When I first arrived at my school as the new Playworks Coach, I found that many students came to school tired and cranky, and were quick to fight, swear, cheat, and lie during recess games. However, there were some students who wanted to cooperate and participate, demonstrating respect, responsibility, inclusivity and healthy play.
I needed to find a way to help every student see the value in positive behavior, so I developed an incentive system, passing out tickets for those who made good choices and treated others kindly. Saying “good job, nice try,” giving high fives, inviting others to join games, and helping clean up were just a few ways students could earn a ticket. Tickets were deposited into a box for a weekly raffle. Over time, the kids realized that the more tickets they earned, the higher their chances were of being selected as the weekly winner. While this provided motivation for a lot of students, one student in particular was not interested.
Raul came from a difficult home and struggled both in the classroom and on the playground. He frequently cheated in games, didn’t communicate well with adults on the playground, and broke playground equipment out of frustration.
One day, I unexpectedly heard Raul encouraging another student in a game, earning himself a ticket. When I handed it to him, Raul was confused. He wasn’t used to positive recognition, and tried to give it back. But after the other kids weighed in, Raul put his ticket in the box.
I could typically predict the weekly winners, as the kids who had been extra positive and helpful in turn had the most tickets in the box. That week, with odds of nearly one in 100, my winner was Raul.
The kids who had gathered to see the drawing weren’t disappointed, but instead took off across the playground to tell Raul the good news. They congratulated him with screams of “you won” and celebratory hugs, all beaming with excitement. Raul was shocked, but then his face broke out into a huge smile and he started jumping with the rest of the kids. He chose his prize and walked a little taller the rest of the day.
After that day, the students began to see Raul differently. They realized he too was capable of making good decisions. The other students even made a point to encourage him, complimenting his strength, thanking him for his help, and inviting him to play. Later, when Raul’s good behavior earned him yet another ticket he told me, “I don’t need to win again, let the other kids try.”
With caring, consistent adult refused to give up on him, a creative incentive program, the open-minded and positive attitudes of his peers, and a little luck, Raul was able to see the value in showing a little kindness.