Keeping students motivated to do their best is one of the biggest challenges that many schools face. Performing well in school is one of the best predictors of long-term success, so helping your students find ways to try harder is also one of the most important ways you will impact their education. While there are an increasing number of schools that are trying out incentive programs to help encourage good grades, attendance, and participation, many of these methods are not as effective as you might imagine.
For years, schools have rewarded students who have done well in their classrooms with food (pizza parties, candy jars, and cake) as a way to celebrate group or individual achievements have long been a mainstay of schools. However, the increased focus on children’s health has brought the idea of food as a reward under fire from parents and health organizations who point out that linking a sense of achievement to junk food is a prime factor in the obesity epidemic. Between parental outcry and increased scrutiny from school boards and administrators, many teachers have done away with this method of rewarding students’ positive behavior.
Another method that has drawn controversy is the use of cash rewards to encourage older students to get good grades. While many parents have used this technique in the past, the simple problem is that these programs are a financial burden on already struggling school districts. Additionally, students who are rewarded with cash often miss out on the goal of incentive programs (rather than learning to achieve in order to build self-esteem and pride in a job well done, students attach success to money), a strategy that can backfire if programs are changed or eliminated.
Programs that are designed to encourage students to succeed simply because they want to do well in school are the gold standard in incentive programs. This strategy can take many forms, ranging from programs that recognize students in a newsletter or newspaper to those that offer students the opportunity to be recognized at an awards assembly in front of their peers.
Children are often motivated by the idea of being recognized in some tangible way for their efforts. Having long been a part of high school extra curricular activities, the idea of “lettering” or earning an award pin to demonstrate achievement in a particular area has been one of the most cherished educational achievement programs. The idea is that students will be motivated to achieve by earning the opportunity to wear their success as a literal “badge of honor”.
Award pins are a simple way to let students show off their achievements. Giving lapel pins at a school assembly (preferably one where parents are encouraged to attend) is a simple way to tell your students that you are proud of their efforts. Students can then wear their award pins as a way to let others know how much they have achieved (a powerful motivator for kids). Sometimes, the best way to encourage your students doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, it just has to be a small token that shows them you are proud of all they have done.