Celebrations for Motivation

How do you use celebration to motivate, provide feedback, and reinforce your desired culture?

At Performance Learning Systems, we promote a strategy for teachers called the celebration of perseverance. Whenever students have preserved (worked hard) and succeeded we suggest the teacher throw a party…..a 30-90 second party.

  • A kindergarten teacher does the class back rub…where students form a circle and massage the back of the person in front of them, then spin around and repeat.
  • A middle school teacher has a clothes line of socks bearing the school logo. When your writing “knocks her socks off” you win one. You need to repeat to get a pair.
  • A high school teacher serves milk and cookies (homemade by him) when high test results occur in a class section.
  • A principal shows up at a faculty meeting wearing a waitress outfit and carrying an order book. She announces, “You came expecting to get orders. Instead, today I am taking them. The meeting moves to a local 50’s diner where the principal treats.

In What Every Teacher Should Know About Motivation, Donna Walker Tileston describes the difference between rewards and celebrations.

“Rewards have commercial value and will be expected. If you all do your work we will have a pizza party. Students know they will get the pizza if they finish their work. With celebrations the reward is unexpected. Students work hard on a project and the teacher surprises them with a pizza party.”

In Daniel Pink’s recent book, DRIVE, he explores how extrinsic rewards can be detrimental in motivating conceptual, breakthrough creative thinking. He suggest that managers replace “if then” rewards with “now that” celebrations.

“Now that” a great job’s been done, “now that” you reached a new level, “now that” the team finished the project a bonus, reward, party, etc celebrates the effort….. Often the celebration is more social than tangible.

Celebrations provide feedback and information regarding what is valued in the culture of the organization.

Mary Ellen Slayter’s blog on appreciation points to a favorite book of mine:

In “How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life”,Tom Rath and Donald Clifton said that the main reason most North Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. They also noted that 65% of Americans say they receive no recognition at work.

Appreciation has the biggest impact when it is given randomly. B.F. Skinner discovered that random reinforcement more strongly anchors behaviors than consistent reward. Consider how we view bosses who arrange a surprise on Administrative Assistants’ Day compared to a boss who for no reason acts with a gesture of appreciation. It’s similar to gestures of affection in intimate relationships. Compare the romantic scale of a single rose gifted on Valentine’s Day with one given on an ordinary day.

I recently worked with the staff at Southeast High School in Manatee County, FL. J. Michael Horne, the principal ,shared that they had just held their annual Teachers’ Choice Awards. This celebration allows each faculty and staff member to show appreciation for students. Each member has the opportunity to recognize one student, but the criteria for that recognition are left solely to the staff member. Students are often rewarded for exceptional work, personality, or improvement. Students and their parents receive an invitation to the celebration not knowing who has chosen them for what.

The student I recognized for the 9th Annual Teachers Choice Awards was recognized for her everlasting smile. Even when getting corrected she still ends up smiling. This kind of person we like to have around because they tend to rub off on others.

Kathy Campbell
Southeast High School
Visual Arts Department
School Newspaper Advisor
Guard Sponsor

What celebrations are you planning? What feedback will participants take from the celebration? How will the celebration help define your culture?

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2 Responses to “ Celebrations for Motivation ”

  1. C. Bell Says:

    Thanks, Steve. Anytime is a good time for sharing this kind of motivation-related information. Celebrating the smallest of successes is an important ingredient in quality school cultures.

    I really like the Teacher’s Choice Awards idea. At Southeast H.S., when are the students recognized? Is it random and throughout the year (as your post suggests would be highly effective), or is it at ceremonies such as Honors Day? Or possibly both?

  2. Stephen G. Barkley Says:

    I think the Teachers’ Choice was a late in the year activity…

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