The children you see in the photo have won that cake because as Principal at the Cedar Valley Primary & Infant School, I am trying to encourage good behaviour without the use of corporal punishment. What we are trying to do is to signal as clearly as possible to a child that yes, they are progressing educationally from their starting points in their respective classes to where they are now – and boost their self-esteem.
The class that displays the best behaviour, has the highest rate of homework and classwork submissions gets to have a cake party each month. Basically, our goal is to get the students to behave well because we realize there is a parallel between behaviour and academics.
Boosting children’s motivation and socialization
Incentives are effective because children love to be treated, feel a sense of belonging and they also like to compete. We believe that competing teaches a child how to behave whenever they win or lose and that helps in their socialization.
Currently, our grade two class is head and shoulders above the rest, but our infants are trying very hard to win this month’s cake. Meanwhile, the students in grade two have been meeting all the criteria to win.
Inspired by UNICEF-NCEL Child-Friendly Schools course
How it all came about is that before COVID-19 we had a chart displayed on the notice board with stickers that were placed on it daily. The class(es) that met the criteria mentioned before would receive a sticker. The class that achieves the most stickers at the end of each month would receive a prize.
Our present grade two teacher Mrs. Ruddock-Murray has been going further. She buys tokens out of her own pocket to encourage the children.
While participating in the ‘Child-Friendly Schools’ course by the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and UNICEF, I saw what other schools were doing to implement their own child-friendly initiatives. So as a school we adopted a few best practices to create something we think works best for us – which is the cake party as a team initiative, together with individual initiatives for our students.
Helping children recover from learning loss
One boy from grade two was awarded Most Outstanding in Mathematics even though he did not access teaching and learning for an entire year during COVID-19. We had been trying to get in touch with him. When he came back in February, Mrs. Ruddock-Murray was worrying about how he would do academically. However, because of his self-discipline and his zeal for trying to do well to get rewarded, he stayed motivated.
I really believe that this is something that other schools can experiment with and customize. But it is also very important to be as inclusive as humanly possible, so we do not always focus on the best, but rather the most improved. I always implore on our teachers to recognize something positive about our students who haven’t won a prize before, because students who haven’t been winning will sometimes get demoralized. Students who feel left out might become truants, abusive or have their self-esteem lowered – which is counter-productive.
Inclusiveness, listening to students is a must
If the incentive system is inclusive, then this kind of spirit can be infectious for a student body. As Mrs. Ruddock-Murray puts it, “Students are filled with so much joy to win prizes and they also cheer for their fellow classmates to be the next to get a prize!”
Another thing is that at the upper level of primary school, educators must be willing to communicate with their students to build consensus. This will enable us to have a better understanding as to what will work best to motivate these students, which might well be something other than cake. Students at the lower level of primary school usually prefer something tangible, like a gift.
Teachers are embracing it and I am as a father
As a school, we are still not where we want to be, but we are getting somewhere. It’s obvious that the teachers have been embracing the initiative, because they are rotating the names and successfully encouraging others even those that have been undisciplined in the past. Many of our students are now getting gifts at the end of each week for being the most disciplined students for the week.
Together what we are seeing is that the children are becoming their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. If one child is being undisciplined, then his or her classmates will remind them what they are trying to achieve as a team, “Remember we need to win this month so that we can have our cake party!”
This initiative can be used at home. As a father I practise this. In fact, I do it for my children with almost everything, like my eldest daughter asked me to teach her how to drive. I told her that the only way I will teach you is if you achieve good grades at school. I can attest that it’s working because almost every Sunday we’re practicing driving.
What's UNICEF doing?
UNICEF has partnered with the National College of Educational Leadership (NCEL), to develop and delivered several online courses, including ‘Child Friendly Schools’, which share best practices among school leaders and administrators. Please visit NCEL.gov.jm to learn more.