An academically rigorous school is using positive behavior reinforcement to develop outstanding students.

It almost goes without saying that middle school can be an emotionally trying time for many students. But the middle school years can also be considered formative years, where character traits can be molded and model citizens can be formed. That’s what essentially has kept Technology Resource Teacher Jennifer Brown at Walker Middle Magnet School in the Tampa-area town of Odessa, FL for the last 13 years.

Walker Middle Magnet is an International Baccalaureate© (IB) school that serves students in grades six, seven, and eight. And character-building is a core component of the IB program. Known for rigorous academics and a focus on “Whole Child” development, IB for students, like other challenging magnet programs, comes with high expectations.

Those high expectations can take a toll when middle schoolers are facing the exceptional social and academic pressures that are par for the course during those years. (Add in the facts that Walker Middle Magnet’s students are a diverse group and many spend hours on buses commuting to/from school from all over the county.) But at Walker Middle Magnet, Jennifer Brown has found a way to balance what IB asks of her students and their social and emotional needs.

IB curriculum tasks educators with cultivating a distinctive set of “learner” qualities in students. These include Open-Mindedness, Risk-Taking, Reflection, and being Inquirers and Balanced, among others. To help develop these character traits in their students, Brown and colleagues turn to HeroRise. As a tool for reinforcing certain student behavior, HeroRise is used at Walker Middle Magnet to recognize students any time they display behavior that demonstrates IB Learner Traits.

Recognition comes from teachers, administrators, and staff in the form of Hero points, or “wolf bucks” as they’re called at Walker Middle Magnet. The wolf bucks point system serves a few purposes. It first creates physical incentives for positive student behavior: bucks can be redeemed for special privileges, like lunch with friends on an outdoor patio or in a VIP gameroom. (The outdoor patio lunch has been very popular given that students normally have to sit with their homeroom during lunch.) Students can also exchange bucks for a non-uniform pass or earbuds and other goodies at the school store. There are also quarterly raffles for top student earners.

Physical rewards aside, the points are also a powerful emotional tool. “It doesn’t matter how old they are, our students are still kids who really want you to be proud of them,” Brown explains. By opening up more avenues for affirmation, Hero can be a way to gently reassure students (even in high-stress environments) that they’re doing okay.

Having this positive behavior plan and recognizing positive behaviors in Hero helps students focus on what we’re asking them to do,”– says Brown.


Graph caption: Walker Middle Magnet has seen IB character traits grow rapidly on campus

“Our Hero program has given us more ways to work with our students,” says Brown, stressing that parent engagement has helped program success. At Walker Middle Magnet, teachers are using Hero to spread positive behavior reinforcement conversations outside of school walls by showing families how their students have been demonstrating the IB traits.

Back on campus, Brown believes Hero has had a positive impact on the school’s IB program and its overall culture. Fewer referrals are being written, and she attributes this to the school culture shift Hero has facilitated. Brown can see positive behavior spreading in her Hero data, but she can also feel it in the positive atmosphere and culture that’s taken over her school.