Skip to main content

Awards Ceremonies - Yay or Nay?

Last week I attended the awards ceremony at my son's school. Although I was pretty sure he wouldn't get an award since I hadn't received an email to that effect - the school notifies parents if their child is to receive an award without telling them what the award is - I was disappointed. I wasn't disappointed in my son. He is a wonderful, creative, amazing kid who never ceases to surprise me with his wit and insightful observations and comments. He also had an excellent year with a teacher whom he loved and who in turn taught him to love math, which had previously been a dreaded subject for him.

No, I was disappointed in myself. After all, I don't believe in awards ceremonies. They are happy occasions for those getting an award and a sad time for the child who doesn't get anything. And, of course, the vast majority receives nothing. And, it’s often the same kids getting an award. Award ceremonies reinforce a system where some are acknowledged and others are ignored, or at least not recognized. Of course, proponents of awards ceremonies would tell you otherwise. They would say that children need to be publicly recognized for their efforts and achievements. That’s life, they would say, why shield children from the harsh reality that there are winners and losers? Better get used to it early on and then they’ll be motivated to work hard for those awards. Bingo! There’s the rub: “they’ll be motivated to work hard for those awards”. Isn’t learning more than that? Isn’t real learning often, if not always, impalpable, long-lasting and even life changing? Isn’t learning that’s not tied to subject areas and tests scores more important than awards that are given for nuggets of knowledge? Who is to say that a child who didn’t get an award didn’t learn as much or more than the one that did? Who determines this? Why?

The questions are endless in my mind.

Yet, despite what I know and believe about awards (thanks go to Alfie Kohn), why was I so disappointed in myself?

I was disappointed in myself for feeling disappointed that my son (and other children) had not been recognized for anything, and this on the last day of school. Of course, last year when he received an award none of these doubts and disappointments surfaced. I was happy that he had received an award. I justified my feelings, then and now, by telling myself that he needed the recognition because he had just left a school where he'd had a bad experience, and even after he left, everything was touch and go for a while. So, this public recognition was my way of relaxing into my doubts: maybe this time, I told myself, it was OK.

This year was different...again. (Isn’t every year different?) Not only did my son not get an award but the week before school ended, he surmised, "I don't think I'm going to get an award. I haven't improved in anything." As an educator, I know that improvement is not always palpable. And, of course, he has improved but maybe not in the things that may count for an award. Of course, I have no idea the criteria for these awards other than they're all called “improvement awards”. How is improvement measured or determined, anyway?  

So, why do schools insist on these award ceremonies that elevate some and ignore others? Why can't we end the year with a celebration of the learning of all the children and teachers, perhaps with some refreshments and a chance to hear an inspiring talk by a student or two? It seems that this might be a fitting end to the year.

We all want recognition for the work we do, day in and day out, not in the form of an award but by reflecting with peers what we’ve learned. Reflection is the road to learning. Awards are not. Instead, they are the stopping point.

What do you think? Am I just being a complainer and a sore loser? Or, do you agree that awards ceremonies are detrimental to creating an atmosphere of trust and learning in schools? Please leave a comment below.

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Mini Lessons

Sometimes, I plan too many teaching points for one lesson. For example, instead of focusing on one strategy that students need in order to become more proficient readers and writers, I try to teach several strategies at the same time. 

Sometimes, I stretch out a teaching point beyond the 10- or 12-minute time limit I've given myself because I worry that my mini lesson wasn't enough or my students won't have understood what I intended to teach. So, sometimes, I beat the lesson to a pulp one too many times, or forget to have the kids practice the lesson before they go off to read or write. (Asking students to practice a lesson after you teach it, with you right there to observe and help guide students through the process, is very effective. Try not to skip this step!)  

Here's an example of a mini lesson that lasted less than 10 minutes and resulted in better learning.

My students are in the second round of historical fiction book clubs. In a couple of weeks, we will start …

A Confession

I have a confession to make.

I want to write a book. 
A professional book. 
I think I have a lot to say. 
I think others could benefit from my experience.
After all, I have been an educator for over 30 years.

But, what could I possibly say that hasn't been said before?
What new knowledge could I add to the table?
Who would even bother to read what I have to say?

These are questions borne of fear.
Fear of not being good enough.
Fear of not being able to complete such a daunting project. 
(At least, that's what it feels like to me right now.)
Fear that I won't make time.
Fear that I'll run out of time.

But, over the last couple of days, I've gotten some encouraging words of support from the Innovative Teaching Academy - 
#ITA17 Facebook group. 

You can do it!Write for yourself.
But the message that is propelling me forward is this one: 
It doesn't matter how many times something has been said...each time someone else says it, new people hear it...and that's where you make the d…

Questions

Today's post is short and sweet because I just got back from a night of playing Bunko with friends. 

I share some questions I'm grappling with in my classroom. 

No answers. 

Just questions.

(1) What purpose do math stations serve in my classroom?

(2) How can I continue to engage writers without overwhelming them or me?

(3) How can I determine if my tangled readers are learning to be better readers from the books they choose to read?

(4) How can I strike a balance between student choice and making sure my students learn what they need to learn at any given time?

(5) Am I demanding too much from my students?

As I find responses and solutions to these issues, I will post some ideas on my blog.

Any thoughts are more than welcomed!