Learning to Use Positive Reinforcement


I observe over and over again in classrooms how quickly teachers are to redirect and correct behavior and how little positive reinforcement is used on a consistent basis. I can barely blame teachers in most cases, as a catch myself doing the same thing with my own children. Is it easier to correct and/or punish negative behavior than it is to praise positive behavior?

Ultimately, I think there must be a healthy balance between the two. In order for students and children to learn the appropriate behaviors, they need to be redirected or corrected when misbehaving, but positive reinforcement must be done at a more frequent rate to really change the behaviors. I have read different ratios over the years of positive vs. negative comments. The quote below is from Boy’s Town and seems like a good place to start.

positive vs. negative

So, what are some different ways to use positive reinforcement?  Reinforcement does not need to be something that is tangible and it does not have to be something that costs money.  Simply writing a note on a students desk can be incentive to keep up the good work.


Tokens of some kind can also be reinforcing and can have the added bonus of working towards a higher goal.  The pom-pom method is one such token economy where students earn pom-poms in a jar and when the jar is full, then they earn a larger reward.  This larger reward could be something that is provided at home such as going out for an ice cream treat or movie.  The tokens could also equal minutes on either the TV or a video game at home.  For example, if a child earns 12 tokens during the day, then they get 12 minutes to play their favorite game.  Here is a list of some other easy ideas.

reward menu

Creating a connection between home and school ensures the most success for any kind of reinforcement system.  This connection is often hard to make since parents of children who typically need positive and frequent reinforcement are already accustomed to the type of behaviors their child exhibits.  Most times these parents are at a loss for what to do at home as well, so hearing that their child is once again misbehaving at school is “old” news and unintentionally ignored.  One of the most effective uses of positive reinforcement I have seen the past 10 years is positive notes or positive phone calls home.  Not only is the child’s behavior being reinforced, the parents are also being reinforced and finally receiving something positive about their child which is refreshing and can suddenly create the missing home-school link.

Using a reward menu and putting the option of either a positive note home or positive phone call home where the student makes the phone call during the day to “brag” about their good behavior can be the first step in introducing this technique.  Positive notes home such as the one below can give specific praise to behaviors.


The next time you correct student behavior, remember also to praise their positive behavior, however small it may be, and you will start to see little changes in behavior.  I have seen the positive results in my school with teachers who do this and at home when I do this same technique with my own children who are 2 and 3 years old.  It also helps to think about how it makes you feel when you receive a positive compliment at work regarding your job performance.

If you want to check out a copy of some positive parent notes home with the most common behaviors seen in schools, you can check them out here.



2 thoughts on “Learning to Use Positive Reinforcement

    1. Discovering Hidden Potential Post author

      Thanks so much! Some times it takes all different ways to get kids engaged and learning!!


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