35

My Issue With Rewards

A few years ago, as a new principal, I made a decision to recognize the children for “making a difference” at our school.  The idea was that at our monthly assembly, all staff members would have an opportunity to publicly thank and recognize any student that he/she felt had a made a difference.  Things started out well.  Kids were excited to be recognized.  Students seemed to be doing more around the school and letting us know about it… then after recess one day Ashley (pseudonym) and another student arrived in the office:

Ashley showed up helping another student walk.  The other student was crying and had an obvious scraped, bleeding knee.  Ashley was a primary student who had a number of behaviour concerns and reward/incentive programs were being implemented both at home and at school.  I was so happy that Ashley had decided to use her efforts to help another student…. but then it happened – the ‘Aha’ moment for me.  As soon as she saw me, her attention moved from the injured girl to me, she stopped helping the girl and said to me, “Mr. Wejr, I helped Susan to the office when she was hurt! Can I get one of those “Making A Difference” awards now?” (cue alarms going off in my head).  I stopped right there.  What had I done? Had I just taught this child to help another student not for the reward within the act itself but for the reward of being recognized at an assembly?  My response (not quickly thinking) was, “Yes, you will be recognized but….”  Before I could finish, she was so excited that she skipped off with no concern for what I was saying nor concern for the injured girl.

This recent story illustrates the unintended negative consequences that reward systems can have. I know that majority of teachers and schools make decisions based on what is best for kids and there is no intention of harm but are we, in fact, doing more harm than good by offering incentives for certain behaviours?

We often hear of schools that use merit tickets, gotchas, prizes, etc to encourage students to behave a certain way.  Before I go on further, I need to say that these systems work; they are successful… SHORT TERM.  These systems get students to comply to the rules that we set out but do they actually help to internalize their actions?

PBIS_Ticket

We have not used a school-wide reward system for a number of years (other than my error of implementing the “making a difference” idea); the previous principal and a number of staff members were opposed to motivating kids with incentives and “stuff” (by rewards an incentives, I mean tickets, candy, money, prizes, etc).  Instead of rewards, we provide descriptive feedback on how children could improve as well as what they have done well.  We try to praise their efforts rather than the results of their efforts.  We also honour each child for who they are rather than what they do (without awards).

I recently read a blog by a BC administrator, whom I truly respect and admire, called “Beyond Discipline or Beyond Common Sense” but I have concerns and questions on the promotion of the use of merit tickets.  In the story, he discusses how the use of tickets caused the misbehaving boy to change his behaviour and instead focus on getting caught being good.  To grow as an educators, I want people to challenge  my current opinions, so here are my concerns/thoughts/questions with this:

  • Value of tickets – what is the currency? Is picking up garbage worth 1 ticket and if so, then what is the going rate helping a new student make friends or leading a fundraiser for the SPCA – more tickets or the same?
  • Are we standardizing rewards for individualized behaviours? (much like we standardized grades for individualized learning)
  • How old are students when we stop rewarding with tickets?  What happens when the reward is removed?
  • Are the tickets used to remind teachers to praise?  If yes, is there another way that we can help staff to learn to praise and recognize students efforts?
  • Tickets and incentives do not teach and often those students who misbehave are lacking skills.  How were the behaviour skills learned by the students?
  • Was it the use of tickets or the feedback-based conversations with the teacher that resulted in the behaviour change?
  • Is the student proud of his tickets or proud of who he is?
  • If we are trying to “catch kids being good”, many will make sure they are “caught” (Look at me!).  What happens when we are not around? Will the positive behaviours continue?  Do we want to promote a society that behaves well ONLY under surveillance? (cue argument about speeding tickets)
  • What happens to the student who does not need the incentives to do the right thing? Does their motivation change?

Now, I do not intend to make this an intrinsic vs extrinsic, PBIS/non-PBIS (Positive Behaviour Interventions and Support) debate.  Motivation falls on a spectrum and I feel there is value in both (ie. praising effort as extrinsic).   Also, The PBIS system has a number of effective practices; my issue is with the behaviourist view on use of rewards.  I know many who use the rewards system in PBIS cite the research done by Judy Cameron of University of Alberta and I could make this blog even longer and cite the words and/or research written by some educators, economists, and psychologists.  Instead of this, here is a list of people that discuss the problems/concerns of rewards-based programs but I encourage you to research their ideas:

  • Jean Piaget
  • Maria Montessori
  • Nel Noddings
  • Michel Foucault
  • Richard Ryan and Edward Deci – Self Determination Theory
  • Dr. Ross Greene
  • Rick Lavoie
  • Barry Schwartz
  • John Hattie
  • Daniel Pink
  • Carol Dweck
  • Seth Godin
  • Barbara Coloroso

