High-performing students deserve to be recognized in the classroom.
For Administrators

Star Students: Finding the Right Ways to Celebrate Genuine Achievements

By Brian Gatens March 10, 2016

Don’t forget about your outstanding students. It’s easy to take them for granted because they do exactly what they’re supposed to do: work hard to excel.

High-performing students deserve to be recognized in the classroom.They deserve recognition for their hard work. The trick is to recognize them in ways that do not discourage less successful students. Like so many other things in life, it’s all about balance and thought.

Broaden your definition of a star

Traditionally, star students have been narrowly defined by their ability to earn the highest grades. Consider expanding that definition to include students who excel in non-traditional ways.

That can include those who work hard to help others, put in lots of extra effort and make it a point to bring their best self every day. If you look at your class with a wide-angle lens, you can certainly find opportunities to recognize others.

Try not to over-recognize

Don’t get caught in the trap of over-recognizing excellence so much that you take away from the success of others. A great reminder of this happens in the popular movie “The Incredibles” when Dash, the superhero family’s lightning-fast 10-year-old, grumbles that “everybody’s special” is just another way to say nobody is.

This is a valid concern that comes up from time to time in discussions of student recognition and celebrations. Regardless of what you want to celebrate, make sure that it is worth celebrating. Children can quickly sniff out fake recognition.

Spread the good news around

Recognition can be a name on the classroom wall, perhaps in the lobby, and maybe even on the electronic sign outside of the school. It can also be something as simple as a letter to the building principal highlighting students who stand out in class.

Regardless of how you do it, take time to broadcast the news about student success to whomever will listen. Success that’s celebrated publicly and with appropriate fanfare is more likely to be replicated. You can always spend time at the beginning of class calling out recent student successes.

Find challenges beyond the classroom

Your class may not be enough. Work with your school’s counselors to find extension learning programs that can offer your star students a greater challenge. Tell the class about their participation, and encourage them to discuss the experience with everybody.

Offering successful students the opportunity to speak about their success affirms their hard work and enables them to offer a positive example to other students. Keep in mind that more and more of those programs also offer online options for students who can’t travel to a specific location for the classwork.

Provide a perspective on the power of failure

Research has shown that students who succeed again and again often become hesitant to take risks or entertain the possibility of failure. More than anything else they want to preserve their success and therefore avoid any type of risk.

To help offset this, find ways to recognize the repeated failures that precede success. It’s best to introduce this idea via the work of a group so you can preserve the sometimes fragile emotions of individual students. This offers a context where failure is a necessary step on the path to continued growth.

We should not be ignoring standout students in a misguided effort to protect the feelings of students who do not perform as well. All students deserve recognition for their efforts — it just takes consideration and forethought to find the best way to recognize them.

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