3 Keys to Creating a Successful, Positive Behavior System

Hand stamps? Class charts? Treasure boxes? Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth about the idea of using positive behavior systems. I’ve gone all out some years, while other years, I’ve done absolutely nothing in the way of rewards or tracking. Last year, I decided to seek some advice from more seasoned educators and from an administrator I really respect. These conversations, combined with an obsessive scan of Pinterest helped me to develop this checklist for making positive behavior systems that really work.


1. Use Meaningful Motivators

Children aren’t hard-wired with intrinsic motivation. We need to teach them these skills. I use experiential rather than physical rewards. Things like free draw days, artist choices, or candle light lunches are much more meaningful than throwaway trinkets. In particular, I found”Modeling Clay Day” to be super popular with all age levels!

2. Set High Expectations.

I struggle with rewarding students for behavior that just meets expectations. Instead, think about giving rewards when classes meet goals they set for themselves over time, or reward behavior that exceeds expectations. Define behaviors and positive consequences just as explicitly as you would define consequences of negative behaviors.

3. Strive for Complete Consistency

You may find the need to tweak your system here and there, but work hard to apply it with total consistency. It cannot be effective if students have to guess how the rewards work in different situations. If changes need to be made, consult with your students and make the new expectations clear.

No matter what kind of positive behavior program you implement this year, as long as you consider these three key components, your efforts will be met with success.

Do you think it’s right to reward students for positive behavior?

Do you have an effective system to share?

What rewards have you found to work best for the grade levels you teach? We’d love to know. 

Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Michele Gorham

    I use A.R.T. and out school uses PBIS. Our school has a store full of tangibles and intangibles that students can buy with PBIS points. I personally do not put anything in the store since I want students to earn art rewards in the art room. Instead I use creative coupons (students can choose PBIS point instead though). Students can earn them for following the art room expectations and ART (A=Awesome Artist, R-Reminder, T=Timeout). I give verbal reminders – not a fan of charts that all can see. This system is also in my attendance binder and that is how I keep track. At the end of class students get creative coupons or PBIS point for exceeding expectations. Coupons can be saved and spent on their own time for 1-free draw, 2-free paint or art games on PC, 3-Raid the supply and scrap cabinet 4- Make a crayon 5- Make a clay project. My classroom teachers are very welcoming of this program and work with me on scheduling time for students to come down. Students enjoy having extra time to create and plan on how many art classes they have to be good in to get to make something on the pottery wheel or with clay. I’ve done lots of tweaking with this program to keep track of behavior-popsicle sticks, chart on smartboard, list on board, but find that complementing the behaviors of well behaved students works just as well. This year I am going to experiment with Classroom DoJo and try that for a tracking device.

  • Lisa

    I think having a reward for outstanding performance is absolutely a great idea. I don’t think it needs to be food or trinkets though. My students only earn rewards as a class – not individually. I really stress daily how important team work is in LIFE, regardless of how well we get along. Also how our actions cause consequences not only for ourselves but they also effect others. I do art awards at the end of the year for any individuals who have REALLY wowed me.
    I use A-R-T on the board. If I remove the A, it’s a warning. I remove the R and they have 5 minutes no talking. I usually do this step non-verbally. I start the time once they have quieted themselves. If I have to remove the T, then the entire class spends the rest of art time working in silence. Usually if this happens, its only one or two tables who are being the loudest and most disrespectful so I will have those tables stop making art, clean up, and write an apology letter to the principal. This RARELY happens because they don’t want that consequence!
    For positive reinforcement – Each class earns 1 point for each letter they have on the board at the end. If it still says ART – they get three points, RT: 2pts, and so on. At the end of each trimester, the class with the most points in each grade earns an art party. If there is a tie – that’s ok! They both earn it. I let them come up with a few ideas, then we vote. Usually they choose a modeling clay day, or to bring in the laptops to play art games or Sketch Up. Occasionally I’ll have a class that would rather watch an art-related video (I play appropriate episodes of Brain Games – like the one on perspective – they love it!).
    I also tell the classroom teachers if their class was great or if it went poorly, so their teacher can use his/her own methods accordingly. Because the class gets either rewarded or penalized twice makes them more apt to choose the right path. So far, so good!