Whole Class Reward Systems: When Students Don’t Buy In


Whole class reward systems are a great way to help students work toward a common behavior goal while building community.  However, it’s not uncommon for one or two students to test the limits of this system. At times it might even seem like deliberate sabotage of the reward system.  If this sounds familiar, keep reading! I'm going to share some thoughts about why this might be happening and what you can do to improve student buy-in for your whole class rewards.

Whole-Class Reward Systems - How to Improve Buy-In

Why Aren’t Students Buying Into Whole Class Reward Systems?

The most important thing to keep in mind when we discuss student buy-in for reward systems is that every child is unique.  I’m going to share a few thoughts about why, in my experience, students don’t buy into whole-class reward systems. My goal is to provide you with some food for thought as you look for ways to support the individual students in your classroom.

With that said, here are a few reasons why students might not be motivated by whole-class rewards:


If the class behavior goal is too lofty or too broad, the student might just be overwhelmed by the expectations.  He or she might feel like it’s impossible to help the class earn part of the reward, so it’s pointless to try.

Prior Experience 

It doesn’t take long for students to see patterns in their prior experiences.  Often, the same few students are recognized for working toward the class goal. With this prior experience, some students won’t feel like their behavior matters one way or the other.


What happens when students don’t feel like they are being noticed for their efforts?  They often try to gain the attention of their teacher and peers in other, less desirable, ways! Acting out and misbehaving can provide the attention a child is seeking.

Behavior Support Needs

This is one of the most important things to consider when a student is not motivated to participate in a whole-class reward.  There could be certain self-regulation skills and strategies that the student needs to learn in order to maintain expected behavior in the classroom. In this case, it’s important for the student to have a more individualized behavior support plan.

Butterfly themed build-a-reward system

4 Ways to Improve Buy-In for Whole Class Reward Systems

Now that we’ve talked a bit about why students might not be motivated by whole class reward systems, let’s move on to how you can improve student buy-in!

1. Focus on One Behavior

One of the best things you can do for student buy-in is to focus on one behavior at a time.  Your whole-class behavior goal should be specific and measurable whenever possible.  Students should be able to understand what the expected behavior looks, sounds, and feels like so that they can replicate it. 

Caterpillar build a reward system

By focusing on one specific behavior, you are more likely to find those less-motivated students exhibiting the target behavior at some point during the day.  For example, it might be more difficult to catch those particular students exhibiting a broad goal like “be good.” It would be much easier to catch them sitting in their chairs for a goal such as “stay in our seats.”

2. Identify One Student for Exhibiting the Behavior

Another way to improve student buy-in is to recognize individual students for exhibiting the target behavior.  Don’t wait for the entire class to exhibit the target behavior at the same time! This puts the power into the hands of students who haven’t bought into the whole-class reward quite yet. 

Fish bowl whole-class reward system

After identifying individual students for exhibiting the behavior, they can choose the piece of the build-a-reward system that they would like to put in place.  Be specific about what each student did to help the class earn a piece of the reward. Doing this allows students to see even more examples of the target behavior.  This can see different ways to meet the goal. Plus, it can motivate them to exhibit the target behavior so they can also earn a piece of the reward for the class.

3. Give Every Student a Chance to Succeed

As I mentioned before, one difficulty with whole-class rewards is that the same few students typically get recognized.  It’s essential that a whole-class reward system is representative of the entire group of students. This means that you might need to identify one or two students that you will keep a close eye on during the day in order to see them exhibiting the target behavior. When students see that it is more than just the same five students helping the class earn the reward, they are more likely to buy in.

4. Supplement with Individual Rewards

Even after trying all of the above tips, you will probably have students who aren't very motivated by the whole class reward system. These students might benefit from individual reward systems that target specific behaviors and skills that they need to work on.  You can definitely use individual rewards, like sticker charts, along with whole-class reward systems!

Fall themed individual sticker charts

More Tips for Whole Class Reward Systems

Are you looking for more tips for implementing a whole class reward system? Check out this video with tips for getting students motivated with whole-class rewards!

Printable Whole Class Reward Systems

I have created a mega bundle of classroom management systems (including whole class reward systems) that will keep your students motivated to work toward classroom behavior goals!  The large variety of resources includes a full year’s worth of build-a-reward incentives, puzzle rewards that are great for substitute teachers, and sticker charts to support individual students.

You can find this mega bundle of reward systems in the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop and on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Click below to take a closer look at everything included in this resource!

Kindergarten Classroom Management - Behavior Tools, Visual Supports, Communication Tools

Save These Whole Class Reward Ideas and Tips

I hope these tips will help you implement a whole class reward system in your classroom. Be sure to add this pin to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest.  You’ll be able to quickly find this post whenever you need ideas for whole-class rewards!

How to improve student buy-in for whole-class reward systems


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