Student Engagement

Honoring Students for Their ‘Hustle’

An award modeled after a special achievement for NBA players is helping a pair of elementary teachers motivate their students.

July 5, 2024
LightFieldStudios / iStock

As teachers, we know that keeping our students motivated and engaged can be a tall order during certain times of the year: the week before a break, the week after a break, and pretty much anytime during the final push to summer break.

In our second-grade classroom, we have been using a tool that has proven to be an excellent motivator for our students and has also given us a chance to celebrate their efforts to stay engaged even when it feels hard. The 2B Hustle Award is inspired by the NBA Hustle Award, which “rewards players who make the effort plays that don’t always appear in the traditional box score but impact winning on a nightly basis.” Much like sports teams, our class is a team, all working together toward a common goal.

Recognizing Little Things With a Big Impact

In 2B, we want to highlight and shout out the small but mighty actions that can sometimes go unnoticed but are necessary in helping our class to be successful. This award isn’t strictly behavior based but instead focuses on the decisions students are making throughout the day as well as their actions. If you look at all of the different parts of our day and our roles as classmates, friends, and learners, what are the through lines? What contributions can we each make toward the greater good, and how can we help each other achieve our goals? This award gives us a space to highlight the contributions of individual students and connect them to the success of our class as a whole.

Our school is located in downtown Boston, so we introduce the award to our students by showing them a short video of three-time award recipient and former Celtics great Marcus Smart. We share with them how the NBA decides who deserves the award and the statistics that they use to make their decision. We ask students to look for commonalities in the different statistics that they track, for example: hard work, resilience, stamina, consistency, supporting team members, persevering through challenges, etc. We then ask them how they think we could translate those skills into our classroom and work toward our goals as a team.

Hustle Award Criteria

At the beginning of each year, we talk about our duties in the classroom—both as teachers and as students—as we create our classroom agreements. Having this framework is helpful as we think through all of the pieces that need to come together for our class to reach our goals both daily and longer term. Our students collaborate to come up with the actions that we’re going to highlight and agree together on what they feel are the most important things we can do to support each other in our classroom—for example, first-time listening, a positive attitude, helping others without being asked, and proactive inclusivity.

We use their list as our guide and give out the award at the end of each day. We’ve had days where it can go to as many as three students and days that felt tricky and it wasn’t earned by anyone. We have a few small trophies that students keep in their cubbies and table spots, and we print a quick certificate for students who receive the award. Our students are always so excited to see who wins the award each day and happy to celebrate their classmates’ successes!

We know that extrinsic motivators are not always successful in changing habits long term, so having our students lead the process of setting our goals is essential in helping them see the award as a call to collective action for the betterment of the group and to positively reinforce each other’s hard work.

In our classroom, we use the Hustle Award as an opportunity to motivate and recognize our second graders toward the end of the school year, though we believe that it could be a useful tool at any point during the year. In our experience, the Hustle Award is a low lift on our part that provides a really nice change of pace and has been motivating for our students. It also provides us with an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the social and emotional learning skills that our students have been working hard on all year. This award gives us a space to shout out efforts to collaborate, be flexible, proactively resolve conflict, and show other classmates patience and kindness.

We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, and we know that students who feel understood and appreciated will be more motivated to value the success of the group and see their role in that success. In our experience, this small change can create a momentum shift and be a powerful motivator for our students while giving us the opportunity to lift them up and celebrate them as learners and community members in our classroom.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.