Design Ideas

Educator Trend Alert: T-shirt Rewards and Recongition


three custom t-shirt rewards that say one star, two star, three star scholar

If you’re an educator, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about how to motivate and reward your students. Maybe you use reward stickers; candy prizes; good, old fashioned praise; or a combination of all of the above and more. 

An exciting new trend we’ve noticed is schools using custom t-shirts to celebrate and drive students’ achievements. Using progressive t-shirt rewards and recognition systems, similar to karate belts, can give students a way to show how well they’re doing as well as something to strive for.

A central Florida high school principal told the Orlando Sentinel that they use t-shirt rewards because it’s an easier way to display achievement. “The school has always recognized students who perform well academically with a certificate, but ‘you can’t show off a certificate.’” He went on to say, “If I give out t-shirts to 100 percent of my student body, then I’m doing my job.” Read on for ideas for how to use this idea at your school.
a kid in a custom t-shirt that says 3 star scholar

High-fiving High Scores

Whether your students are getting great numbers on standardized tests or making the honor roll every semester, you can give them something special to wear to celebrate their success using these templates. Consider making colors and stars for different levels of achievement to give the students a way to show off how much progress they’ve made.

At one school in Omaha, Nebraska, students who make over a certain score on the ACT exam get a special shirt and breakfast.

Inspiring Improvement

Celebrating student achievement doesn’t just have to be about high scores. It can also be about improvement and recognizing how far kids have come and how much effort they make. A school in Loveland, Colorado gives out two golden shirts per class per year. One shirt is for the most improved student and one is for a student who has excelled the most in supporting and encouraging their classmates. The shirts are not available to anyone except those who win the awards each year.

Commending Kindness

Spotting and recognizing good behavior is another way to inspire kids to strive to do better. At one high school in Sheridan, Wyoming, faculty keep an eye out for students being kind to one another or doing good things for the school like picking up food that had been left on the floor of the cafeteria. These students can receive a spot award of a shirt that they can wear proudly and be able to tell others what they did to deserve the recognition.

Try these tips to start
your own t-shirt rewards system
  1. Pick something you want to encourage.
  2. Tell your students how they can earn a reward.
  3. Choose a great shirt.
  4. Create a design or use one of our templates.
  5. Give the kids something they’re proud to wear.

Celebrating Consistency

Students at a middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico stand to earn t-shirts, backpacks, school supplies, and more for perfect attendance, and colleges in Virginia and South Carolina reward consistent attendance for sporting events with custom school gear.

Encouraging Exercise

One Denver, Colorado school has a 100 Mile Club where students are encouraged to try to run or walk 100 miles in a school year. Each participant earns a t-shirt once they reach 25 miles and they are allowed to wear those shirts to school on Fridays. There are so many different kinds of milestones and plans you could create to get kids out and moving.

Rewarding Reading

Give that summer reading list a boost by making shirts that students can earn based on how many books they read. You can also print all the book names on the back with checkboxes next to them and let the students check off the ones they read for maximum bragging rights.

a bunch of kids in matching custom t-shirts that says seniors

Congratulating Classes

Help each grade stand out by giving them their own color and design. Not only can this foster belonging within a class, but it can be part of your promotion ceremony and an exciting way for students to see how far they’ve come.

Funding with Fundraisers

If your school supporters are asking how they can help, you can set up a t-shirt fundraiser on our fundraising platform and have your participants send the shirts they purchase directly to the school. The best part is, you can also have your school set up as the beneficiary, so you would also receive the funds raised and further invest in your t-shirt reward programs.

Whatever path you decide, you’re bound to get your students excited about trying harder and doing better. Check out our Design Lab for some handy templates to get you started. Our style gurus recommend the Gildan Softstyle Jersey T-shirt, LAT Varsity T‑shirt, or our Sport‑Tek Baseball Raglan for cool styles, broad sizing, and lots of colors. Try it out, and share your experience!


Miellyn is the Copy Manager at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.

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