I am continually surprised at how little value school administrators place on any kind of meaningful buy-in by teachers and parents to the latest “reforms.” Three years ago, for example, our district foisted its behavioral rewards program (PBIS) on our schools without regard to whether the teachers, parents, or kids wanted any part of it. (Full diatribe here.) Thus the district created an additional task for itself: managing the teachers, parents, and kids who resisted PBIS.
A recent occurrence at one of our district’s elementary schools illustrates the dynamic. Apparently some higher authority (the district?) determined that the school’s teachers weren’t passing out enough PBIS rewards. The school’s PBIS committee, in response, asked the PTA if it would fund weekly incentives for teachers to boost their support for the program – that is, “$5 gift cards or small tokens that can be drawn for each week by the teachers.” Classic PBIS logic at work: if the teachers are insufficiently enthusiastic about PBIS, we can just use small token rewards to alter their behavior!
Alas, the parents were no more enthusiastic than the teachers. One parent responded that she was “strongly opposed to the PBIS program” and objected to “further emphasizing, through rewards, this focus on obedience and rule following I think sends our children some really unfortunate messages about what’s important and valuable in our learning environments and communities.” She concluded, “My vote would be a resounding ‘no.’” From what I hear, the PTA didn’t pursue the idea any further. If the district learned anything from the incident, it doesn’t show.
One of my objections to PBIS is that it is demeaning. Trying to reason with kids and get them thinking for themselves about how they should act would be a way of treating them with dignity and respect. By contrast, trying to buy their obedience with token rewards is just plain insulting. The point is just as compelling with teachers as with kids: If you were a teacher with reservations about PBIS, how would you feel if the school thought it could buy your cooperation with a five-dollar gift card?