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Holiday Behavior Management Tips to Help You Survive Until Winter Break! [episode 37]


Click below to hear holiday behavior management tips:

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Overview of episode 37:

We’ve talked before about reward systems on the podcast and how we’re not their biggest fans. However, there’s always an exception to the rule, and that’s when a big break, like in December, is about to happen. We know that external rewards do provide short term benefits with immediate results, which is exactly what we need to take control of the holiday behavior management. In today’s episode, we’re sharing some holiday behavior management tips to help you survive until winter break. 

When setting up a holiday behavior management system, it’s important that it helps balance the scale of student engagement with the right amount of novelty and predictability. During the episode, we share a specific and effective example of a reward system that we used right before holiday break. We highlight four reasons why a holiday behavior management system is an effective tool for keeping your students engaged and on-task until winter break. 

Although it’s only November, we wanted to give you enough time to start thinking about and plan for what type of reward system you would want to implement. Because we all know, when the time comes, you want to be ready for it! Knowing you have a holiday behavior management system in your back pocket, will provide you some relief on how to survive until winter break!

Highlights from the episode:

[00:55] Today’s morning message: what’s an awkward encounter you’ve had with a student in public?

[7:01] A recap of our student engagement model.

[12:32] Why a behavior reward system can be such an effective tool in December.

[19:38] Resource of the Week: Our free Reindeer Game System

[20:39] Today’s teacher approved tip for ensuring that your behavior rewards are ready to be used when you need them most.


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Read the transcript for episode 37, Holiday Behavior Management Tips to Help You Survive Until Winter Break!:

Hey there. Thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re diving into how classroom rewards can give you an advantage during the crazy holiday season.

We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. Today’s morning message is what’s an awkward encounter you’ve had with a student in public? Emily, share your story. Well, this story, it wasn’t that awkward with the student, but ended up being awkward with the parent. So when I was a new teacher, I had a little side gig vinyl lettering business. One time I was at a craft fair and the mom of one of my students had a booth there as well, but not for a craft for an MLM. Of course. I won’t say which one. When we ran into each other, we laughed and chatted a bit. And she told me about the company she was selling for no big deal, I thought. But a few days later, she popped into my classroom after school to follow up on that awesome product she was promoting. And it was the kind of thing where you would need to buy it regularly if you started using it. So I couldn’t just by once to get out of the situation. It was so incredibly awkward to have to directly tell her that I was not interested. I’m still feeling awkward just thinking about it. Oh, yikes. I remember that craft fair. MLM people have no boundaries.

So I’d forgotten I have a similar story. I forgot until you said that. So I had a parent and that their family had moved away. But she came back to visit me after school one day, specifically because I was the target market of her MLM product and very offensive reasons. Oh, awesome. I don’t think I’ve had too many other awkward encounters. But it just takes one time of running into a student in the tampon aisle for you to switch grocery stores forever for sure.

We have some responses from our community to our morning message. Maryann said I was in Walmart trying to buy gag gifts for my husband’s 50th birthday. Just as I was throwing a big pack of Depends in the cart, I run into a former student, of course. Well, it gets worse. Jody, she ran into one of her students at a waterpark changing room. Oh no. She said I was in the middle of changing from my swim suit to clothes. I was just using the bench in the changing room because the stalls were all in use. I only had my top off so I was easily able to cover up oh my gosh. Jacqueline said I was at the lake two hours from the community I teach in. I just got off the boat after a day of very adult fun on the water. I was walking on the public dock headed toward the lakeside restaurant. Well, wouldn’t you know it? There was a student. What’s worse, my husband knew his dad. So they chatted up while I was trying not to stumble my way back to solid ground. Cindy has only had pleasant encounters with her first grade students in public. But she did share a classic response by the student the day after is I thought you slept at school. I’ve heard that one before. We’d love to hear your response to this and other questions over in our teacher approved Facebook group or on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow. And that’s what the two.

If you’ve listened to our podcast before, you know that typically we aren’t huge cheerleaders for classroom reward systems. In fact, we have a whole podcast episode explaining the downsides to using too many rewards. You can listen to that in episode nine. And let me just jump in and say that when we talk about reward systems, we aren’t referring to any students whose specific learning plan calls for a reward system. We mean the type of thing like if you earn 50 Smart Bucks, you can come to the movie party at the end of the month. We also want to be clear that we aren’t trying to shame anyone who uses a reward system for management. Every teacher has a different approach. For us, we felt like it just became more about managing the system than managing our students.

The thing that is appealing about rewards is that they do provide immediate results. But the downside is that those results have a short lifespan. If you reward students for complying and then you remove the reward, they stop complying. Also, very few rewards are motivating for very long. Yeah, a student might do a lot for a gumball in September. But gumballs will lose their appeal by November, you have to keep upping the prize to get the same results. Those are significant drawbacks when it comes to a behavior plan. So it might come as a surprise that we are dedicating this podcast episode to telling you why you should try classroom rewards. And spoiler alert, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Classroom rewards do have their place. And we’re going to dive into ways to use them strategically today. If we use the drawbacks of rewards to our advantage, they can be very useful tools. And that’s an important distinction. Rewards aren’t necessarily good or bad, they are just tools. And you can use any tool in negative ways. But that doesn’t mean you should never use it. And you just have to be a good judge of when to use it. Yes. So we know that external rewards do provide short term benefits with immediate results. So that’s how we’re going to use them, we will use them in the short term times when we need immediate results, like in December. December is the perfect time to deploy a reward system.

Now my overall goal with my class behavior system is to help my kids to develop the skills they need to be responsible, productive learners. Most of the time, my class can be managed by having clearly taught procedures, predictable routines and logical consequences. I believe that my students mostly want to follow directions, and most of the time, they’ll be able to meet my expectations. Yeah, but most of the time isn’t all the time, unfortunately, unfortunately. So that means we’re looking at a lot of times when students are struggling with behavior at this time of year.

We’ve mentioned this before, but let me share our idea of how student engagement happens. We think it requires a balance between routine and novelty; too much routine, and kids are bored, too much novelty and kids are overwhelmed. You can’t run a successful classroom with kids who are bored or overwhelmed. Now most of the time, we can do a lot to control the level of routine and novelty in our classrooms. But some things are just outside of our control.

I remember very clearly one Friday at the end of like the first week in December, and Friday and December. Right, right. There are two big challenges to maintaining classroom routine. Yeah. But the first snowstorm of the season was rolling in, and it was a full moon. Oh no. I think the only thing that could have made that day crazier was maybe having a field trip right? My normally lovely class had turned into a pack of puppies. Maybe they were like werewolves. And what do you even do with a pack of puppies? I just wanted to crawl under my desk and hide. But I ultimately decided that that decision would be frowned upon. So I just toughed it out for the day. And I made a better plan for Monday. Honestly, it’s amazing you even came back to work the next week. December is hard enough already without all those other challenges. Well, I really debated if I was done forever.

But as I tried to solve this situation, I realized my kids needed additional structure. In their hearts, I knew they wanted to follow directions, mostly. But they were just kids, they hadn’t yet developed the ability to set aside their excitement and focus on the task at hand. And that’s so normal for kids this age. Yeah, it’s totally normal. They were counting on me to counteract the overwhelm of the season, by increasing the structure of the classroom, because they couldn’t manage it themselves. So you could have added structure by stepping up the consequences, because consequences can be both positive and negative. Right.

But I didn’t want to be doling out negative consequences that felt like punishments, because really, my kids were just being kids. Right? That just doesn’t feel right, especially in December when they’re just being the sweet, very excited kids that they are meant to be. And I do I do love that sparkle of excitement in the air. And so I didn’t want to crush that. But I needed a way to increase the positive consequences of their behavior, the normal positive consequences of you’re learning, you’re getting things done, you’re happy your teachers happy, they just weren’t cutting it.

