We’ve all heard a lot about positive and negative attention and positive and negative reinforcement. It basically boils down to: punish the bad behavior, reward the good behavior. But punishing kids isn’t always effective and sometimes a gold star just isn’t enough. And, with the amount of high fructose corn syrup laced in everything, not to mention all the allergies these days, it’s not like you can reward kids with food!
Let’s be honest. Theater, acting, music, choir and enrichment activities like these are non-essentials. If these programs are integrated into the school curriculum, they are usually not graded or weighted on the same level as say, Math or English. In most schools, these are not graduation requirements and good grades in these subjects are not necessary in order to pass to the next grade level.
Most of the time, these are classes that are offered outside the school core requirements and, indeed, outside school hours. So inevitably, you will find that kids don’t feel that the “school rules” apply. In some cases, parents take advantage of after school enrichment programs because they know that their child will be supervised until they get home from work and not because their child has a dedicated interest in theater. In these cases, you may not be able to count on support from parents with regard to behavior issues.
In any event, what can you do?
My favorite behavior management tool is awarding student certificates. I tell my class that I intend to give drama awards to 1-2 students every time we meet. (I call them drama awards, you can call them whatever you like). In our first meeting, we discuss the expectations while we’re working together — good choices and bad choices in performance, behavior, team-work, respect, kindness and effort. At the second class, I give out two awards (sometimes more, sometimes less depending upon who and what I wish to call attention to). I begin each class saying “before we start what I have planned for today, I have to recognized two students.” Before I even say the students’ names, I say what I observed of their performance/behavior in the previous rehearsal and then I call upon the students, give them certificates and have the class clap for them. A few days of this and the kids will be eager to gather around and get started. They will begin to hope for recognition and behave accordingly.
If you’re worried right away that your class will have behavior issues, I would begin using the certificates as early as the first class. If you get half way though a class or rehearsal schedule and you see that your cast is getting out of hand or needs a little jolt to their morale, the certificates will still be effective. I’ve even gotten to the last class or the end of a production schedule and distributed these awards as part of a closing ceremony. Either way, parents love this because they are glad to see their child being recognized for their unique contribution, kids love this because it makes them feel special, you’ll love it because you’ll have them eating out of your hand!