As teachers and school leaders, it's easy to become distracted (and polarised!) by the question, "Which is more powerful - positive or negative feedback?" But what if that's the wrong question entirely?
In this episode, I explain what question we should be asking ourselves about rewards and consequences, and what the implications are for our classroom practice.
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Show notes / transcription
Simon Currigan 0:00
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to school behaviour secrets. This is Quick Fire strategy episode number five, the new format I'm sharing with you over the summer while English schools are on their summer break, bro give you one idea or strategy to think about and use with your new class all condensed into an easy to listen to five to 10 minute episode. Although I think in fairness, I haven't been anywhere near five minutes yet, it's all been 10 minutes,
We'll get back to our normal format in September. But if you've been enjoying this episode format, or you hated it, and you've been listening to these and thinking that they show significant lack of judgement on my part, let me know on social media look for us on Facebook as beacons call support. And on Twitter, we are at Beacon support and tell me what you think. And by the way, if you're in another part of the world that has a different school calendar, then these tips are still perfect for using with your students that you're teaching right now. So here's today's Quick Fire idea I want to talk about when it comes to managing whole classes, the differing power between negative feedback and positive feedback and how people can get really polarised by these ideas. And in my opinion, they get positive and negative feedback wrong. So let me start by asking you a really simple question that you've probably heard people like me ask you before when we're working with kids, whether we're talking about their behaviour or their learning, which is more powerful, positive feedback, or negative feedback. When I ask a roomful of teachers this question saying some training, I give them time to think about it and talk about that question in groups, they nearly always come back with the same answer positive, they say that positive feedback is way more powerful than negative feedback. So this is actually wrong. Negative feedback is actually two to three times more powerful than positive feedback. And we spoke about this in a previous podcast episode, if you doubt the truth of what I'm saying, think about the last time you had a senior leader come in and observe you teach at the end of the observation of how they have given you feedback. And most leaders give feedback in the form of well, let's call it you know, a poo sandwich. Because it's you know, on the podcast, there might be kids listening, which means they'll give you two positives about your performance with a piece of a negative feedback sandwiched in the middle now on your drive home. Are you thinking about those two lovely comments your senior leader made about the way you planned your lesson? Or how you interacted with the kids? No, of course not. If you're like most people, you're 100% laser focused on the negative feedback, you got that negative feedback is so powerful. It's swamps, the far weaker positive comments you've got from the leader. And we know from research, mostly from economic research, that negative feedback is more powerful than positive feedback. But all of this is a diversion. Because I actually asked you the wrong question I asked, which is more powerful, positive or negative feedback. What I didn't ask was for what purpose to what end because negative and positive feedback are completely different tools for achieving completely different purposes. And when we think about this deeply, this is why we can get stuck with classroom behaviour when we use negative feedback. So in terms of behaviour that might look like raising your voice or shaking your head when a child misbehaves or telling them off or keeping them in a play or issuing a demerit, whatever it is, whatever you're doing, what we're doing is setting a boundary with that negative feedback. We're making it clear what we don't want the child to do what they should avoid doing. So our pupils avoid engaging in that behaviour in the future to avoid that negative thing, at least in a perfect world. They would and this is the way the government functions with adults as adults. If we break the law, the government issues fines or if the behaviour is serious enough, we might get sent to prison. The government actively discourages us from doing bad things. At least bad things from society's perspective, with fines and laws and threats. This negative approach in the classroom and in society encourages compliance. It gets our children to reach a minimally acceptable standard of behaviour. It doesn't go any further than that. It doesn't create enthusiasm. It doesn't create followers. It doesn't engender excitement or build any intrinsic motivation. It creates a sort of cold sterile, joyless compliance. And when you use negative feedback, one of the side effects is it very quickly erodes relationships in the classroom. And as we all know, particularly with pupils with high social, emotional mental health needs, they often have low resilience and poor self esteem when compared to their peers. Negative feedback can sour that relationship very quickly. And the child