How Teachers Can Be Effective with Positive Reinforcement?

Especially when it comes to novice teachers, it is fairly common to prefer positive or negative reinforcement, depending on your character. But if used without balance and proper care, even positive reinforcement can be detrimental. If there is no effective positive reinforcement, you will just be spending energy for naught.

There are three things needed for positive reinforcement to be effective:

  1. Good reason
  2. Valuable reward
  3. Social acceptance

This is mainly because such reinforcement is not only for the student you are rewarding. Rather, this should create a behavioral example for why they should strive to do better.

Although reinforcing good behavior is not difficult on its own, the results will vary depending on the preparation. The goal is to gauge the limits of the good behavior of your students and reward exemplary behavior.

If your rewards are rare, the Pavlovian response for good behavior will not form. On the flip side, if you reward too often the reward will become worthless and might even become embarrassing for some students.

Why Do Teachers Need to Use Positive Reinforcement?

Even if you happen to be blessed with students that have entered your classroom knowing how to behave perfectly, you still need to draw out their potential. In some cases, this will be for better behavior or doing something for others.

If your students are already behaving as they should, you can always use this as a tool for educational purposes.

Effective positive reinforcement means that your students know that hard work and going beyond their current capabilities will be rewarded. This will instill in them the drive to always push forward and hope for the best.

Generally, this should teach them that only extra work pays extra. Then, those who strive toward greatness will know that their efforts are not in vain.

Best Ways to Award Good Behavior of Your Students

There are five tricks to form effective positive reinforcement. The goal of these tricks is to optimize the impact and allow you to use it when it is needed and without a significant delay.

The longer you wait between the good deed and the reward the lesser the result will be. Regretfully, this is the very reason why good grades don’t seem to be enough of a reason to do your best in school.

But if you prepare a system in advance you will be able to act immediately when someone does well. This will directly connect the action with the reward in their mind as well as in the minds of other students.

#1 Find Value

What may seem valuable to us might not be for your younger generation. Depending on your student’s age, culture, social status, or general disposition on life, different things can be found valuable. You will need to learn what this is.

There is always the option to create a monetary reward that will be accepted by every single student on the planet. Regretfully, this may be beyond the means of most teachers. This would especially be the case if you need to pay that reward out of pocket.

Therefore it can be a mixture of non-material and material rewards instead. You can establish a special prize at the beginning of the month for the student with the most gold stars and award those stars when a good deed is committed to establishing effective positive reinforcement.

If you are familiar with Harry Potter, this is something like the ‘’House Points’’ in Hogwarts, but without the obvious preference toward the house of the protagonist.

#2 Make it Count

In the same way how the reward you are offering should count and be valuable to the students, so should the action you are reinforcing be perceived as valuable. Both the rewarded student and his classmates should see hers or his action as valuable.

Additionally, the rewards you give should be equal regardless of the student. The same reward for the same action. You shouldn’t penalize good students for being good consistently.

The way for effective positive reinforcement of not so good students should be in giving them special tasks that will garner a reward. Don’t place the threshold too low, because you will do yourself a disservice.

How Teachers Can Be Effective with Positive Reinforcement?

#3 Be Fair

If you follow the last two rules you will be fair when it comes to the size and frequency of the reward. Another focus should be in fairness in terms of who gets to have it. Even though we are educators, we are still human and it is normal to have favorites.

To avoid this, you need to have a protocol in place that will tell you what constitutes a reason for a reward and what doesn’t. Any type of arbitrary or ad hoc rewarding system won’t make for effective positive reinforcement.

If you manage to be fair and distribute rewards without favoring well-behaved or misbehaved kids, you will gain respect from both.

You can give special opportunities to those students that might need them. But even these shouldn’t be locked out for other students. If there is a better student capable of assisting in the task, they shouldn’t be barred from it and should receive the same reward.

#4 Be Consistent

There should be rewards for special achievements, but you should never allow special rewards for regular achievements. And, whatever you do, never flip-flop on the rules you have already established.

You shouldn’t reward students for minor things just because they are behind. You should give them the chance to do something great and then reward them.

All of your rewards and the requirements needed for them should be consistent. Otherwise, your students will regard them as unfair and the tool will lose any effectiveness.

#5 Make it Fun

The increase in effectiveness for something fun compared to something boring and mundane is staggering. If you can make your rewards fun and exciting, similar to a finished quest in a video game, your students will run to complete more of such quests.

Contrast with Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement, a.k.a. punishment is the opposite side of the same coin as its positive counterpart. But it is much more impactful on the students and as such should be used with much more moderation.

Generally, the rule is to use positive reinforcement four times as frequent as negative. This way there will still be some risk of failure and portray the overall system as fair. Using punishment should create a counterbalance and thus make for more effective positive reinforcement.


While most teachers know how to use positive reinforcement instinctively, some tricks can allow for a more effective positive reinforcement usage in any class.

Using such methods will not make this approach better and more impactful, but it will also make it harder to fall into some of the traps.

Finally, if you form your curriculum plan carefully and work on good classroom management, you will be able to use all of the benefits of positive reinforcement with ease.