Just let them have a sticker

It is funny, a while back I saw a post that discussed how kids don’t care about Gold Star stickers. In the moment I had read it and really stopped in my tracks. I could understand what they were saying. The argument that we needed to stop with this extrinsic motivation tool of getting something for compliance and using the Gold Star as an example of that. I pondered a lot about the times I had used extrinsic motivators in the past. I was confusing compliance with engagement as kids were accomplishing their work to receive their reward. This model is something that programs like my nemesis Accelerated Reader depend on. The rewards based model of compliance. I say all this but I am going to defend the Gold Star sticker in the way I feel it should be rewarded.

I want to be the Oprah of Gold Star sticker giveaways.

You get a star and you get a star and you get a star.

One day last year some of my students were doing some super creative work. We were practicing our Notice and Note and Response Notebook work with bookclubs and I stumbled upon their books during walk throughs. The work was gorgeous. I off handedly said, “This needs a gold sticker” every student lit up. They asked if I actually had some, if I would seriously give them one for their work. I went into the back of a drawer and still had a few sheets and started making my way through all my groups finding something that was deserving of a gold star in each group. It was joyful literacy at its finest.

This year I have not felt the pure and total joy I have in years past. I don’t know what it is for sure. I think there are a few issues that I am working out but one really has been the the retirement of a seasoned teacher that brought joy to our school every single day. He brought the light up for every student through a simple high five or fist bump and a hello with every student that crossed his path. Our days were better because the energy was positive with such a simple act.

Yesterday I got up with this whole “gold stars are not for middle school” idea in my head and decided to test a theory. I began greeting kids with gold stars. At first they wondered what they were for. I told them it is Wednesday and it seemed like a good day to hand out some gold stars. As I did this kids asked if they could hand some out as well. More and more kids were excitedly talking about their gold star. I wondered around to adults on star and gave them theirs as well. More than one staff member seemed genuinely touched by the simple gesture. Imagine the power to bring joy that one sparkly sticker a couple centimetres wide had.

As the day went on more kids who did not get a star in the initial, before the bell rush, popped in to ask if they could have one too, so did some adults. This simple recognition, I see you, was day changing for me.

We can choose to go about our day worried about what a gold star might represent, what it might enforce or we can let kids be kids again. Time is moving too fast. We expect too much of our young people and really too much of the not so young as well. Take a moment to say Hello, pass on some kind words, give a high five, greet kids in the hall or just let them have the sticker.

Heck why not do it all?

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