So you needed a system that could introduce external reward. Exactly. So after school, did a desperation trip to the craft store looking for any inspiration. And I found like a card stock banner with little reindeer and And that sparked our reindeer games reward system. I took the reindeer off the banner and glued a red pom pom to one of their noses. So then I had eight reindeer cards and on Rudolph. And then I wrote down some fun seasonal activities and tucked one in just like a little gift card holder that I had, and stuck it at the top corner of my whiteboard. I’m genuinely impressed with your crafty skills here. Yeah, gluing pom poms is about my max level, let’s be honest.

Then when the kids arrived on Monday, we discussed behaviors that could earn them reindeer, and then the types of things that would cost them reindeer. And then as they busily got to work, I added the first reindeer card to the bottom corner of my whiteboard. The more they worked, the more cards I added to we had a long column. So you’re building up from the bottom to the top where the reward is. Yeah, right, exactly. And if they started to get off task, I just, you know, quietly started moving toward the board, and they just immediately got back to work. I’m sure they were so invested at this point, wanting to see more reindeer appear and see what kind of reward they may get. Yeah, the student buy in is easy when it comes to rewards.

But I wanted to make sure two things were clear early on. One, I wanted them to know, I was serious about removing reindeer if the kids were getting out of control. Yeah, like the old Fred Jones quote, I say what I mean. And I mean what I say. And if they don’t believe that, then really nothing else matters, right. But the second thing I wanted them to know is that the rewards were worth the effort. So at first, I’ve rewarded them a little more frequently than I normally would have. That is so smart to get that first reward quickly so they can understand what they’re working toward. I’m sure that helps so much with motivation. It definitely did. And then after a few hours, they had earned all the way to Rudolph, and we got to find out what reindeer game we’d be playing.

And I tried to just choose reindeer games that were either very low key like a freeze dance, or something we would be doing anyway, like an art project. It doesn’t have to be a huge activity to be motivating. Yeah, and an extra benefit of having activities as your reward is that you can use them to fill time, or to help students get their wiggles out. Any chance to get wiggles out in December is a win. Plus having the added structure of a reward system made teaching in December much more enjoyable. And I made sure to use the reindeer game system every year after that.

So why do you think the reindeer games was such an effective tool? I think there were a few different reasons. First, it was visual, the kids could easily track how close they were to earning their next reward. And there was a clear difference if they lost a card. That makes a ton of sense. It made an abstract goal into a concrete one. And the second reason is that it was a class wide system. That meant that everyone was invested in its success. And the other students could help maintain the behavior standards. If someone started to get out of line, there was pressure from their peers to make a better choice. So I didn’t have to be the enforcer. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of positive peer pressure, shall we say?

Just a note that I did adapt this system in years where I had a student who got a lot more mileage out of the attention that came from being off task than they got by following directions. You know, the kids I’m talking about. I didn’t want to punish the whole class because of one child’s choices. So I didn’t remove any reindeer, if the off task behavior was limited just to a child or two, I was trying to avoid fostering any resentment between classmates. Smart.

And what’s the next reason you think this system was so effective? The third reason is because they could lose a reindeer as well as earn them. Sometimes with class rewards, the consequences for poor behavior is that they just aren’t moving toward the reward as quickly as they could want. But that is really abstract as a consequence. I wanted something with a real sense of our negative behavior lead to a negative consequence. Oh, yeah, it’s much easier for consequences to be clear when they happen immediately. Yeah, and losing a reindeer card did feel like a loss. So if my kids were starting to get squirrely, I didn’t have to make any threats. I didn’t have to say anything at all. Just started casually moving toward the board. And the kids would change what they were doing pretty quickly, or help their neighbors change what they were doing. If I reached the board, and they still weren’t cooperating, I would take a reindeer down and that helped them get right back on track. I can hear the class immediately getting quiet right now.

