How Positive Reinforcement Improves Student Behavior


How do you promote positive classroom behavior? What is the response in your school when students are meeting behavior expectations? What motivates your students?

Schoolwide behavior systems sometimes focus on consequences to correct behavior choices and respond to negative student behavior patterns with punitive plans. But the goal should actually be to increase positive reinforcements to address behavior. In every area of the school, just as quickly as students can earn a punitive consequence, there should be an opportunity to earn a reward or praise.

→ Check out our Guide for Positive School Culture

Positive reinforcement is focused on encouraging and promoting a specific behavior or task through systems of positive responses. Positive reinforcement in schools is a way to motivate students to practice positive behavior by incentivizing their good choices. Students will connect their positive behavior to the positive responses and thus promote good behavior choices.

Considerations of Positive Reinforcement

Consider the following topics when planning for your schoolwide system in order to make positive reinforcement programs successful.


Incentives are great when they are something students want. Consider using various incentives and keeping students engaged with what they could earn. Rewards do not always have to be monetary or tallied so that it leads up to a bigger prize. Quality time with a teacher during lunch or an opportunity lead in the classroom are other ways to provide a reward for a student.

If your school isusing an incentive system that includes rewards that students are not interested in, then the system won’t be as effective. Similarly, students might get bored with the current rewards available and this may not work long-term with the students. Be sure to ask the students what they desire! Reach out to students across grade levels to identify what motivates them and plan your incentives accordingly.

Focusing on the positives

Encouraging students by focusing on the positive speaks to the school morale. It is helpful to communicate and praise students for good behavior instead of focusing heavily on what not to do. This positive approach encourages students to make good choices and focus on positive behaviors.

The goal of rewards and recognition is to grow. Once students are meeting expectations often, begin to use incentives for more advanced skills or transition from external to internal motivation.

Ideas for Positive Reinforcement

There are many different types of positive reinforcements and teachers and school staff can, and should, get creative about which systems work for their students. Here are a few ideas for your school.

Display student work

If students are doing great work or if they were really successful in their assignments, display this in the classroom and around the school.

Quality time

Building relationships is the key to any healthy school culture. Consider having students earn a 1:1 lunch or break time with their favorite teachers as an incentive.

Baseline Elementary in Little Rock, Arkansas has their teachers host “experiences” as rewards and incentives. Students earn access to craft with a teacher, or garden, and the teachers get to choose something they are passionate about to share with their students.

Collecting rewards

For younger students, incentives could be small things collected (like stickers) that when added together can be used for a larger reward. Older students could use a monetary system that allows them to shop for larger items at the end of the week or month.

Creating leadership opportunities

Students respond well to being able to lead groups or having important roles during the day. Create opportunities in your school and classrooms for students to lead or guide others, or create special jobs that they will feel is a reward.

Give awards

Who doesn’t love a certificate? If there are tokens of praise that students love, create those to receive during a school event.

Still need ideas? Check out this resource of Free or Inexpensive Reward Ideas for Students and Staff.

How can Kickboard help?

Schools that use the Kickboard platform can set up weekly goals for students to work towards and gather the data to see who qualifies for rewards or incentives. This data not only informs your student behavior systems but creates new opportunities to engage students.

If you are thinking of a new way to encourage students, check out Kickboard’s features that support positive reinforcement and can be used for data reporting with staff and families. Just as a teacher would engage families when a student does not meet behavior expectations, highlighting when the students are making positive choices is also appropriate for contacting parents. The ease of use of the Kickboard platform keeps the data relevant but also supports teachers in transitioning from a totally punitive approach to a more positive approach. This plan can also be shared with families so that there could be practice with the positive reinforcement approach at home.

Is your school working toward being more positive and supportive? Read about more strategies in our guide, School Discipline: 11 Ways To Move From Punitive to Positive.