In eight years, my school has done a great job cultivating celebration among students. In an era of new, small high schools that often serve to weaken ties between schools and the neighborhood communities that surround them, we’re doing our best to build a community school. We understand that this is paramount to building any organization. People work at Google (any many hip startups) for more than just the money – there’s a culture of fun that goes with it. Boy Scouts have been sewing badges onto their vests for years – badges that represent the good they have done, that they take pride in earning.
What if our students knew they could earn celebrations, perks, t-shirts for mastering certain sets of skills? We already celebrate with these sort of things, for character, for friendly competition, for groups that meet and make the most of their role as community members. But what if we took it to another level. What if a student earned a well-designed t-shirt for mastering a set of academic skills? What if they could sew a badge onto a sweatshirt if they completed a certain type of project?
It’s not cheapening the pursuit of knowledge – it can be a made to mirror the world we live in. We love recognition. We love to play games because we understand and relish the sequence of goals and accomplishments that we encounter. A student’s transcript can do the same thing – and in wealthy places, it does. But when there’s poverty, kids don’t always see their transcript this way. It purports to say all of these things about a student’s accomplishments – what if we helped make it clear to them, at the same time that we were sweeping the rug out from underneath the factory school model?