Positive Reinforcement as a Powerful Substitute Teaching Tool

How did you feel the last time someone told you, “Well done?” What went through your mind the last time someone you respected said your name with real affection and palpable pride in your accomplishments? You probably glowed. You probably felt more connected to the person who encouraged you. You likely wanted to keep doing more of the same to earn even more praise for your efforts. You might have been excited to find new ways to earn affirmation. You may have felt relieved of anxiety about not knowing what to do or if you belonged. Now, imagine getting the chance to make your students feel this way.

Positive reinforcement is powerful magic in any classroom. It is the foundation of exceptional student-teacher relationships. It is particularly important for substitute teachers to establish rapport with students as quickly as possible. Through a combination of clear directives, positive reinforcement and consistently setting students up to succeed, you will minimize challenging behaviors and maximize time spent learning.

You may be wondering what role positive reinforcement plays with students who push boundaries. “What if a student’s behavior is so poor that there’s nothing to praise?” you might be asking. It’s important to remember that the roots of all negative behavior are: discomfort, anxiety, sadness, frustration, disconnect, or any combination of these. They may stem from circumstances beyond your awareness and control. As a substitute teacher, this is your chance to make a difference in a scared student’s life. Be sure to reward even the most rudimentary good behavior: It might be as simple as remembering to raise their hand or staying quietly seated. A well-timed smile or nod can go a long way.

Positive reinforcement comes in infinite forms. Here are 3 potent ways to express praise for your students as a substitute teacher:

1. Say your students’ names often, especially to confirm a directive followed. “Everyone please open your books to page 10. I see John’s ready! Jane’s ready! Preston’s ready! Lila’s ready! Everyone’s ready!” When students hear their peers’ names attached to praise, they become eager to hear their own. As humans, we respond automatically and powerfully to this simple acknowledgment.

2. Physical contact speaks volumes. High-fives are amazing to keep students’ energy high, and there are so many variations: You can use fist bumps or create your own handshakes.

3. Grade papers flamboyantly. “A+++++++” may not be a “real grade” in the record book, but there’s no better way to let a student know that you recognize that they surpassed expectations by letting your plus signs go off the paper. Draw googly eyes with the zeros for every “100” earned. Add little cartoons, exclamation points, and praise words like “Beautiful!” For large assignments, write personalized notes commending students’ work and their character.

Abundant use of positive reinforcement is a key to success for any substitute teacher. Building strong bonds with students right off the bat is a magnetic quality that will keep schools calling you with just the right jobs once you’ve made the first connections. SubSidekick can help with that! Please contact us to get started.

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