Delegating Authority and Rewarding Good Behavior
By Jill Jenkins
Every day I walk my dogs, Rufus and Bubba, behind an elementary school near my house just at morning recess. The children are busy running in circles, climbing on the equipment and playing ball. When the bell rings, they drop their balls and run to line up leaving the lawn littered with balls, coats and bicycles. Are these students learning to be responsible? Completing a task from the beginning to the end is an essential skill to becoming a successful adult; however, 41 percent of the college freshmen will never complete a degree (National Center for Educational Statistics). Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.1 million hires in October, but there were 4.8 million persons who left their job (“Job Opening and Labor Turnover Statistics”). To become a successful adult, students need to learn to complete tasks. Shouldn’t teachers be teaching their students to complete what they start? How should we teach students to be responsible?
There is a simple solution for the teachers at the elementary school near my house: delegate authority. If your students sit at tables, appoint one student as playground equipment monitor. These monitors are equipped with a clipboard with a list of their team names and a box of balls, jump ropes or whatever equipment your class needs for recess. As students select their equipment, the monitor records the item.. At the end of recess, each student collects his items, returns them to their monitor to be checked off. If a student fails to return his equipment, he is required to retrieve it. The first group that successfully collects all of equipment is rewarded by being the first group to line up for lunch. This means at the end of recess all of the equipment are safely returned to the class. The students learn to be responsible for their own equipment, and they learn to be a leader (as the job of playground equipment monitor is rotated through the group). The school saves money of purchasing new playground equipment every year. Everyone wins.
This same procedure can be applied to problem of “No Name Papers” if you teach in a middle school or a high school. When I began teaching I used to pass out papers, and when I came to the ‘No Name Papers,” I would announce, “These were the students who cared so little for their work that they hadn’t even bothered to put their name on their assignment.” Then I would rip the papers in half and deposit them in the garbage can. All of the students who had not put their name on their paper would scurry to the trash can, retrieve them and try to tape them back together so they could resubmit them for credit. I was a called into the principal’s office and read the “riot act” because parents had complained that I was treating their children too harshly. As a result, I began hanging all of the “No Name Papers” on the bulletin board. What I discovered was that students who already had credit for an assignment were identifying papers as theirs and trying to double-dip on credit. Disgusted by their lack of honesty, I invented a third way: I delegated. I arranged my room into small groups of students and assigned one student to be “the line leader.” The “line leader's” responsibilities included collecting the three or four members’ papers and checking for names. If a paper had no name, it was his/her job to ask that student to write his name on his paper, because “Friends don’t let friends turn in No Name Papers.” They put their papers into a folder and I collected the ten folders from the line leaders. When I corrected the papers, I put them back into the same folder. This meant that instead of handing out 40 separate papers, I passed back ten folders to the line leaders who distributed the papers to their group. This dramatically decreased the number of No Name Papers and made distributing handouts, and corrected papers less time consuming. That means more time for instruction which is a more effective use of time. Everyone wins.
One of my fellow teachers suggested we take it a step further and use the method to increase learning. We were teaching Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Each student had a novel checked out to him, but many would not bring them to class, participate in discussion or complete any of the in class or at home reading. We called each group of students to a ship. The members of each group had to elect a captain, name their ship and color a picture of their ship recording the names of the group on the ships’ illustration. Each day, the captain of the ship would determine if each member of his crew had his/her book. If each student was prepared with his book, the captain was rewarded with a self-adhesive jewel that I had purchased at Oriental Trading Company that he adhered to his ship picture. Each day the student would be given a short five to six question quiz on the assigned reading. After we corrected the quizzes in class, the captain collected them in his manila folder. If every member of his crew had correctly answered all of the questions, the captain was rewarded with another self-adhesive jewel to adhere to his ship. At the end of the unit, the three ninth grade teachers threw a party for all of the ninth grade students. All of the teachers and students dressed like pirates and played games, ate popcorn and drank lemonade. The students in each “ship” who had the most adhesive jewels on their ship for that class period were invited to the Treasure Chest to select a prize from the pirates’ treasure. The pirate chest and treasure also came from Oriental Trading Company. The treasure not only included plastic toys, but also lollipops. As a result more students came prepared and the test scores were amazing because the rewards were small, but frequent.
Delegating small positions of authority to students teaches them to accept responsibility, it creates a feeling of community between students and it improves their leaning. Rewarding them for successful completing these small tasks will help them associate a positive feeling with responsible acts. Students care what their peers think of them. They don’t want to let their friends down. Use that to help students accept responsibility whether it is picking up their recess balls, writing their names on their assignments, bringing their books to class, or doing well on quizzes.