Teacher: “Please go to the principal’s office.”
Student: “Am I in trouble?”
For as long as I have been a teacher, being asked to go see the principal or someone within the leadership team meant something was wrong. Those words don’t often evoke excitement or eagerness. However, school leaders and teachers are changing that narrative as they implement new systems where students are celebrated at the leadership level. A system of positive referrals can change the way schools approach culture. This way of supporting student achievement is aligned to social and emotional learning (SEL) and PBIS practices.
Traditional ways to show students praise include, stickers, prizes and other reward programs. Those are important, but a creative way to change ideas about student and principal relationships is leveraging a student referral program. You might have experienced this with your colleagues as they share notes or shoutouts through the day or week to be recognized by leadership. Similarly, this works for students. Instead of only sending students to see a principal or other leadership when their behavior or attitude needs correction, send them to receive praise.
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This is an opportunity for a school to change the narrative about discipline and can encourage positive responses when students understand that their positive behaviors and choices are recognized by the leaders of the school. Positive student referrals not only support student development, but also provide some good news for families and allow students to engage with staff positively.
There are a number of ways to set up this practice within your school. Think about ways to incorporate a system that makes it easy for teachers and staff to share their acknowledgements. You can use cards or sticky notes or a digital system like Kickboard that the principal can reference and easily respond to. Making an announcement or having a note for students to keep as a reminder of their positive office referral creates a sense of pride.
5 Examples of Positive Office Referrals
Good Attitude Award
If you have a student who is always sharing and using kind words this is the award for them. Having a good attitude might include approaching their work enthusiastically or perhaps they showed good sportsmanship during PE class. Having a good attitude should be recognized as it encourages others to be positive.
Good Choices Award
A part of SEL is seeing student growth in decision making skills. This could be choices throughout the school day or choosing a positive behavior when faced with something that is challenging.
Helping Hands Award
If you are recognizing a student for supporting others this award could highlight why you thought their willingness to support a classmate was valuable. Sharing within the school community creates a learning environment that encourages collaboration and also honors individual agency.
Community Leader Award
This award recognizes students who take the initiative to do more. Community leaders are often volunteering to help the teacher or a classmate. This award highlights the value in community leadership and encourages others to find ways for them to be leaders.
Big Thinker Award
Oftentimes curiosity can lead to poor behavior choices. By responding to students’ curiosity we can better support them. As a teacher, I recognize that curiosity may be one way to support a student’s critical thinking and encourages them to ask good questions. This award celebrates their interest in learning.
With these examples, you can change the stigma associated with going to the office. This approach will create some buy-in with students and they will want to go and receive praise for their awesome behavior and attitudes. It improves the school community and places value on students making good choices. Most importantly, this changes our mindset about relationships with school leadership and that those relationships can also be used to support and praise students, bringing joy to both the students and principal daily.