And what’s the last reason you think this system was effective? I think it was because it was seasonal. As we said before, the flaw with reward systems is that they are a short term solution. They work for a little bit, but then they lose their effectiveness unless you pump out more and more rewards. But that’s not a problem here. Exactly. Because I used a seasonal theme, it had a built in expiration date. My students weren’t returning to school in January expecting to see reindeer that would help them stay on track, we just got back to our normal non rewards based management.

So as we head into some of the most chaotic weeks of school, consider implementing a reward based management plan. If reindeer games don’t work for you, you can always design your own system. Maybe you can’t or don’t want to use Christmas themed activities at your school. Or maybe you want a behavior plan that fits a different time of year. Or maybe you want a different format than posting cards on the board. No matter what your reasons are, there are still some key takeaways from reindeer games that can help you implement your own reward system.

Whatever system you design, you’ll want to be sure it includes the four areas I mentioned before. Make sure it’s visible, make sure it’s class wide, make sure they can lose something as well as earn it and make sure it’s something you can eventually phase out.

Let’s talk about some other ideas for making a reward system visible. Besides posting cards as they earn them, a good visual class wide system would be uncovering a mystery picture. So you print off a picture and cover it with post it notes. As students make good choices, they can remove one of the post its. If they are making less than good choices, you can put a post it back. Once all the post its are removed, the class earns their reward. And a variation on this is cutting up picture into puzzle pieces. When kids are on task, they can add a piece to the puzzle. And they can also lose pieces. If you don’t want to do a picture, you can do a mystery word, they can gain or lose letters depending on their choices. When the word is complete, it spells out the reward they’ve earned. This one is easy, because you can just write it on your board and no prep is involved. I think your son’s teacher did that last year. And I remember talking to him about it. He was definitely a fan. Yeah.

Another option is to do a game like beat the teacher where students get tallies for making positive choices. But the teacher gets a tally if they’re not. The goal is to accrue enough tallies to earn a reward. This has the advantage of being simple to display and simple to plan. But it also has the vibe of us versus our teacher, which you might not want. An old fashioned marble jar works as a behavior reward system too, plus it has the benefit of giving an auditory as well as a visual reminder. I still remember the sound of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Harder, dropping marbles into the jar as we worked, it was just it was like tingles down the spine. It was so exciting.

If you poke around for a bit on Pinterest, I’m sure you’ll find lots of examples of classroom reward systems. But remember to be selective in the format you choose. Just because it offers a reward doesn’t mean it offers much structure. So for example, think about punch cards. Punch cards work by rewarding kids behavior with a hole punch on their card. And then when they fill their cards, they earn a prize. And that’s a fun idea. But I think it has limitations as a reward system. First, it’s not visual punch cards are usually tucked away so they can be easily forgotten. Second, you lose the support of positive crowd control when you have an individual reward program. Yeah, the students have no incentive to help their peers make better choices in a system like that. Also, once you punch a card they have earned that punch, you can’t go back and fill it in as a consequence for making poor choices. I’m not saying that punch cards can’t be motivating for kids. I’m just saying that they likely can’t add the structure you need to counteract all the novelty that is pouring into your class during chaotic times. Right.

So we want to pick a system strategically here that’s going to help us meet our goals. So as your class starts to tip more and more toward overwhelm in the coming weeks, consider how you can balance that chaos by introducing more structure. A class wide reward system that is visual and allows for both positive and negative consequences can support your students in being able to manage their choices in spite of the increased novelty.

