Note: This is the first of a series of posts on “Super Hero” teachers, and what it might take for anyone to become a super hero for students. The full piece was written, under the same title, as a part of a group of commentaries on “Leverage Points for Improving Teacher Effectiveness” for The Wing Institute 2013 Summit. Summit participants (educators, policy thinkers, researchers, and professors from across the U.S.) met for two sunny days in beautiful Berkeley, CA to grapple with the questions:  “What are effective teaching strategies?” “How can we best assess teacher performance?” and “How can we best teach / support these skills?”
The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers represents my thoughts on these questions. Look for all the super powers in the days to come. Enjoy, and even better, be a Super Hero.

The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers

Superheroes…, those larger than life beings with special powers who beat tremendous odds to make great things happen, saving the world along the way. We love our superheroes and their extraordinary ability to help individuals, all of us, live a better life in a better world.

We seem to need more superheroes. In fact, all around us are many superheroes, in the form of teachers and those who work with kids and schools, making the world a better place. We can call them Superhero Teachers. For some, what’s missing from being a Superhero Teacher are a handful of special powers, distinct skills and techniques that can overcome the odds and save the day. I believe there are 7 Superhero Powers that any educator can learn and use that can and will reduce mediocrity and school failure. Imagine a world where every child comes to school eager to learn, able to learn, with teachers eager and able to teach. That’s the kind of world Superhero Teachers with these special powers can create. So what are the 7 habits of Superhero Teachers?

Superpower 1: High Rates of Real Reinforcement

The single most effective thing a Superhero Teacher can do to increase learning and motivation is to reinforce it. Reinforcement is considered the most important principle of behavior and a key component of behavior change. It is the process by which behavior is strengthened when followed closely in time by a stimulus or event, such as increased assignment completion when a teacher shows attentiveness and praises completed assignments (in this example attention and approval are reinforcers). Praise, smiles, a pat on the back, public acknowledgement, points and tokens, and free time or access to preferred activities are common, but not the only, forms of reinforcement in most classrooms. Reinforcers differ for different people; Superhero Teachers are always on the lookout for what is currently reinforcing to their students. The most important thing to remember is to reinforce early and often, “catching them being good” by paying attention to the behavior you want to see more often.

What is the evidence base?
Numerous studies have shown positive reinforcement to be extremely effective for both academic and social behaviors (Cameron & Pierce, 1994), for students with and without disabilities and those at risk for school failure (see Barrish, Saunder, Wolfe, 1969). Conroy et al. (2009) found that teacher use of reinforcement can improve the classroom environment and increase positive interactions with students, especially when made into a game-like format, like the Good Behavior Game (Barrish, Saunders, & Wolf, 1969). Risley (2005) following a review of early studies of social attention as a reinforcer stated “social reinforcement…has become the core of most American advice and training for parents and teachers—making this arguably the most influential discovery of modern psychology (p. 280).

Why is High Rates of Real Reinforcement a superpower?
Because it’s the quickest easiest way to get more of what we want and what is needed in teaching in learning, from more correct answers and critical thinking, to more pro-social behavior and citizenship. If you want more of something, reinforce it. It’s that simple.

Where can I get more “how to” information?

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Learning disabilities and challenging behaviors: A guide to intervention and classroom management (Mather & Goldstein, 2001)

The next super power? Effective Planned Ignoring


Barrish, H.H., Saunders, M., & Wolfe, M.M. (1969). Good Behavior Game. Effects of individual contingencies for group consequences and disruptive behavior in the classroom. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 2, 119-124.
Cameron, J. & Pierce, W.D. (1994). Reinforcement, reward, and intrinsic motivation: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64(3), 363-423.
Conroy, M. A., Sutherland, K. S., Snyder, A., Al-Hendawi, M., & Vo, A. (2009). Creating a Positive Classroom Atmosphere: Teachers’ Use of Effective Praise and Feedback. Beyond Behavior, 18(2), 18-26.
Mather, N. & Goldstein, S. (2001). Learning disabilities and challenging behaviors: A guide to intervention and classroom management. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
Risley, T. (2005). Montrose M. Wolf. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38, 279–287


2 thoughts on “The 7 Habits of Super Hero Teachers (Superpower 1)

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