How can young people give and receive feedback? "Bucks System" Q&A


How can young people learn to give and receive feedback?

How can they set norms and hold each other accountable?

To that end, in our Middle school we use a “Bucks System.” It’s not perfect, but it definitely provides learners with many opportunities to develop one of our key graduate aims—Learning to Live Together.

Below are some questions asked by some of our Forest School parents, along with responses from our cofounders and Guides… read on!

Q: What is the bucks system?

The bucks system is a lever of peer-accountability that was created and is maintained by learners. Heroes earn “bucks”—not actual dollars but rather a form of virtual currency that has no monetary value except for within our Studio—by working hard and being recognized for encouraging words, kind acts, and going above and beyond to clean the studio. Heroes may be asked a buck from a fellow hero for breaking the contract, causing distraction, or failing to perform their studio maintenance job.

Q: What do you think the bucks system does well to create and maintain a safe and uplifting environment for learners to be in?

A: It's a mechanism for giving and receiving feedback. It's a lever for holding others accountable to the promises they made to one another. It requires critical thinking in that learners have to analyze and categorize conduct and their responses. With the appeal factor, it allows learners to experience checks and balances. It's an individual, extrinsic motivator for learning, which is key for our model (which has a set of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at both the individual and group level).

Specifically, the bucks system empowers heroes to hold each other accountable in keeping the Studio clean, maintaining Rules of Engagement in launches, and minimizing distractions in Core Skills. The system seems to really help in these areas and that is where it is been missed by heroes, even this week. The other main category of feedback within the bucks system has to do with interpersonal offenses (rude words, acts of unkindness). This use of the system has caused the most tension in the Studio as heroes have different thresholds for what qualifies as rude or unkind. This has led to the Council having to arbitrate a lot of petty offenses. 

Q: Where does it fall short?

A: It is difficult for learners who struggle with self-regulation. It is, at least before the appeal process, subjective. It's imperfect and has unintended consequences. We think the system is a  good lever for heroes to have, but it shouldn't be the only one, especially in interpersonal conflicts. We hope that heroes will utilize our "conflict resolution" process more than resort to buck asks for lingering personal rifts.

Q: How does it measure up to your own vision of how you think it could or should work?

A: Thus far it has measured up to our expectations just fine because (1) we believe the buck and strike system the learners set up is a safe one (we keep a close eye on this), and (2) we see them iterating the system to make it better. Both were goals of ours. More broadly, I want to connect the bucks system to our graduate aims...

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(cont.) If you think of self-governance as its own set of learning experiences (including the bucks system, Contract, Council, etc etc), which of the above learner outcomes is self--governance designed to cultivate in learners? We think the self-governance learning experiences are designed to cultivate: Learning to Be qualities like self-awareness and motivation; Learning to Do qualities like communication and goal setting; Learning to Learn qualities of Critical thinking and social studies; and lastly Learning to Live Together qualities like collaboration, empathy, trust, and intercultural competence. Our self-governance model is unique in that it is designed to cultivate *so many* learner outcomes at once. Other learning experiences, like Civilization or Storytelling, are designed to cultivate a much smaller set of learner outcomes (like social studies, language arts, communication, and a few others). 

The learners can use the bucks system or not. I'm not sure if you're aware, but the learners can also propose and implement new systems. We're curious if they will or won't moving forward. 

Q: From our limited perspective, we’ve seen more of the downsides – distractions, time focused on ask for bucks and appeals, frustrations, among others – what is your perspective?

A: We would argue that the "distractions" are in fact the learning. Is this worth a buck? For what reasons? Do I ask for a buck? How? What will be the consequences? What will be required of me?

These and more are key questions that don't "get in the way" of work to do at the school...they *are* the work. When we were in high school, we could get an A in math and be unkind. But not at The Forest School. We live in an age when Learning to Live Together is just as important as mastering the traditional academic disciplines of math, english, science, history, etc. Frankly we get excited when learners have to sort out bucks because it's rich learning. If our learners were "behind", then we would be concerned about time spent on the bucks system. But most of our learners are "ahead" on their badge plans. For us it's a win win that they can focus at once on Learning to Do, Be, Learn, and Live together.

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Tyler Thigpen