The Power of the Positive Office Referral

by Beth Houf

You are summoned to the principal’s office. No matter if you are a student, teacher or parent, you typically have the same reaction. Fear! As a school leader, I have worked hard over the past several years to help take this negative stigma away from these visits. One practice that has helped to make the shift is the implementation of the positive office referral. We started using these with our students four years ago. The goal is to recognize our students for going above and beyond with our school expectations by sending them to the office…for a good reason. We’ve found at our school when we focus on the positive happening instead of just getting hung up on the negative, amazing things happen. When positive referrals go up, negative referrals go down.


We’ve committed as a staff to writing one positive referral per day. We feel strongly that we can find at least one student going above and beyond each day. We use the following paper
form, fill it out and send the student to the assistant principal’s office. Students can also refer peers with positive referrals. Our bus drivers utilize the same practice as well. WOW! Driving a bus and finding time to celebrate students…so amazing!Our Process at FMS

  1. When the student gets to the office, they are celebrated with a high five, impromptu dancing and excitement by administrators or the office staff. Students then call or email parents or someone special to them about why they are in the office.

  2. Our students earn Hornet Bucks for positive referrals (much like a bonus for a job done above and beyond). These can be used in our school store, The Thrive Hive (items included needs and wants) as well as toward House Points for our House Cup.

  3. Students hang up referrals on our FMS Brag Board. These are displayed for a week and then sent home.

  4. We log all the positive referrals into our student information system. This helps us to check to see which students aren’t being referred as well as to monitor our goal of 4:1 positive to negative referrals.

Lessons Learned:

  • Avoid competitions between staff. This causes animosity as well as a pile up of referrals that aren’t sincere. Instead, we have individual conversations with staff that aren’t taking time to write referrals as well as shout out those that are fulfilling our collective commitment.

  • If a leader isn’t in the office, the referral is left and then the student is called down at a later time. We want to be sure that at least one administrator has the chance to celebrate with the student.

  • Take time to share the data and celebrate accomplishments!

  • There is nothing better after a stressful day in leadership land to the excitement of a student ready to showcase their amazingness! One of the best parts of the day for sure!

As learning leaders in the building we work hard to also model what we expect by committing to write positive “referrals” for staff each day. These are notes of genuine appreciation for the outstanding work done by the adults in our building. We also write student referrals as well, but we know that the first step to putting students first is to support, motivate and inspire the adults that teach them each day.  Want to get positive referrals going in your building? Feel free to reach out and we would be happy to help get you started!

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