By Andrew Hawk
When it comes to professional development and the subject matter for books, methods for managing student behavior get a lot of attention. Chances are, somewhere today a college professor is telling a class of teaching candidates that learning cannot take place without adequate classroom management. With all the focus on managing students’ behavior, fun and creative ways to celebrate students’ successes are often overlooked.
While activities related to classroom celebrations may not result in higher standardized test scores, these activities are often students’ best memories of school. Celebrating students’ successes also contributes to an overall positive school experience. An overall positive experience in school may be the difference between a student dropping out or graduating. Here are some ideas for celebrating the successes of your students that I hope you’ll try.
Football players love to celebrate a big win by dumping a cooler of water or sports drink on their coach. Students of all ages will love doing this to their teacher, and you can establish the goal that has to be met. Maybe the entire class has to get at least a B on a tough exam. I recommend using water, though. It is cheaper and less sticky. Also, you might want to do this outside on a day with warm weather. Elementary teachers, feel free to let colleagues do the dumping.
Oh the classroom party, a true cornerstone of education. Almost every teacher has his or her own take on how to conduct a classroom party. Some schools have strict guidelines pertaining to the use of instructional time and whether or not sweets can be served. Personally, I believe that sweets are fine in moderation, but the use of instructional time is something I always consider.
There are two ways a teacher can treat his or her students to a rewards party without impinging on instructional time. One, host the party during a study hall, recess, or lunch period. Two, incorporate instruction into the party. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. I have a middle school colleague who hosts a Pi Day party to celebrate his students learning how to use π in formulas. Each student brings in a different kind of pie.
This takes a lot of collaboration but can really motivate students. I once worked at a school where the principal was on board and played a large role in the initiative. It was well-known that this principal was afraid of heights. He worked with teachers to set a schoolwide goal for the number of pages read by students (not counting schoolwork). Each classroom tracked the number of pages read. When the school’s students met the goal, the principal spent an entire day on the school’s roof. The next year the school did the same thing, but the principal went up in a hot air balloon. A community member brought his hot air balloon to the school, and students watched as the principal ascended. Both strategies worked to motivate students to read in their spare time. Be creative and try to find the perfect idea for your school.
Athletics as a Reward
Rewarding students’ successes with extra time playing sports is a popular strategy right now. Administrators are typically okay with trading instructional time for exercise on a limited basis. At my school, entire grade levels hold kickball tournaments among their classes to celebrate the successful completion of our state’s standardized tests. Our fifth graders celebrate by playing dodgeball against the faculty while the rest of the school watches.
Another fun way to celebrate student successes is to partner with a local business to host a community event. Popular destinations are bowling alleys, skating rinks, and ice cream shops. In these cases, teachers usually negotiate a discount for the students who attend or collect donations to pay for the event.
After-school celebrations take a lot of organization. Usually a school’s parent group helps facilitate these activities. Popular activities include movie nights and school cookouts, but do not feel limited to these ideas. A friend of mine worked at a school that hosted a schoolwide sleepover on a Friday night to celebrate the school making its annual yearly progress goal on standardized tests.
Students of all ages love field trips. Schools can use these trips as a motivational tool by setting criteria for students to earn the trip. As always, field trips can be educational or just for fun. I worked at an elementary school in West Virginia that had an annual rewards field trip to a ski resort in another part of the state. To earn the trip, students had to earn Cs or higher and have no office referrals.
Schools are unique subcultures. This being so, the same strategy may not work in every school. Collaborate with the personnel in your grade level or building to select the best approach to motivating your students.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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