Now it’s time for this week’s resource of the week. The reindeer games system. Our Reindeer Games behavior management system has a 15 page teacher guide, 20 suggested Reindeer Games rewards, and editable cards that you can choose your own rewards. Plus we’ve got some charts for listing choices. that earn reindeer and choices that lose reindeer, you’ll definitely want to do that when you’re first introduced the activity so everyone knows what the goal is here. And of course, it includes some darling festive reindeer cards in mini size as well as full sized. You get all of that for the low low price of $0. That’s right, our reindeer game system is free. To get your own copy head to the link in our show notes to sign up and get our reindeer games system for free.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week, we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is prepare your behavior rewards ahead of time. Heidi, tell us about this. So this episode is airing early enough in November, that you will hopefully have time to prepare whatever you want to use in December. Now that doesn’t mean on December 1, you need to deploy the reward system. In fact, I would recommend waiting to introduce it until your regular systems are starting to fail. You will know that moment when it happens.

But there’s no way of knowing which moment will be the moment when you need a little extra management support. So you want to have it ready ahead of time. And this is also true for the other times of the year when novelty starts to tip into overwhelm. I know when I left my sub plans, I like to leave some kind of behavior system like this because a sub just didn’t have the same skills or background with my kids that I had. That meant I could manage them. So having a sub related behavior plan, I think helped everyone totally.

And you also might want to plan to counteract the anticipation before any big break or a big holiday. We’ve already missed Halloween this year. But you could start thinking of a plan for next October. Now that you know how this Halloween went. I know I always found management at the end of the school year more of a challenge even than in December, which is saying a lot. Because you’re just so tired. So start now list the times of year when you typically want to pull out your hair. And maybe you’re a new teacher and you don’t know. So doctor, more veteran teacher. And then make a plan for how to add structure to your behavior plan at those times.

And bonus points if you can prepare your materials now. Your future self will be so grateful that you were so prepared for that moment when everything just started to fall apart. And the great thing is once you’ve prepared this, you can pull it out every year. Yeah, you’ll be set.

To wrap up the show we’re sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to this week? I am giving extra credit to the Hiccaway straw. And I know I have awarded of this extra credit for but it really deserves extra extra credit. So I got the hiccups the other night as you do right, and they were like the deep painful kind. I was in my room, I didn’t want to go back to where it was in the kitchen. So I just kind of like stalled for a little bit and then went and got the Hiccaway that you were kind enough to give me Emily. And it solved the problem right away. So I don’t know why I stood but I immediately ordered a second one that I can keep my bedroom. So the next time I get hiccups at night, I don’t have to check back to the kitchen. That is very smart. And we still use our straws all the time. We’ve used it just this week. And I had some people helping me organize my kitchen this week. And they were like, What is this straw? Magic. You have to get one. It does take some practice I had to like watch a video on YouTube before. Like you need to know the technique. Yeah, take some coordination. But then it works every time so good. Like how has humanity survived so long without this? With hiccups? That’s how well thank you for introducing me to Emily.

Emily, what’s your extra credit this week? I’m giving extra credit to Derry Girl. Season three the final season sadly just released on Netflix recently. And I have loved this show so much. It’s the story of four teenage girls and we English in 1990s Ireland where they attend a Catholic girls school. They end up in the most hilarious situations and the context of the conflict in Ireland at the time makes the show that much more compelling. And I have to be honest, I didn’t know a ton about that conflict. So it’s been eye opening and informative for me as well. Oh, same. But no description of the show could truly do it justice. It’s laugh out loud, funny, and it’s so full of heart. But just a little disclaimer if you’re sensitive to language, this might not be the show for you. Yeah, our mom can’t watch it. But if you like Ted Lasso, I think you’ll find this show delightful. I highly recommend watching it with subtitles if you want to be sure you catch all the very quick jokes and the thick accents. I think my favorite character is Sister Michael, their teacher. I love it because she just says all the stuff you wish you could say as a teacher. Yeah, she just really says. If you watch Derry Girls come and talk to us about it in our Facebook group. Yeah. And there’s only like, literally like 12 episodes. No 18. Yeah three seasons probably like 18 and 30 minutes each. Why did they do this?

That is it for today’s episode, consider using a behavior reward system in your classroom this holiday season. And don’t forget to pick up our free Reindeer Games System at the link in our show notes.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.