Monday, November 14, 2011
Accentuating the Positive
The lyrics of an upbeat Johnny Mercer tune from the 1940s advised us to "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don't mess with Mr. In-between." Those lyrics came to mind last week when I asked a sixth grade friend of mine how school was going. "Great," he bubbled, "I didn't pull one ticket last week." That was good news, since, at his school, tickets are given for misbehavior and three tickets buy you a detention.
An hour later I was talking with my daughter.
"How are the kids doing in school?'
"Well, Noah got a 'tiger ticket'."
"Oh, no. What did he do?" (Noah is in kindergarten.)
"No, Dad. Tiger tickets are a reward for good behavior. There are three copies: one for the pupil, one for the teacher, and one goes to the principal. As they mount up, they give the student more chances to win prizes later in the year." Noah had solved a conflict with a classmate in a constructive way.
The juxtaposition of these two episodes on the same day from two different schools reminded me of my days teaching Psychology 101. There's solid research to support the idea that positive reinforcement in most instances works better than negative.
Last week was not a good week in this country for children. It seemed that every day brought another piece of national news that was devastating for a child or a group of children. It was easy to get angry and lash out and I started to do that. Then I remembered Libby's comment, "Noah got a 'tiger ticket'," and I decided then and there that I was going to do what Mercer had crooned about: Accentuate the positive. It doesn't have to mean sappy indifference to the disgraceful, sometimes felonious, attacks on children, but it does mean that I'm not going to forget that in the midst of this carnage, there are dedicated teachers giving tiger tickets for good behavior.