Using Perks as Motivators

Is there an appropriate time to use a “perk” as a motivator?

Certainly! But realize that the underlying drive is often not the perk but the competition. Just look at the Olympic Games. Competition and recognition are basic to humankind.

In my own case, I play the classic music of the Great Highland Bagpipe called piobaireachd (pronounced pibroch). Approximately eight percent of pipers play this type of music, and this traditional music never would have been passed on to today without competitions. The token ribbons won were nice, but it was the competitive spirit that had me devote hundreds of hours to practicing.

The mistake erupts when, by implication, we use rewards to promote learning. If a youngster is never in the winner’s circle, will that young person be prompted to continue “losing” or give up by “dropping out”? Low self-perception—prompted by comparison of oneself with others—starts when socialization starts and is exacerbated when students start competing against each other.

Many teachers will not admit to themselves that these kinds of rewards foster competition between students. Competitive students thrive on who gets the most number of stickers, gold stars, etc.

What about the student who believes he should also get a reward but doesn’t? Alfie Kohn answered this dilemma in his tome, PUNISHED by REWARDS: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.

Although COMPETITION promotes PERFORMANCE, COLLABORATION is far more effective for promoting LEARNING. More on this subject is in Chapter 4 of my book, Discipline Without Stress.