Tool #2

Create a List of Reinforcers and Personalize Choices for the Individual


There are two categories of reinforcers in the business sector but only one, for the most part, in education due to the funding structure and sources of revenues accessible to educators. They are tangible and social reinforcers. Again, in the business sector, it is recommended that 80 percent of reinforcers be social and only 20 percent tangible. But, in public schools and school districts funded by taxes, all reinforcers will be social.

 Aubrey C. Daniels and James E. Daniels, in Performance Management1 define each as follows:

Social Reinforcer: any consequence, verbal or symbolic, provided by one person to another that increases the frequency of the other person’s behavior; reinforcers that involve interaction between people. They may be verbal, written, or physical, e.g. hugs and kisses, (308.)

 Tangible Reinforcer: any object or activity with economic value that increases the frequency of a behavior when presented following that behavior e.g. money and plaques, (309).

 Note: Generally speaking, an item costing less than $5.00 could be considered a social reward. For example, the cost of a card, a mug, a polished rock or other trinket to place in a pocket or on a desk as a remembrance, a paper certificate and the like.

Choose Carefully

A specific consequence can be a reinforcer to one person but feel like a punishment to another. For example, public recognition can be special to one individual and cause another who finds being recognized in the front of the room or singled out in an audience by a member of the school board to be terribly uncomfortable and therefore punishing. In cases like that, a person may stop doing a desired behavior to avoid the recognition, while others may increase the desired behavior to not be left out on recognition day.

It is important when trying to shape desired behaviors that those to be reinforced for doing something identified as desired by the organization be provided a consequence that is, in fact, a reward and not a punishment. Therefore, it is imperative that the individual doing the reinforcing have the necessary information about each person to be reinforced to be able to target the appropriate recognition for achievement of desired actions.

 To obtain necessary the needed information for a successful reinforcement program try the following:

  • Using the organization’s professional team, or within a professional learning community, make a list of as many social reinforcers as can be collectively identified. At this point all possibilities are to be included on the list.
  • Create a survey using this list. Be sure that the name of each person completing the survey is included.
  • Include each potential reinforcer alphabetically with a scale of one to five next to each reinforcement example. One indicates that this particular example would be punishing to the individual receiving it and therefore stop the desired behavior and five is strongly reinforcing.
  • Analyze the data received. Make a record, by individual, of the intended social reinforcers that have been identified as punishers for that person. If a particular reinforcer has been identified as a punisher for some, then include options that create a menu of potential social rewards that will have positive meaning to everyone involved.
  • Budget for the social reinforcements identified. If the district or state has a policy that no tax funds can be used for any social recognition of staff, even coffee or tea and cookies, then how will the money be raised to pay for supplies such as paper for cards, certificates, a mug, rock or medallion for one’s pocket and the like for these purposes? There is always an ethical way!
1 Daniels, A. C. & Daniels, J. E. (2004). Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness. Atlanta, GA: Aubrey Daniels International, Inc.

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