As someone who previously used tickets (Weej Bucks, Bobcat Bucks) as a classroom teacher and also as a principal who has observed the negative impact that a reliance on incentive-based systems can have, I challenge and encourage you to reflect upon the current practices and determine if the rewards like this are actually needed.  What if we just did the following:

  1. Relationships: focus on trusting, caring relationships with kids
  2. Feedback: provide descriptive feedback (positive and negative) to students based on their actions – how did it make them feel? How did it make others feel? Help students to see the reward within the task itself.   Dr. Ross Greene tells us that all kids WANT to do well if they CAN.  Help teach students the skills so they can do well.
  3. Work WITH Students: include student voice in the conversation around behaviour and avoid doing things TO students.
  4. Honour: focus on the strengths, rather than deficits, of the child.  Continue to work with the child on skill development but encourage the use of strengths and passion
  5. Reflect: what is it about the task that is making this difficult?  Include students in this conversation.  Are we playing a role in making it more difficult for the student?

If we did these simple things every day with each student (obviously some would need more support than others), would there be a need for tickets and other prizes?  In my experience, the answer is no.  I have observed classes and schools that have respectful cultures that do not rely on incentives.   Do we have the perfect school in which every one behaves respectfully all the time? No, we have some incidents of disrespect and inappropriate behaviours just like other schools but we approach each incident with a learning/growth mindset and, although it is much more difficult and it takes much longer, we continue to see long-term learning without the need for prizes.

For those who often cite the workforce or the real world to support the argument for  the use of rewards, I will leave you with an example from the “Motivational Guru” Dwight Schrute:

For another video that compares this to the thoughts of Alfie Kohn, please click here.

Thank you to Tom for making me think and reflect on this topic. As this is an often debated issue and this is based on my opinion, I look forward to reading your comments.

36

It’s Easy…

Which road will you take?

Which road will you take? image - http://bit.ly/pASkSU

As educators, we are often faced with an opportunity to take the easy road or the hard road.  The easy road often works for us as parents, teachers, administrators but it rarely works for kids.  The difficult road may be an immediate challenge and take much more time and effort but this is most often the road that leads to real learning.

It’s easy… to suspend or send a child home for misbehaving.  It’s more difficult to spend time WITH the child, actually listen to him/her, model and teach him/her the social skills needed to be successful in life.

It’s easy… to give a number or letter (grade) to a child as a way to mark or judge the work.  It’s more difficult to provide ongoing coaching, descriptive feedback and formative assessment that will improve the child’s learning.

It’s easy… to give a zero.  It’s more difficult to tell a child “I will not let you get a zero, I will be continue to work with you to determine the reason you want to resort to taking a zero and then provide strategies to ensure you can demonstrate your learning”.

It’s easy… to teach to the test.  It’s more difficult to teach to each child.

It’s easy… to teach the curriculum.  It’s difficult to work to ensure that each child learns the curriculum.

It’s easy… to motivate student achievement with a prize/reward.  It’s more difficult to model being a learner, develop a safe, trusting environment and lessons that are truly engaging so the focus is on learning.

It’s easy… to give out tickets and bribes for good behaviour.  It’s more difficult to teach empathy, ethics, and care so that children are intrinsically motivated and will choose their actions because it is the good and right thing to do.

It’s easy… to kick a child out of class or place in a time out.  It’s more difficult to work with the child so that he/she feels cared for and actually learns the needed skills.

It’s easy… to lead from the top-down.  It’s more difficult to actually listen and make decisions based on the voices of others (although this often makes things easier).

It’s easy… to turn your head the other way or pretend you did not hear something that goes against what you stand for.  It’s more difficult to have those challenging, learning conversations with people regarding these statements and/or actions.

It’s easy… to not include the voice of parents in the school/classroom.  It’s more difficult to engage parents and build trust so that we develop a partnership to do what’s best for our children.

It’s easy… to make decisions based on white, middle class culture.  It’s more difficult to actually listen to the voices and build trust in those that have been disengaged and marginalized for many years.

It’s easy… to keep your thoughts and opinions in your head.  It’s more difficult to share these with others through presentations, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and other forms of social media.

It’s easy… to close our door and teach our kids.  It’s more difficult to open the door, allow others to observe our class/school, reflect and collaborate with others, and receive input on how to improve our practice.

It’s easy… do do things TO others by controlling.  It’s more difficult to do things WITH others by facilitating.

It’s easy… to give awards to top students.  It’s more difficult to seek out and recognize the gifts and passions of each student.

It’s easy… to place A and B students on an honour roll… it’s more difficult to honour each child for who they are.

It’s easy… to say NO.  It’s more difficult to say HOW CAN WE make this happen?

It’s easy… to standardize.  It’s more difficult to personalize.

It’s easy… to design an education system that teaches a child to ‘do school’.  It’s more difficult to build a system that encourages students to develop the skills, character, and mindset so that they can truly flourish in life in and beyond school.

With any decision- ask yourself: am I taking the easy road that works for me right now or am I taking the more difficult road that benefits others in the future?

I would love for you to add any other “It’s easy…” comments below.

3

Recognizing ALL Students: Greystone Middle School

EVERY child has a strength inside them; it is our job, as educators, to bring this out.  “Recognizing ALL Students” is a page designed to showcase the success stories of schools that have moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies and monthly assemblies that only focus on a select few students to a place where ALL students are recognized for their unique talents and interests.

I am pleased to showcase Greystone Centennial Middle School from Spruce Grove, Alberta as a school that has moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies to a process that works to honour and recognize each student.  Thank you to principal Carolyn Cameron (@carolynjcameron) and teacher Jessie Krefting (@jessiekrefting) for their insights and efforts. Greystone is part of the Parkland Division – a division that continues to be an innovative leader along many avenues of education.

greystone

Why did you move away from the traditional format of awards ceremonies?

Carolyn: “We had the privilege of opening a brand new middle school in our community 6 years ago and we were very intentional NOT to set up traditions and structures that did not support what we fundamentally believed in for students – education is not about ranking and sorting students with special recognition and rewards for the few – our philosophy was based on abundance and growth.  Every learner has something special to offer and should be given the opportunity to shine.  We did not get there, however, in our first year – we have made adjustments every year to bring our parent community, students and staff along.”

Jessie: “When I was at another school in the far west of our school division (the same school division as Greystone, where I am teaching now) myself (grade 6) and the grade 1 teacher jumped on the opportunity to implement and pilot a new, innovative report card. This report card was a huge leap for parents, students and other staff members. Coupled with this report card in which we used phrases such as “can consistently do” “is working towards consistently doing” “needs support in” to describe student learning, we (the two of us) chose to not give our students the traditional academic awards for honours etc. This was a huge bone of contention with parents. I purposely chose at the academic awards to recognize each one of my students for something that they did that term that was special and an area where they showed growth. I know that this school is still doing academic awards in the 7-9 stream however, they have stopped the academic awards in K-6.”

How are you honouring and recognizing each student OR what is your current ceremony format?

We have monthly assemblies that celebrate special things going on in our school, we have a talent show, and we have a year end assembly (we call it a celebration) where we focus on the service/volunteerism of our students.  All other sharing and celebrating occurs within grade level “Learning Communities” throughout the year.  We have student led conferences where learning is shared and celebrated and our year end celebrations recognize each and every student for their accomplishments from the year.  Each grade level team organizes this year end event to include parents. Students receive recognition for Citizenship and Social Responsibility as well as academic achievement and growth.  Teachers ensure that all students are recognized for their accomplishments.

What impact has this had on your students?

Our assemblies are HIGHLY engaging as we focus on school spirit, community building and creating positive energy within the school.  One of my very favourite things we do at our beginning of the year assembly and end of the year assembly is the “gauntlet”.  Our new grade fives enter their first school assembly being welcomed through a double line of grade 9 students cheering and high-fiving for them – they are given messages/cards to welcome them.  At the year end assembly/celebration (that replaces the awards assembly), our grade nines go through the cheering “gauntlet” created by our grade 5’s as they leave the gym for the last time.  The grade fives present them with a photo cd and cards wishing them good luck in High School.  The nines always get teary and emotional during this.

Have there been any challenges to this change?

We developed a committee/focus group in the first year to discuss the reasons why we do awards ceremonies and who really benefits from this kind of tradition.  I think that helped set the groundwork.  The next step in our journey was the development of a reporting system that does not include marks – we assess students and report their performance based on meeting outcomes.  This aligned with our focus on individual growth and achievement – not competition.  The biggest challenges have come from parents of students who are high achievers – we have helped these folks understand, through many many conversations, that the reward is not what motivates their son/daughter to do well – they are driven by success and they feed off of doing the best they can do for themselves…they will continue to do well whether there is a prize at the end or not….in time, this has proven true so we are no longer being challenged on this anymore.  We have been working hard, through our assessment practices, to help students see for themselves, what they need to do to grow and learn (and it has nothing to do with a prize).

Anything else you would like to add?

