Do you ever feel like your students, that do everything they are supposed to day and in and day out, never quite get the recognition that they deserve? Do you wish you had a new approach to motivating those that struggle? Well, then a VIP student program may be just the thing for you!
I first heard of this idea from a blog called Life in Fifth Grade, who got the idea from Rachel Lamb (The Tattooed Teacher). Leslie (the author of Life In Fifth Grade) set up her VIP area midyear and offers great advice. I especially love the way she built anticipation for it by cordoning off the section of the classroom she intended to use for it ahead of time. I think this really helps with student by-in and excitement!
Setting up your VIP Program
If you are thinking of having a VIP program in your classroom, here are the best tips for setting it up for success. To begin with, think about what it means to be VIP. My husband and I often attend business conferences and always try to upgrade to VIP. For us, this means special seating, a meet and greet with the speaker, meals provided, and special areas marked VIP only, like a VIP lounge with snacks and a separate restroom. We have a special designation on our conference badge and often get to check in earlier than others. We have even gotten “swag bags” with stuff regular attendees don’t get. I kept all these things in mind when I was thinking of how I would structure a VIP area in a classroom.
1. Decide on the criteria
First, decide what criteria students must meet in order to be designated VIP, as well as how long VIP lasts. Every classroom will be slightly different, but one rule of thumb is to make all of your criteria measurable. For example, “Be kind to everyone” is a great goal, but difficult to measure, whereas “No marks on the clipboard” or “No red dojo points.” Is easily measurable, with no room for argument. Explain to the students that not everyone is guaranteed to be designated a VIP. It must be earned and it can also be taken away.
Also, share how long students will be allowed to be designated VIP. Again, this is completely up to each teacher. For some, it will be for a week; for some a day; for still others, a longer period but maybe students only sit in the designated area during certain times, like writer’s workshop or math or whatever you decide. Again, these are individual classroom decisions based on what is best for the circumstances of that class. Remember, this is a huge privilege reserved for those students who demonstrate exemplary behavior. Once you decide on what the criteria will be, publicly post it and let everyone know what is expected.
2. Create a Special Area
Second, make a special area of the room designated strictly for those VIP students. Maybe a special table or seating area. You don’t have to go out and buy anything major, just use the desks or tables you already have and make it special by decorating that table with a tablecloth, balloons, table signs, confetti, streamers, you name it. You might want to get chair covers for your chairs also—the possibilities are endless! I would also put a swag bag for each student filled with special supplies, stickers, and a small treat. There would be a VIP caddy of special supplies like smelly markers, colorful pens, and fancy pencils—anything out of the ordinary.
3. Create a Bulletin Board
Third, have a bulletin board where your criteria are posted but also serves as a special place to recognize those that have achieved this distinction. There are also many ways to let students know that they have been selected. Leslie’s students are one to one, so she sends out an email to the students that are designated VIP. Since I taught younger students and we were not one to one, I would make an announcement at our morning meeting.
Besides a special place to sit, special tools, and recognition on a bulletin board, some other ways to celebrate your VIP’s is to give them a badge to wear and send a letter, email or call home to let parents know that their child has been picked as a class VIP. Another option is if your school does some sort of announcements, it can be shared with the whole school that way. VIP’s might also get certain privileges, like the first to line up (or last if it is recess!)
The possibilities really are endless for this program, and every classroom will be unique in how they approach it. I have created a VIP kit for you that has table signs, badges, announcement cards, and a sample parent letter to help you get started.