Highlighters are useful when you're reading a book. When you come across something you want to recall later, you highlight it to make it stand out from the other sentences on the page.
The next time you pick up that book again, you will naturally gravitate to those things which stuck out to you earlier. That's the way highlighting works.
Now transition with me to the context of student ministry. Week in and week out, you gather together with adult volunteers and students. You say a lot of things. You do a lot of things. But they've heard it all before. You want them to "get it," you pray for them to "get it," you equip them to "get it," but they never quite seem to "get it."
In that situation, I ask you, "What are you highlighting?"
Think back to last Sunday morning. What was your point? What were you enabling people to be a part of? What were you equipping people to do? What were you informing people about?
Can you answer that question? Could the leaders and students answer that question?
Here's a rule you need to know:
An action that is rewarded in the present, is an action that will be repeated in the future.
In this context I'd like to define the "reward" as "being highlighted," or "calling attention to it."
So let's say that you have recently been encouraging students to look beyond themselves and seek ways to help someone else at some cost to themselves. All of a sudden you receive an email in your in-box from a parent. It's a short note explaining how their son/daughter noticed the elderly neighbor's grass getting deep and took the initiate to cut it.
What will you do with that information?
a) sit on it
b) say "good job" to the student privately
c) highlight it publicly
My recommendation is Option C, because the key to reinforcing positive action and getting other people to join in performing similar actions to reward it by highlighting it.
As with highlighters, there are many colors available with which to do the highlighting, but the fact that the action is highlighted is all that matters. For example, if you have a newsletter or an e-blast, you could put the student's photo and story in there. If you have a large group time, you could call the student up to give a quick blurb about what they did. If you are the one with the microphone, you could mention that student's action in your message that week.
Whatever you do, call attention to the student and the action so they stand out: "This is what it looks like when someone sees beyond themselves....Well done."
Remember there will be many stories that happen "under the radar" that you'll never find out about. For that reason, you should make it a point to tell parents to keep you informed when those things happen so you can highlight the students who are doing the things you've been encouraging them do.
Also, the student's don't have to have their whole lives "cleaned up" to be highlighted. You're not putting them forward as an example for how to have a God-honoring relationship with their boyfriend/girlfriend, for example. You are calling attention to them for a specific action that they took in a specific situation. One byproduct, however, could be that recognizing one small act might inspire other fruit to show up in the lives as well.
So I ask you, What are you highlighting?