Student Motivation with a Record Board

Do trophies and recognition motivate students to work harder? Or do trophies reward students for just doing their job? This seems to be the source of endless debate. Personally, I firmly believe it to be the former, and not just because I work for a company that makes trophies. I can give you a good example of why I believe that trophies and recognition motivate students to perform at a higher level than they otherwise would.

About 10 years ago, I was approached by a local middle school with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. Parents at the school wanted to create a large board for the gymnasium that listed the track and field and cross country events that the students participated in and listed the names of the students that held the school record for each event, the year they accomplished their feat, and the record itself. The board turned out to be huge – 8 feet wide by 4 feet tall. The events and the student names and the record details were each engraved on sheet acrylic and placed in slide-in holders so they could be changed easily if a student ever broke the record.

When the board was made in 2008, nearly all the records were from the early to mid 1990’s when the program was started. However, once the board was placed in a prominent location in the gymnasium, and students knew what it took to break the record, a funny thing happened: Students started breaking the records! Every spring during the track and field events there would be 1 or 2 records broken. And every autumn, during the cross-country events, there would also be 1 or 2 records broken.

Since the record board was placed in the school about 10 years ago, there have been records broken every spring and fall! Once the students knew what they had to do to break the record and get their name on the board, somehow they did it! And it wasn’t just the coach that made the difference because over the same time period, the school changed coaches several times (it was a volunteer position). The only thing that has remained constant is the large, prominent record board with it’s constant reminder of what it takes to “make the board” and have your name added to the list of the school’s list of great athletes.

Incidentally, several of the record breakers went on to excel in track and field and cross-country in high school and later at the college level. Their experience in middle school taught them that they had talent and if they set themselves a goal, they could achieve it. The reward of recognition taught them a valuable life lesson, indeed.