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Motivating Students: Principals Share Best Ideas

How do savvy administrators keep students motivated to do their best all year? Here are some tried-and-true tactics that principals shared with EducationWorld.

Reward Excellence

When students do something really well, encourage it, suggested Kim Cavanagh, principal of Mentone Elementary School in California.

In her school, students earn rewards for doing well in academics, attendance, reading and behavior. “We have trimester academic awards,” she said, which include certificates and medals. For reading, students who demonstrate that they are great readers get entered into special raffles.  “Golden tickets are given if students pass their exams (one ticket for each point), and then a raffle is held monthly to determine which students will accompany the principal to Barnes and Noble to get a snack and a book,” Cavanagh added.

Look Beyond Prizes

While external rewards are often helpful, sometimes students benefit just as much from the sense of personal satisfaction experienced following a job well done.

“I believe there is too much focus on extrinsic rewards,” said Dr. Greg Taranto, principal of Canonsburg Middle School in Pennsylvania.  “Rather than focusing on gimmicks, teachers need to focus on learning. When we place the focus on achieving a prize, the student strives for that prize.” In contrast, he said, “By creating dynamic learning environments with interesting and engaging lessons, the focus stays on the learning process.”

Izabela Miller, principal of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington, D.C., agreed. “I work with teachers to help them develop active involvement of students in their own learning. We provide immediate, structured feedback to learners and give them the opportunity to correct themselves, grow and feel successful.”

Make it Fun

The words “Science Fair” are enough to strike fear in the hearts of students and parents alike. But when administrators take the idea and transform it into an interesting, hands-on event, it can go from fearsome to fun.

Karen Hodges, former principal for Brockton Christian School in Massachusetts, did this in 2010 with her middle-school science students. “We had noticed that our students were not excited and putting forth their best effort in our annual Science Fair, so we changed the format to a ‘Science Expo.’  Each student prepared a hands-on science demonstration for our younger students in grades Pre K - 3, based on what they had learned in science class that year,” she said.

The school then hosted a Family Science Night for the students to share their work. “It was a rousing success for everyone. The older students had the opportunity to share knowledge, interact with younger students, and explore an avenue of science that they were interested in,” said Hodges.

Related resources

Motivating Teachers: Principals Share Best Ideas
Emma McDonald: Strategies for Motivating Students
Motivate While you Integrate Technology: Online Assessment


Article by Sarah W. Caron, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
Education World
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