I have yet to meet anyone who wants children to behave only if there is a consequence or reward at stake. We all want our kids to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Internal motivation is the holy grail.
But… how to get there. Our world is so centered on punishments and rewards, that it is sometimes difficult to see that there could possibly be another way.
And to complicate things… don’t we all feel proud when we are acknowledged for a success that we have achieved? How can that be wrong? It’s easier to swallow the idea that we should avoid punishments, but do we really want to cancel awards ceremonies?
There is nothing wrong with celebrating achievement. I believe the problem is when the celebration becomes the purpose for the behaviour. If may look the same on the surface, but we all know there is a big difference between the child who wants to learn and the child who just wants a good mark.
A teacher friend of mine came up with an amazing way to celebrate the achievements of her students by getting them to reflect for themselves instead of looking to external judgement and evaluation. She asked each student to think of something about themselves that they felt proud of about their time in her classroom. At the end of the year, she made up certificates that were presented at the annual awards ceremony and called up each student individually to accept the award for the thing they were most proud of. It was so much more interesting to get a glimpse into what the students felt was important, than into what the staff thought was important about them. We also honored so much more than the traditional academic and athletic achievement. There were students who were most proud of how they made others laugh, or how the cared for the younger students in the school.
Most importantly, she gave her students an opportunity to self-evaluate. If internal motivation is what we are striving for, we need to help our students look not to us for the answers, but to look inside themselves.