. Thank goodness for school leaders like you!

  7. I shudder to think what my readings from the mid 70s might say if I were to find them again. In those days it was considered acceptable to cane disruptive students. Very quickly on starting teaching I abandoned that notion of discipline and never felt the need when you have effective methods of behaviour management.
    Your post does have me thinking how much has changed and how we dealt with these changes since the mid 70s.

  8. Ha! Fascinating post! I am doing the same thing right now....cleaning out the old stuff in the garage and have found things from my teacher training (1992-1996) and have been horrified! It's amazing how things change....yet stay the same! Best of Luck! Great questions you ask!