Group Goals & Incentives

We went on a field trip last Friday. We went bowling! Was it curriculum-related? No. Did it meet any standards? No. Did we learn something from it? Yes!

At the start of the year, we (students and advisers) spent several days creating a group behavior goal. It was decided Andy and I would use our online relationship management system to award students positive or negative points each day based on productive or unproductive behaviors we noticed throughout the day. Each point is delivered with an explanation of the behavior witnessed, so students can see clearly why they are receiving them.

The students decided we would add the total of productive points the entire class earned at the end of each day. If the total was at least 58 (it took quite a bit of math to determine the perfect number!) we would add a paper clip to our chain that hangs from the ceiling. When the chain reached the floor, it was agreed we would go on a field trip as a class.

After four months of hard work and lots of reflection, the final clip was added!

It was important to Andy and me that our students chose their own goals and that they got to choose their incentive. And we wanted to be able to provide the trip at no cost to them, to be able to tell them, “Hey, YOU earned this!” As John Dewey said, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” So, with this accomplishment under their belt and a morning of strikes and spares to reminisce about, we can set our next goal that much higher, knowing reaching it will be absolutely worth it.

“If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.” – George Couros. 

And so we have created our next goal as a class, focusing on an area in which we could all use some improvement – meeting deadlines! Because we have divided our year into “themes,” we have six-week chunks of time to work with. Within those six weeks, there are “must-do’s” created by us for our students, and there are goals that each of the students create for themselves with their adviser. It all comes to a head at the end of the six weeks, when everything is due. All-in-all, we found that each student has 11 “must-do’s” to complete by the end of the six-week period, and with 25 students, that makes 275 total “must-do’s.” They decided as a group to shoot for a total of 251 out of 275 “must-do’s” being completed on time – 91% completion – pretty hefty goal, I’d say!

By continuing to use the productive and unproductive points from the last goal and reflecting on successful or unsuccessful strategies used so far this year, we are working with each child to develop plans for success. It is easy to recognize and to say out loud that we need to work on meeting our deadlines. But what does that mean? What does that entail? Creating a plan, sticking to that plan, and reflecting on the plan takes teaching and practice.

“Vision without execution is hallucination.” – Thomas Edison. 

Tracking progress is important in executing a plan, for keeping track of things and for accountability. We created a checklist on the whiteboard for all to see, which includes all student names and the “must-do’s” for this theme. They track their own progress, and everyone can see. This can be a controversial thing, as some see this having a negative impact on those who are not very successful. This is why we did not start the year with this kind of tracking system. We have worked up to it now, though, having practiced strategies for success for over half a school year. We are in our fourth theme of the year, so we are implementing the “audience effect.”

“Social scientists have identified something called the ‘audience effect’ – the shift in our performance when we know people are watching.” – Clive Thompson


What we have found is, not only are students even more excited about meeting their deadlines for their goals and “must-do’s,” simply because they get to add an X by their name, but they are encouraging those around them to do the same! We are still discussing incentive options as a group, but the stakes are higher this time around because we have a true deadline for this goal. Every person in the group needs to do his/her part to earn the incentive, and as the picture shows, the first deadline of the theme was met with 100% completion!

“Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

And the best part – the strategies for successful learning they are practicing along the way!


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