We will be implementing an even more innovative report card next year that is process skills/competencies based (as opposed to information/content driven) which means our teachers will be pushed even further to develop assessments that measure performance/process as opposed to heavy focus on summative products.   Students will continue to become self-reflective, metacognitive learners who set goals for personal improvement and take ownership of their own learning.

Thank you to Carolyn, Jessie, and the staff and community of Greystone Middle for leading the way in assessment, student motivation and learning!

If you are aware of another school that is challenging the traditional method of honouring students, please contact me.

7

Recognizing ALL Students: St. Gregory College Prep School

EVERY child has a strength inside them; it is our job, as educators, to bring this out.  “Recognizing ALL Students” is a page designed to showcase the success stories of schools that have moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies and monthly assemblies that only focus on a select few students to a place where ALL students are recognized for their unique talents and interests.

Through many conversations I have had over the past year, I have heard “That is great that your elementary school has ended the awards ceremony… but good luck doing that at the secondary/high school level!”.  I recently came across Jonathan Martin‘s post at his 21K12 site that describes in great detail the decision that his school, a high school in Tuscon, made to move away from the traditional awards ceremony.  I  thought their story would be a great addition to the conversation here so I asked if I could re-post his blog on the Wejr Board as part of the “Recognizing ALL Students: The Movement” series.

Jonathan is a colleague of mine from the Connected Principals site and a valued part of my PLN.  He continually challenges my thinking and is a great example of a progressive, informed educator who puts his learning into practice.  Thank you, Jonathan, for allowing me to post your words here:.  If you are interested in highlighting your school’s decision to recognize all students, please email me.

St. Gregory

Awards at St. Gregory: Changes We Are Making To Recognize All Students

Dear members of the St. Gregory community:

Recognizing our students for their unique talents as outstanding individuals, creative and compassionate community contributors, and extraordinary intellects is something important to us all.

Important also is that we make choices which strengthen and enhance the quality of our supportive and collaborative learning community.  We know that students thrive most and learn most when they believe that the growth and the contributions of each of them are valued deeply, greatly, and equitably by their teachers.

As each school year ends, it is especially important that we take strong strides to value every learner and enhance our learning community.   Traditionally, in the middle school, each and every 8th grade student is individually recognized, appreciated, and honored by a teacher at the lovely promotional ceremony.

In the past, our high school graduation ceremonies have only included the naming of each graduate as he or she is welcomed to the stage and awarded a diploma.   This year, for the first time, we will initiate a new tradition at graduation in which each and every graduate is personally introduced by a faculty member with thoughtful remarks valuing the graduate’s qualities and contributions. It is my expectation that this ceremony will be warmer, more personal, more affirming, and more uplifting as we put our attention on our fine students, celebrate their accomplishments, and honor their character, scholarship, leadership, and innovation.

Last spring was the first time in my 21 year career in which I had the opportunity to observe a school awards assembly or awards process.   Neither of the two previous schools at which I taught and served as Head had any awards tradition.   I thought our ceremonies, both middle school and upper school, were each lovely in the way our teachers spoke about students and their accomplishments.   But it was not evident to me that these ceremonies were affirming and uplifting to the learning of all our students.

In the days after the ceremonies, I felt a bit besieged by the disgruntlement the ceremonies created.   Parents called to say their children were demoralized, disappointed, or disillusioned by the process.  Often expressed was that the process seemed arbitrary or prejudicial, a matter of playing favorites.

One graduating senior wrote me a compelling and articulate letter, excerpted below, which I did not feel should be ignored.

Today’s awards ceremony was a huge letdown. I understand the goal is to highlight the students that succeed in our school, but instead it ended up making the rest of us feel inadequate and ignored.

The awards ceremony made me feel like my accomplishments are trivial. Essentially, today took the wind out of my sails.

Graduation is about the ENTIRE senior class and our accomplishments. I don’t want to attend a graduation where my friends and I go unnoticed once again.

Please make the rest of us feel like we matter too.

I make a habit of reading widely in the contemporary literature of motivation and the psychology of success; to my observation, there is very little reason to believe that awards are motivating for achievement.  Research has repeatedly demonstrated that intrinsic motivation is far more effective for life-long passion and purpose than is extrinsic motivation.   I highly recommend Dan Pink’s new book: Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, in which he very powerfully explains the evidence that external awards actually can reduce success in higher order thinking skills: offering someone the carrot of a reward to motivate them actually reduces his or her effectiveness and success in completing a higher order thinking, complex task.  (Conversely, for very low level, effectively mindless tasks, rewards or awards can motivate in a small way).

“An incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ended up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature, narrow our focus.”

“Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when applying goals in your organization.”

