Questioning Awards

I was recently asked by educator Larry Ferlazzo to share my views on awards ceremonies as part of his article on Ideas for The Last Two Weeks of School. Here are my thoughts:

The final few weeks of school are often the time for meeting, choosing, and awarding the winners at our schools.  Three years ago, our school made the decision to move away from awards ceremonies and consider other ways to honour all of our students.

Although I believe we need to move away from awards I also know this is a difficult decision in most schools as there are often lengthy traditions of trophies and awards.  I am not advocating we lower expectations nor am I stating that every child should get some “top _____ award”; however, as we observe our formal year-end awards ceremonies, I strongly encourage you to reflect upon the following questions:

  1. How many students have strengths and have put forth great efforts but are not awarded?

  2. What impact does a child’s parents, culture, language, socioeconomics and current/previous teachers have on the winners/losers?

  3. Does choosing a select few students as winners align with our school mission and vision?

  4. Are there other ways we can honour and showcase excellence?

  5. Is there a specific criteria or standard that must be met to achieve the award?  If yes, then can more than one person be honoured or is it simply about awarding one person that is better than his/her peers in a specific area chosen by the school?

  6. How does a quest for an individual award align with a culture that encourages teamwork and collaboration?

  7. If we honoured and showcased student learning in a variety of ways throughout the year, would a year -end awards ceremony be necessary?

  8. Do students have a choice on whether or not they enter this competition?

  9. If awards are about student excellence and motivation in the “real world”, why do we not host awards ceremonies for our top children in our homes?

  10. If we are seeing success in encouraging inquiry-based learning, focusing on formative assessment and fostering a growth mindset, how can we defend a ceremony that fosters a fixed mindset and mainly showcases winners often based on grades and/or scores?

I believe we need to honour and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder… is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Host celebration of learning events throughout the year (or one at the end of the year) in which students highlight/share examples and demonstrations of a key part of their learning.

  • Host honouring assemblies in which each student is recognized at a point during the year not through an award but through stories and examples of his/her learning, strengths, and interests

  • Encourage class/department events in which each class showcases and shares areas they have been highlighting in their learning

  • Combine the above events with parent/family luncheons so more time can be spent sharing the stories.

  • Share online the wonderful work students and staff do in our schools. Provide digital windows that highlight various stories of learning.

Although there is no single best way to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of our students, we must be aware of our school traditions and cultures and also work together to reflect upon and challenge current practices to create positive change that seeks to honour ALL of our students.

For links to posts on awards ceremonies from a variety of parents and educators, please check out Rethinking Awards Ceremonies.