Memphis Teacher Residency

Awards Ceremony Sparks Motivation

Memphis Teacher Residency

Cherise Clark, ’12
Spanish, Kinsbury High School

Sra. Cherise Clark uses a quarterly awards ceremony to motivate and recognize student achievement. Her strategy and procedures may be helpful for educators to develop an awards ceremony in their classrooms also.

MTRVoices: How did you develop the idea of an awards ceremony?
Sra. Clark:  I came up with the idea of the awards ceremony after watching the school-wide honors program. Students were so excited about receiving a ribbon that said they had done well. It made me remember the power of positive encouragement and recognition. A few weeks later, a student came running to me to show me what she had won an award for being a member of a club. I almost laughed when she showed it to me thinking, what kind of award is that?! But the look in her eyes showed me how very grateful she was. “This is the first thing I’ve ever won,” she told me. In that moment, I knew I could do better than that. So I decided to create the Spanish Awards.

What do you hope to accomplish through the awards ceremony?
My hope in that first ceremony was that in presenting students with an award, they would feel appreciated and that their hard work really had paid off. We did it at the very end of the year as a cumulative award, but I noticed that it sparked students to want to work harder. This year, we are doing it as an end-of-quarter event in hopes that as students are recognized, other students will strive for the same. I have had students say: “Oh! I saw the pictures of the awards online! I want one! I could show my mom. She would be proud of me.” Another student said: “I can’t wait until next quarter. I’m going to get that award!” I really want students to catch the idea that there is recognition for excellence.

What do you give awards for? 
I keep my categories for awards flexible so that I can always add other awards as I see excellence in the classroom. Since excellence can be shown in so many ways, I end up with an unexpected—and growing!–assortment of awards. The awards I always have are Most Hard Working Student, Most Improved, Most Helpful/Kind, and Most Spanish Speaking. At the end of the year, we add the King and Queen of Spanish awards for those who do excellently all around in Spanish. These categories ensure that the behaviors I want to see in class are reinforced. I am considering adding an Encouraging Award and an Attendance Award for next quarter to motivate and recognize those behaviors as well.

How do you prepare for the awards ceremony?
For the quarterly awards, I purchase award certificates from Knowledge Tree, which are simple and affordable and require little preparation. Selecting the students is simple since I have been monitoring their participation and behavior throughout the quarter.

At the end of the year,  I use a certificate maker online (free!) and create color copy certificates on regular paper. I then go to the Dollar Tree (best store EVER!) and purchase their $1 document frames. Last year I bought 35 frames for my students, which cost under $40 with tax. Giving them a framed certificate at the end of the year added value to the simple piece of paper I printed and made it seem like a much more important award. For me, if spending $40-50 dollars is what it takes to help my students understand positive recognition, it’s worth it. I had a student this year say, “Remember, Senora? I got the Queen of Spanish Award last year!” It’s simple, but it just means that much.

What advice would you offer to a teacher who is thinking of introducing an awards ceremony?
Choose the things you want to see reinforced in your classroom, create an award for them, give them cool names if possible, and make a big deal about it when you give the awards to your students. I always hide the names of the students and spend some time talking about the greatness of “this person” and then finally reveal the name and everyone claps and the students think it’s great to hear themselves talked about in such a positive way. This so seldom happens and it’s so special. The awards ceremony doesn’t have to cost a fortune or use up the entire day, but it’s about motivation. Take pictures of the students with their awards and post them for everyone to see. (I post photos of our awards on our website.) Make it obvious that this is something great.

What other ways do you motivate and recognize student effort and achievement?
In addition to the awards, I hang paper trophies and photos on the wall of all students who made an A or B in the class during the marking period. I put these out in the hallway so students can stop and look as they go by, as can parents and visitors. It’s fun to hear students in the hall saying: “Oh! She is doing well in Spanish! Look at her!” or “I know that’s not my friend! He’s doing great! I didn’t know he could do that!” To watch students show their parents is also incredible. I have had failing students say: “How do I get on the wall? What do I have to do?” I love to do anything that sparks a dialogue between students about excellence.

In addition, I have created a chart of all assignments and give students a sticker when they complete an assignment. They LOVE to count how many stickers they have in comparison to the other students (and yes, I teach high school–my 12th grade boys get angry if they don’t get their sticker for the day). It’s another way to encourage homework and classwork completion AND motivation!

It’s really wonderful to see how big an impact simple awards have on my students for giving them a sense of accomplishment and motivating them to work hard!