How to Get Students to Buy into School Culture Programs


Implementing new systems in a school setting is sometimes met with resistance and unanticipated hurdles. Finding ways to gain buy-in from staff and students can be challenging but it’s essential to the successful implementation of any new program. 

As an assistant principal who has implemented a schoolwide culture system, including Kickboard, at the elementary, middle and high school level, here are effective best practices I’ve seen that can help school leaders as they strive to invest stakeholders in a schoolwide rewards system:

→ Change your school culture and climate with our PBIS Toolkit

Share your vision and goals with your staff and students 

The buy-in process starts by onboarding staff so they can recognize how the implementation of Kickboard and other tools will serve as a method of positive support and a way to hold students accountable. Once the staff understands why the school is using the program, they can communicate to students why and how the program is being used. In order to gain buy-in from students, the staff must first be able to articulate the reason they are using Kickboard (or any other program) and how it can enhance the experiences teachers, students and parents have while interacting in the educational space. 

Better yet, create your vision and goals collaboratively with your staff and community stakeholders. By doing this, you will develop leadership capacity within your school community and create a shared sense of direction moving forward as you approach the implementation phase. Stakeholders will have a sense of ownership in making sure the implementation is successful because their voices and perspectives are represented in the vision and goals. 

Create a marketing brand within your school

In order to gain buy-in from students there has to be a way to identify the program in a way that is meaningful and clear for them. You will have better success gaining buy-in from students if you tailor your school brand to the interests of your students while allowing it to still represent the vision and mission of your school.

At the Academy for International Education (AIE), we are the home of the Aviators. Students earn frequent flyer miles (point value currency) and refer to Kickboard as “KB@AIE.” Keeping our PBIS system aligned to the Aviation theme allows students to see the schoolwide culture system. 

Creating a brand within your school adds a personalized touch to the program and allows students and staff to connect their behavior interactions to the school’s larger mission and vision. 

Set up rewards that students care about

Selecting rewards that students will work for is part of gaining and maintaining student buy-in. This requires school leaders to know what it is that motivates their students. By having informal conversations with students, attending extracurricular events and just by spending time in the lunchroom and common areas, school leaders can learn a lot about what it is that makes their students excited to succeed. 

When students observe school leaders inquiring about their needs and desires, they will be more invested when they see that their feedback was actually utilized and implemented at the school level. You can also formally survey students about what rewards they would like to make sure you hear a variety of opinions and suggestions.

At AIE, we created the following rewards by talking with students and observing different ways that we could make their daily interactions more enjoyable (without having to spend money). 

At the end of every month, I look at the Culture Leaderboard to identify the top 10 students in each grade. Those students receive the designated coupon for that month. I display the leaderboard on a TV in the cafeteria and also post it on a bulletin board to continue promoting the brand and incentivizing and recognizing positive behaviors. 

Lead by example

As a leader, when I walk into classrooms or observe students exceeding expectations in any capacity, I pull out my phone and give them Kickboard points or ask the teacher to give points for the specific behavior I observe. By doing this, teachers can see me model what is expected to make our schoolwide culture program successful. 

Teachers are leaders in their classrooms. By giving a teacher a specific complement, while they are in front of other teachers or students, you are bringing positive attention to a specific behavior. Not only will that person feel recognized, but you are reinforcing a positive behavior or teaching technique that could be utilized by others. Teachers can apply this same concept to the classroom setting; if a student’s behavior provokes a positive response from the teacher, students will be more likely to replicate that behavior in order to seek a positive response.

Being proactive and asking stakeholders for feedback regarding their experiences with the program allows school leaders to make technical adjustments and monitor needs at the staff level. Ideally, teachers will also engage students in asking for feedback as they use the program. Together, students and their teachers can determine more effective ways to meet the needs of a particular class or group of students. This will increase student investment because students will recognize that their ideas have value and can contribute to making the schoolwide system stronger. 

I also post a staff Leaderboard every month. These are the top 10 staff members who have the most interactions documented for that specific month. I post this in a public place so that these staff members can be recognized for the time and effort they invest in striving to reach our goals. Students also recognize these teachers without even having to see the list. The feedback I have received from students is that they prefer being in a class where teachers uses Kickboard as it gives them a better chance of earning more points and receiving positive praise from parents and other staff. 

Students will be more likely to buy-in to a program that is supported by all staff members, especially when the program is represented by a brand that they can connect and relate to. In addition to school leaders and teachers, security guards, cafeteria staff, teaching assistants, and secretaries can also use Kickboard to recognize students for interactions that occur outside of the classroom setting. A collaborative approach will structure your implementation system in a way that builds leadership capacity and holds students accountable. I’m hopeful that the best practices shared in this post will support other school leaders as they strive to invest stakeholders and students in a schoolwide rewards system.