Somewhere in the mess I call my office, there is a photo album that belonged to my mother, and because I'm an only child, there are a lot of photos of me, especially when I was younger. I have a memory of one of those photos, and I'm sitting on a wooden classroom chair in my Sunday School room at my church. Next to me, taped to the wall, is a chart, with lots of gold star stickers. I don't remember if it was an attendance chart, or one indicating successful memorization of Bible verses (which I hated), but I'm beaming in that photo. I loved those gold stars!
When I was teaching, I used gold stars on charts for my music students - attendance at lessons, memorized scales, etc. It always surprised me how even my older students, 8th and 9th graders, would check those charts, and god help me if I had not placed the proper amount of stars next to their names!
As a substitute teacher in more recent times, I carried a package of gold stars with me, and would occasionally give them to students - elementary and middle school - for work well done. As an experiment one day in a high school social studies class, I stuck one on a page I had just corrected. I don't remember exactly why. I think it may have been that one of those questions was not being answered correctly by most of the class, simply because they were too lazy to look for the correct answer in their assigned reading. ("What? I actually have to READ it before I answer the questions about it?!") The smile on that guy's face - a big, tall, high school athlete - said it all. We all need "gold stars" once in awhile.
Most of the gold stars I give out now are in the form of the verbal and written "thank you for all you do" comments for teachers, staff, and mentors in our Big Brothers Big Sisters program. This summer, I'm struggling (again) to get my high school mentors to write letters to their Little Brothers and Little Sisters. They do not meet with their Littles during the summer, so it is our policy that they write letters, to keep their connection going. We have a private group on Facebook, so on a whim, I posted a picture of a gold star with a comment about one of the few letters I had received, tagging the Big that sent it, and asking (again) that the rest of the group get their letters to me as soon as possible.
I think the gold stars are doing something. This week I had lots of letters in my mailbox and inbox, and was messaged by one Big, asking if I had received her letter. (I had inadvertently omitted her name from the gold star post.) It was a win-win in my book! Not only had it helped remind and motivate some of them to get their letters done, but they were actually reading the posts on our FB page!
Don't underestimate the power of a little gold star.