quickly decides that sir, or miss doesn't like them, and they're always picking on them. So on the one hand, what the negative feedback does is it gets us a hollow compliance from most of the kids. And on the other, we get active dislike and resistance from kids with higher levels of SMH needs. So now let's think about what positive reinforcement does. It does the opposite. It builds relationships slowly, over time, I heard a great definition of what a trusting relationship consists of, by the way, and it was in the field of divorce and adult relationships. And the definition was, dozens of tiny positive interactions spread out over time, which by themselves mean nothing. Positive reinforcement does all of the things that negative reinforcement by itself can't do. It makes the kids feel liked and recognised and cared for and appreciated. It creates commitments, it creates positive feelings towards the adult, it creates relationships where the children start to follow the adult and see them as their leader, it also creates tolerance, if you're having a bad day, and you're a bit snappy. If the child sees you, as someone who is a positive figure in their lives, they'll cut you some slack. If you need to pick them up on some aspect of their behaviour, there'll be more likely to be accepting of your constructive criticism. Because that criticism is in the context of a positive relationship. You don't get that through negative reinforcement and boundaries alone. But I think this is where some educators make a mistake is they say, right, so positive reinforcement is brilliant, it does all of these great things. So maybe we don't need any of the boundaries and negative input at all. But without clear boundaries, what we end up with is chaos. What we tolerate speaks as loudly as what we promote. And unfortunately, this is human nature, there are a small group of children out there who, if they think there are no consequences for their behaviour, they will exploit the system, and they will do what they want with it, even if it disrupts the learning of others, they need that negative boundary to contain their behaviour and succeed in school. And if you look at systems like restorative practice, those practices aren't about removing consequences and boundaries for behaviour. They're about using natural consequences. Things like understanding the impact of your actions on other people and caring about them doing something to make good the relationship that's been damaged by your own behaviour. It's more than just saying, Sorry, it's finding a natural consequence that the child can logically See, I need to do this now to make the situation good again. So what I'm saying is this out the whole class level, classroom behaviour is a bit like a plant bear with me, I'm terrible analysis, the boundaries are like the soil, providing a secure, healthy space where everyone feels safe in which the plant can grow. Positive feedback is like the sun, helping the plant grow and flourish above the ground. The plant needs the soil and the sunlight not one or the other. If the plant has sunlight without any soil in which to place it roots. It dies. If the plant has soil, but no sunlight, it never gets above the ground. We need both to be successful. And of course, as I said at the start, I'm talking about whole class management. In this episode, I'm not talking about addressing the needs of individual kids who may have underlying reasons why they're overwhelmed at school, who don't have the emotional skills to cope in the classroom. In order for our boundaries. To be fair to those kids, we've got to look at their environment and their individual needs and give them the support they need the boost up they need before we can fairly say the boundaries we consistently apply to the other children can also be applied to them because for those kids, negative feedback while being denied support, is actually tyranny and That's it for today's quick fire strategy episode.
If you liked today's episode, don't forget to share it with three friends who would find it useful. Simply open up your podcast app, hit the share button, and your app will help you send a direct link for this episode through text, emails, messaging, or whatever. And if you've enjoyed the podcast today, while you've got your podcast app open, remember to hit the subscribe button so you make sure you don't miss future episodes. And don't forget if you work with kids with challenging behaviour, and you're not sure why they're acting the way they're acting, we've got a download that can help. It's called the SCN D handbook, and it will help you link behaviours you see in the classroom with possible causes, like ADHD, trauma, and autism. The idea here isn't for teachers to make a diagnosis. We're not qualified to do that. But if we can link as classroom practitioners, possible causes to classroom behaviours quickly. It means we can get the right referrals done quickly. We can get the right professional support and we can get early intervention strategies in place. It's a free download, go to the website beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. UK, click on the free resources tab near the top and you will see it available for download. I've also put a link in the episode description. That's all I've got for you today. Have a brilliant week. I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of spooky behaviour.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)