Let the Games Begin: Using Competition to Motivate the Students and Staff

Guest post by Chris Chitwood

As a coach, I believe that motivation is everything, and everyone is motivated by something. When our administrative team at Wilbanks Middle School in Demorest, GA, wanted to transform our culture to one of excellence in attendance, behavior, and academics, we decided to utilize competition as a way to motivate students and shift everyone’s focus to these three key areas. 

Game On

To tap into our students’ competitive spirit, we created schoolwide competitions where different teams earn points for attendance, behavior, and academics and are rewarded for being the top team. All of the teachers in our building lead a small team of about 15 students and become the team’s “coach” for the year, motivating and monitoring students in the three key areas. Student teams are determined based on their state test scores from the previous year. Each team meets every morning for 30 minutes to start the day and participates in previewing activities for math, language arts, and STEAM.

Practice Sessions

Grade-level content teachers communicate with each team’s coach on what content to preview for the day. Sometimes, it may be skill building so that struggling students can successfully attempt the new concept for that day in class. Content teachers communicate each student’s progress on standards and concepts using individual data sheets and share information from a weekly data meeting with every coach. Coaches use data tracking notebooks to tailor instruction to meet the needs of their students.

Scoreboard

Coaches fill out a scoresheet every Friday and submit it to me through Google forms. To see a sample scoresheet, click here. I record and sort scores in Google Sheets and update the Google slide scoreboard every week. Then, we show the results on a compelling scoreboard in the atrium of the school where students pass through several times a day. This way, students can always see where their team stands.

To the Victor Go the Spoils

The team with the most points at the end of the competition period wins. We change up the competitions to keep students interested. Sometimes we have a four-week competition, sometimes a nine-week one. We group teams into three flights and take a winner from each flight, which allows students to compete with academically similar groups.

When a team wins, students on that team can earn a variety of rewards ranging from class pizza parties, ice cream, and field trips to the bowling alley. You can choose anything that motivates your students to award as prizes. We ask the students for ideas on prizes and let the teams choose their prizes.

This year, we’ve added a new component to the competition to coincide with our school-wide PBIS: Patriot Bucks to recognize individual positive behavior. Teachers award individual students a Patriot Buck for positive behavior they show both in and out of class. Students can then decide to bank the bucks for their team or cash them in for personal items at our school store.

To get our older students on board, we added a game room called The Patriot Hangout that has a pingpong table, arcade basketball, lots of board games, darts, and three televisions with gaming systems. Teams who earn the most bucks each week get a class period in The Hangout.

Keeping Score of Positive Growth 

After a year of competitions and focus in the areas of improvement, we have seen substantial gains in the areas of attendance, behavior, and academics. Our student attendance rate was 96.2 percent, which ranked us the top middle school in our Regional Educational Service Agency. Our discipline referrals decreased by 28 percent. We also saw increased proficiency in both math and language arts.

Students and staff alike have found the competitions motivating. A teacher came to me and said, “I never knew that I was a competitive person until we started these competitions.” Anyone can be competitive. The key is to find something where each person can experience some success with the right amount of resistance. If it’s too hard, some may quit. If it’s too easy, some won’t play.

It’s like the old arcade games where you would put a quarter in and if you beat the first level, you see that message on the screen asking you to insert another quarter. Education is like that. Engage your students and get them to keep putting in another quarter.

How does your school motivate staff and students? 

Chris Chitwood is the assistant principal at Hilliard A. Wilbanks Middle School in Demorest, GA. He is the 2017 Georgia Assistant Principal of the Year.

1 Comment

  • Mike Duffy says:

    I’m an old coach and a specialist in learning. I like lots of games for middle school. The kids also learn a lot about statistics and gamesmanship. I wonder about how much is game and how much is learning. I wonder about the effort of the teachers who don’t have the coaching motivation, and I wonder about how much game effort vs learning effort is applied in this system.

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