Whether morale at your school is in a good place (and you’d like to keep it that way) or you tend to find yourself scraping morale off the floor with a spatula, here are some ways to bring in just a little more fun this coming school year, both inside the classroom and around campus.
1. Give out rewards that aren’t really rewards (but kind of are).
I’m conflicted about extrinsic motivation, so I’ve found a compromise, which is this: Focus on developing intrinsic motivation, but provide occasional rewards … in the form of cheap, bizarre little trinkets that I pretend are important.
It all started my second year of teaching when I discovered a store that sold stickers of realistic photos of vegetables, and my first thought was how great they would be on top of students’ papers. When I started distributing the veggie stickers for good behavior or noteworthy progress, students thought it was hilarious and began pasting them on the front of their journals, and from there it was over. We all knew the stickers had no value, and yet it was so fun to pretend that they were little adhesive Nobel Prizes. The next year, several incoming students asked me on the first day if I was going to give out vegetable stickers. It had become A Thing.
Eventually the store I went to stopped selling vegetable stickers, so now my go-to is this truly life-changing book of random stickers that covers an impressive range of subjects, from mounted police officers to cheese slices to beluga whales.
You can do the same thing with stickers, and I’ve known teachers who use colorful beads (students keep them on a strand throughout the year), fun paper clips, little plastic trinkets—I managed to find pink plastic unicorns in the dollar section at Target last year. Anything that is inexpensive, fun and maybe just slightly off-kilter will work just fine.
Also, I heard from a teacher recently who rewarded middle school students by allowing them to “babysit” her Hello Kitty figurines over the weekend, and apparently it was a highly sought-after privilege. So, #teachergoals.
2. Start a thank-you explosion.
Have you ever had a day (or two) (or 10) when everything seems to be dragging you down? When you find yourself desperate for something to brighten your day, drag out some craft supplies or pencils and paper, set a timer for 20 minutes, and have your class make cards for a student or faculty member that you know needs cheering up or thanking. Sneakily leave the cards in the recipient’s office mailbox or desk.
If your appraiser comes in and demands to know what you’re doing, explain that you’re developing literacy skills through character education. Or just start throwing out educational buzzwords until they walk away. “Rigor relevance SAT real-world technology digital citizenship. Flipped classroom. Differentiated.”
3. Host a co-worker competition.
Fitness competitions like losing weight or setting up challenges on Fitbit are fun, but other games and competitions can add some much-needed fun to campus morale.
- Wardrobe challenge: Who can go the most consecutive days wearing all one color to work?
- Institute a “rolling chair only” policy of traveling within campus after school. If you’re stuck with a long to-do list, you might as well make the commute down the hall and to the copy room a fun one.
- Give out a prize for the best yearbook picture (bonus points if you can get the teachers around you in the alphabet in on it). See these geniuses for inspiration.
- If there’s a team task that needs to be done that nobody wants to do, make it into a competition. It can be a physical challenge (wall-sit competition), a mental game (Sudoku race), a battle of will (hand in a cup of ice), or other game that creates a loser but has everyone laughing in the process.
4. Create a “Humans of New York” account for your school.
With your principal’s permission (and media permission slips from parents/students), create an Instagram or Tumblr account similar to the popular photoblog Humans of New York. For each post, choose a student and interview him or her, take a photo, and post the picture with a snippet of something they said during the interview. It’s a great way to highlight kids and their stories, and would also make a great section of a school newspaper.
For an example of a school HONY-esque account, check out Humans of KIPP Austin Obras!
What’s your favorite way of bringing fun to your campus?