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

Students Plan for a Day of Learning

This is the third in a series of blog posts about strategies I use to help my students take ownership of their learning. The first post was about class meetingsThe second post was about giving kids opportunities todetermine their own writing and reading plansevery Friday afternoon. (Coming soon is the fourth post in this series about using student surveys to provide feedback about the classroom.)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Yesterday I felt more independent than ever because I had to tell myself what to do." - 5th grade boy
It did not come as a surprise that my students embraced the idea of planning their learning for an entire day. That is what being autonomous and self-directed is all about and what we all desire to be in our day-to-day experiences. Allowing students to create their own schedules for learning, albeit conditioned by specific parameters (reading, writing, math, sc…

The Teacher I Want to Be

The
I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal. 

I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don't like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I'm looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for. 
Teacher
An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was as…

Searching for Balance

I have been doing a lot of soul searching over the last couple of days. 
And, I've come to the conclusion that I must change my attitude - shift my stance - so I can assume a new perspective. So that I am more aligned with what's important and may add value to my life.  
Focusing on the negative is not making me stronger or healthier. In fact, I am often stressed because I worry a lot about unimportant things. I obsess over situations out of my control. I dismiss positive experiences that would help lift my spirits and align my focus towards what's important. 
I need a distraction from my own thoughts.
I need balance in my life. Not because I work hard to prepare my classes. Not because I read a lot of professional literature. Not because I wrote a lot this summer and will continue to do so now that school has started. But because I have been obsessing on the wrong things. Mostly, I obsess about what someone said or did and what it says about me as a teacher. I obsess about …