What's a Brag Tag?
Brag tags hit the world of teaching a few years ago. Although the concept, providing students with a token for doing something, wasn’t anything new, they were redesigned and better than ever. I was teaching second-grade and kept getting passive-aggressive feedback about how my teaching wasn’t cute. When I switched grade levels, I decided to become a cute teacher, and I hated it! 😂It’s just not my style.
Here are a few examples of Brag Tags I handed out in my classroom. Of course, I purchased a few bundles from TPT, but in true Natasha fashion, I ended up making my own to fit the needs of my class better.
What's the Problem?
I know there are many brag tag lovers, and in the short term, they work beautifully. My assistant teacher and I handed them out and praised students and felt like we were building such a little positive community. What we were doing was bribing kids into good behavior. Now, I am not above a bit of bribe now and then. 😉Sometimes you need kids to behave in the short term, let’s say during a special event, and it works. But I don’t show up to school every day focused on the short-term. I am focused on assisting in the development of awesome little humans for the long haul.
I'm Bad at Passing Stuff Out
After the beginning of the year, when the joy of our brag tags was wearing off, I started to forget to pass any out. See, our class had already learned expected behaviors, and they were following them without anything. I didn’t need to give hundreds of reminders to sit at the carpet or not touch people in line. They were doing it, just as I expected they would. I found that when kids are following expectations, I don’t think much about behavior, and I would forget to pass them out. I quickly realized if you don’t need the bribe a few weeks into the school year, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. Sometimes as teachers, we set up scaffolds that our students don’t need! This was one scaffold that I thought students needed, but they didn’t.
They Wanted to Barter
While most students were content to follow expectations and pitch in for the greater good of our community, some wanted rewards for everything they did. I had a few students coming to me all day long, sharing all of the things they had done that they felt earned them a brag tag. This was a side effect that I didn’t want! The goal of using brag tags wasn’t to have students only do good things if they got something for it in return. I had to make a rule that if you ask for a brag tag or share the good stuff you did hoping to get a brag tag, you wouldn’t get it. To earn one, my assistant teacher and I had to notice it all on our own, so you never knew when you were going to get one. I had to restate that rule over and over again.
Coming to a Slow Stop
Gradually, over the first quarter, I started handing out brag tags less and less until I completely stopped. My assistant teacher and I would remind each other to pass them out, and we wouldn’t. Then students would say comments like, “Wow! No one has gotten a brag tag in a long time.” My assistant teacher and I would make eye contact across the classroom 😳, and we’d carry on. We would go long periods without handing any out because they didn’t need them.
We’d eventually have a conversation with our class explaining that we didn’t need brag tags, and we would only hand them out on special occasions. The students understood. Brag tags were like training wheels on a bike. We used to need them, and now we didn’t- except, did we ever actually need them?
How DO They Behave Without a Reward?
But Natasha, how do they behave if there isn’t a reward? Honestly, sometimes, they don’t! Listen, I am not saying it is easy in the least to get students to follow expectations. I haven’t used brag tags at all this year. I work in a school that believes in investing in students for the long term, so we don’t use short term supports like extrinsic behavior motivators on a regular basis. I’m currently in a book study for Classroom Management Matters, and in the first or second chapter, it discusses extrinsic rewards. I fully admitted in our conversations that sometimes I want to give in and provide extrinsic rewards because it does work short term, and it’s easy. We discuss expectations at the start of the year and revisit them all the time.
What I do Know
I don’t have things figured out entirely, and I don’t know if anyone does. What I do know is that Brag Tags aren’t for me. I would rather put in the exhausting work to create students who can self-regulate without bribes and rewards. Some days I am confident in this choice and other days not so much!
What’s your experience with brag tags been? Any advice to share about non-reward based experiences?