Positive Schools

Master Class (Day 2)

Main Stage (Day 1)


Helen Street

Rewards, Punishments & Motivation


MasterClass Presentation

‘A’ is for Average - rewards, punishments and intrinsic motivation - understanding the link between motivation and a love of learning



Helen Street Positive Schools Menatl Health and Wellbeing ConferenceThis presentation looks at the power of intrinsic motivation to build a love of life and of life long learning.  Students who are intrinsically motivated learn to embrace a multi faceted view of wellbeing that rises beyond ideas of immediate pleasure and positive emotion.  Intrinsically motivated students have a sense of ownership and control over their day to day choices. They are more engaged in life and more content than their extrinsically motivated peers.


Children don’t need to be given a reward for sitting down to watch a much anticipated movie, nor do they generally need paying to eat ice cream or chocolate.  These are activities that come with a built in reward, the immediate reward of positive emotion.  In contrast, teachers and parents often encourage less desirable activities with extrinsic rewards that offer the immediate positive emotion lacking in the task.  We give children chocolate and toys for contributing to house work, stickers for sitting quietly in class and grade ‘A’s for handing in well written reports.  However successful this type of extrinsic motivation may appear in the short term, it presents a number of significant barriers to a love of life long learning. 


Children who are continually motivated by the immediate positive emotion associated with extrinsic rewards tend to hold a limited one-dimensional idea of wellbeing. They may also feel punished when rewards are not forthcoming. Teachers are left handing out increasingly verbose praise until we have not only lowered the standards by which we judge our children; we have made sure that high marks are almost obligatory. ‘A’ becomes the first letter of average.


About Helen


Social psychologist and stress expert Dr Helen Street has worked extensively in Australian schools since 1999. Her work focuses on staff wellbeing, goal setteing and motivation and has been presented internationally in academic journals and in the popular media. Her work has been met with international acclaim and has been endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and ‘brown eyes blue eyes’ creator Jane Elliott, among many others. In addition to her academic role, Helen is an adjunct research consultant for the health department of WA's Centre for Clinical Interventions and co-chair for Positive Schools.  In 2011 Helen was awarded the title of Honorary Research Fellow with the School of Graduate Education at UWA. She was the show psychologist for Channel Ten’s ‘The Circle’ and is now a regular feature writer for Western Teacher. Helen’s latest book ‘Life Overload’ came out in 2011.




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