We Are All Part of the Team

A friend shared a story with me, and with their permission, I’m sharing it here.

Their child was 5 years old and in their class at school, they had a clip behavior chart like many schools have. The clip chart was space/sky themed to be cute. Everybody started on a star, and if they “behaved badly” they got moved to the moon, and if they “behaved well” they got moved to the “Proud Cloud”.

The school contacted all the parents about an incident that happened in the class. All of the clips suddenly went missing one day and the teachers couldn’t find them anywhere. They asked all the parents to ask their kids about it.

My friend dutifully talked to their child. Their child was typically “well behaved” and generally born with the kind of brain that’s good at academics, so they weren’t expecting anything from the conversation. To their surprise, their child burst into tears and admitted that they took all of the clips and hid them. The child explained that even though they were never “in trouble” and never moved to the moon, they were also never on the “Proud Cloud”…they felt that their teachers were never proud of them. They were never good enough, no matter how hard they tried. They decided to just deal with the whole thing by hiding everybody’s clips so nobody would feel that way.

Sometimes I see people trying to argue that “positive behavior” systems are totally good and fine now because they’re not the same as punishments. They’re not the same as negative behavior modification used to be.

The kids experience it the same way, though. There isn’t a positive side without a negative side. In an individuals based reward system, there isn’t a “we choose to reward you” without a “we choose to leave you out.” And in a collective based reward system, you’re going to either have to punish everybody for the sake of the kids who need more support or you’re going to have to ignore that there are kids who need more support anyway — so why not just give those kids support to begin with?

At my workplace we sometimes have fun things. Some of them are big, like a holiday party or a birthday celebration for someone. Some of them are small, like tasty snacks in the break room or a coworker stopping by an office to chat and laugh, or good music playing on the speakers. None of these things are offered to us as rewards if we do well and none of them are taken away from us as punishments if we’re struggling. We don’t have to earn the right to be part of a team who work on hard things together and also have lovely times together.

It seems to me like classrooms are more inviting when they are treated the same way. Sometimes—maybe regularly, or maybe on surprise occasions—there is something delightful. Everybody is a part of it because we are all a part of the class and everybody in this class is loved and a valuable part of the team. Some of them need more support and some of them find it easier to do, and everybody is trying their best.