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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Matters? Doing What Is Best For Kids or Maintaining Control?

Looking through ASCD Smartbrief recently, I saw the headline “Exercise balls replace students’ chairs in Ind. Classroom.” It looked interesting so I clicked the link and was brought to “Fisher Kids Swap Chairs for Exercise Balls.” 
The article discusses how a 4th grade teacher is planning to replace student chairs with exercise balls, a decision based on sound research: “A study at the Mayo Clinic supports chairless classrooms, saying that exercise balls improve students' posture and muscle strength. Students also can burn off excess energy. And their concentration may improve.” Mayo Clinic. Well-respected. Impressive. Plus the teacher, Angelika Thompson, did her own action research. After experimenting with exercise balls last year, she reported that 70% of her students increased their core muscle strength.

“OK,” I thought to myself. “This is good. An innovative teacher implementing strategies supported by research that will increase her students’ strength while helping them concentrate.” I should have stopped reading when things were going well, but fool that I am, I plowed ahead and got to this line:

“But sitting on the exercise balls is a privilege. If students make poor choices or don't behave in class, they must sit in a chair the rest of the day.”

What??? Don’t exercise balls improved posture and muscle strength and maybe help students concentrate? How in the world can this be a “privilege”? Think about this for a minute. A kid makes a “poor choice” (Note: Code for “does something the adult in charge doesn’t like.”) So how do we handle it? By saying, “You don’t deserve the opportunity to improve your posture and muscle strength. You have forfeited the right to improve your concentration!”

This is today’s world of education, where “privileges” must be earned and where we are infinitely more interested in exercising control than in doing what research shows is best for kids. In that spirit, let me offer a couple of additional strategies to ensure kids remember who is in charge and remind them that “privileges” must be earned:

  • Take the case of a kid with a vision impairment. If they make a “poor choice,” simply take away their glasses for the rest of the day. (Give them their glasses tomorrow morning with a smile and friendly reminder that, “Today is a new day. I hope you choose to make better choices.”) I know research suggests glasses are helpful, but, really, they are a “privilege” and must be earned, right?
  • And you know that kid who is easily distractible (and distracting)? The one who we let wear headphones while listening to his iPod. It seems to help him concentrate and he is certainly less bothersome to his classmates. Well, if he makes a “poor choice,” take away the iPod and headphones for a day. He may not learn as much and he may interfere with the learning of others, but, hey, he has to learn that “privileges” are earned by compliance. 
I just celebrated my birthday. I’m 61. I’ve been in education for nearly 40 years. I don’t know how much more insanity I can tolerate. I’m not overly religious, but I’m praying for strength as I continue to fight the madness.

Final thought: I don’t mean to be critical of the teacher. The whole “privilege” paragraph was written by the reporter. It’s possible she included it as a “favor” to the teacher so readers of The Indianapolis Star would perceive the teacher positively, as a no-nonsense adult who makes kids earn their “privileges” and not some hippie-type liberal who brings innovative strategies into the classroom simply because they are good for kids.

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your views here Bob. I"m going to share them with my practicum group.