A+ Incentives: A Cut Above the Rest

5 min read

Bonuses and incentives are usually thought of as something sales people receive when they close a deal, but recently incentives have been successfully implemented in academic settings. One of these success stories happened in a small town in North Carolina, where fifth grade teacher Kyle Teague put his hair on the chopping block to encourage his students to pass a challenging year-end exam. Teague works in a district where most of his students are only in the sixth percentile of likelihood to pass this exam. While many would take these odds and give up, or accept the status quo when faced with such a challenge, Teague decided to get creative instead – and he did so with an incentive that motivated his students. He let his class know that any students who passed the test could help cut his long hair at the end of the school year. While getting to cut their teacher’s hair was a big incentive, he knew that some students wouldn’t be able to pass the test regardless of how hard they tried. In order to encourage general improvement alongside the final goal, he added a clause to the incentive agreement that students who raised their scores by a certain percentage over the previous year could also participate in the great hair-cutting event of 2013. At the core of the incentive was the desire for his students to pass the test, and to ensure that his class was on track to meet these goals, Teague also held weekend study groups, which he called “A-Team with Mr. T,” a moniker that may have flown over the heads of his class, but that parents appreciated. As the year came to a close and the test approached, Teague crossed his fingers and hoped that the hard work he and his class had put in would make a difference in his student’s scores. The results were impressive; by choosing an incentive that resonated strongly with his class and empowering them with training and attention, Teague doubled the number of students that were predicted to pass. True to his word, the students who passed the test, and those who improved their scores over the previous year, excitedly participated in cutting Mr. Teague’s hair. He brought in trimmers and the class happily gave him what he described as a mullet and a Mohawk that had a baby. For the small price of a few inches of hair, he motivated an entire classroom of children to achieve their full potential. Teague isn’t the only educator to see the benefit of specific goals and incentives in academics. Fresno State added performance bonuses to their coach’s contract for annual team GPA and they had a record year for academic progress, a Houston study found that students who were provided incentives mastered 125% more math objectives than students who were not given incentives, and one San Francisco teacher gave his class a unique incentive to get A’s on their finals – if they aced the test, he’d get a tattoo. The incentive worked and he got inked. Compared to other popular education reforms like reduced class sizes, incentives provide more than four times the amount of student improvement per dollar spent. If relevant, powerful incentives can motivate students to ace their tests and positively affect a basketball team’s GPA, what can they do for your sales organization?   Sources: