Because of the many problems associated with using rewards and punishments in the classroom, it becomes clear that neither rewarding nor punishing students offers teachers a management approach consistent with quality principles. The choice that so many educators face of whether to emphasize punishments or rewards in their classrooms is not really a choice at all. Both methods are extrinsic. Both seek to control the actions of students based on the promise that if you do this, this will happen to you, and, as a result, present a similar array of problems. Both rest on the assumptions of Theory X put forth by Douglas McGregor (described in Blog Post #5), and both exist because they are believed to be necessary to maintain order and effort.
In my most recent posts I have been talking about the choices we have available to us when it comes to managing our students. One choice is rooted in Douglas McGragorâ€™s Theory X (described in previous post) and requires the use of rewards and/or punishments to control student behavior and effort due to the belief that students dislike work and will avoid it if they can. The other choice is rooted in Theory Y and takes advantage of the idea that students want to work hard and will commit themselves fully to objectives that mean something to them.
In my first few blog posts I described the influences that shaped my educational philosophy and impacted my approach to teaching in the early stages of my career. In future posts I will continue describing my journey, but Iâ€™d like to take a break from this endeavor and jump ahead 15 or so years to something that happened in my classroom this past Thursday.
Last Thursday was one of those days that all teachers experience. Almost from the opening bell, things just seemed to be a bit off with my students. Everything seemed to be a struggle. Every time we went out for recess or lunch, kids were returning in tears, arguing, and even getting involved in physical altercations. Inside the class the high level of focus that I am fortunate enough to witness on a consistent basis simply wasnâ€™t there. More students were off task than usual, many lessons and activities didnâ€™t proceed according to plan, and gaining and maintaining my studentsâ€™ attention was difficult.
It is during these times when we, as teachers, have to dig deep, find our patience, and remember what it is that we are trying to promote in our classrooms. When things appear to be falling apart around us, we have to decide how we are going to keep everything together.
Sometimes itâ€™s hard for me to believe that a statistician who was trained in mathematics, physics, and engineering and who did his most important work overseas approximately a half century ago has had more impact on my development as an elementary educator than anybody else.
But thatâ€™s exactly what happened.
After reading William Glasserâ€™s The Quality School early in my second year of teaching, I was hungry to learn more about the educational approach he described (and that I described in my previous blog post). So, I headed straight to W. Edwards Deming, the man whose work heavily influenced Glasserâ€™s.
Like many young teachers, I was eager to earn graduate units to move up on my districtâ€™s pay scale. To accumulate the greatest number of units in the least amount of time, each quarter I enrolled in an after-school class designed for working teachers. The classes met one night a week and featured a different presenter each time. On some evenings I would come away with useful information; on others I wouldnâ€™t. One night a principal from my district gave a presentation that at first didnâ€™t appear especially applicable to my teaching situation. Then, as my classmates and I were packing our belongings and preparing to leave, he shared a list of book recommendations. Fortunately for me, I was still paying attention.
On that list was William Glasserâ€™s The Quality School.
Discovering that book was my first lucky break.