By offering a reward, a principal signals to the agent that the task is undesirable. (If the task were desirable, the agent wouldn’t need a prod.)”

Stanford Psychology Professor Dr. Carol Dweck, in her terrific book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explains how students can be potentially derailed from their growth mindset and into a problematic fixed mindset in school settings where some students are regularly rewarded and others are not.   The psychology of all this, not all of which is entirely conscious, is very powerful according to Dweck.  Some students may take away from their award exclusion that they are simply not capable of such achievement, and discontinue their efforts.  Other students, when winning awards, come to think this is the result of their innate, fixed abilities.   In this scenario, these award-winning students can become quite conservative in their learning, choosing not to take risks or try new things in areas in which they might not be successful, because in doing so they will jeopardize their self-identity as an award winner.

The most compelling reason to continue awards as they have been, I believe, is because we do know that many of our students have exerted themselves enormously, with great diligence and efforts, and they have accomplished extraordinary things.  Indeed.   Granting these students awards is a way of recognizing, acknowledging, and honoring these fine students.

However, these are often decisions difficult to make, and inevitably there is some ill-will generated in the process, ill-will which does not strengthen our school’s learning community.  Parents and students sometimes view the awards as having been decided in arbitrary ways, or by “favoritism.”  This concern was particularly prominent in the conversation I had with parents attending the November Family Association meeting.  That some deserving students are honored by awards misses the reality that other deserving students are hurt and by their perception their effort is devalued by not winning an award.

The good news is that in our new format, each and every student completing our programs, in the middle school and in the school as a whole, as 12th grade graduates, will have their hard work and extraordinary accomplishments acknowledged as is appropriate, in remarks which speak to the unique attributes of each.   Graduates will be spoken about, commended and congratulated twice: once in the “senior dinner” at which each graduate is paid tribute to by a pair of teachers, and then at graduation, as they are being awarded a diploma.

Some have asked about the importance of awards for our students’ college applications.   In the past, 70-80% of all awards have gone to graduating seniors, for whom these awards come too late to have any impact on a college application.  Furthermore, our very experienced and knowledgeable College Counselor, Malika Johnson, reports to us that internal school awards like this are not seen by most college admissions officers as significant in their decision-making process (awards granted to students from outside our school community do, in contrast, have significance in the process).

Motivated by the many disappointed and dissenting voices I heard last spring, I have conducted a review of our awards tradition over the past several months.   I enjoyed extended conversations with the upper school faculty (twice) and the middle school faculty (once); with the Family Association in an open meeting in advance of which we advertised we’d be discussing awards; and with a group of students who joined me for a conversation which I openly announced.

In all these conversations, there was very strong support for the changes we are making to the graduation ceremony.  At each discussion, many widely varying opinions were offered about awards, but in none of the conversations, by the end, did there continue to be very strong advocacy for continuing the status quo, and in both the faculty and the parent conversations, there was by the end instead a clear majority support for ending our awards process.

Two surveys were conducted.  One went to parents, announced two times in the e-View, it received very little participation—well under 5% of parents responded.   Of those that did, a majority expressed strong support for our awards tradition.   Our St. Gregory faculty members also completed a survey, for which we received nearly 100% participation; of the 35 members of our faculty in the survey, only 4 teachers, 11%, expressed a wish that we continue with the status quo tradition of past year (15% of those expressing a preference).   23% expressed no preference, and a clear majority of our faculty members, nearly two/thirds, expressed a preference to end the status quo (85% of those expressing a preference).

With such an overwhelming proportion of our faculty in support of a change; with the strong support for such a change I received from the family association conversation; with respect for the student views that while awards are valued by some it is also understood perhaps they do diminish the sense of student community; and after discussion with the executive committee of the Board of Trustees; I have decided we will no longer have awards at St. Gregory in the way we have in the past.

To clarify further, we will not host end-of-year awards assemblies in the middle and upper school, and we will not distribute in any venue a large number of departmental and general student awards.

We are not deciding at this juncture to never offer any awards.  In our faculty poll, the plurality selection (40%) (and the majority (54%)of those who expressed an opinion) was for the option “end the status quo but allow some flexibility for some award giving.”

Hence, we are reserving the option on an ad-hoc basis to grant selectively and in small numbers awards at all-school or division meetings, perhaps at graduation or promotion ceremonies, or perhaps at all-school academic pep rallies and learning celebrations.

We are also continuing our development of a program of special diplomas for students who commit to and complete a course of study and activity to develop certain skills.   These will not be awards decided by teachers and granted to only a few, but will be distinctions students attain by their choice to pursue and their success at accomplishing them.

Finally, we will also continue to encourage and support our students in seeking external awards, individually and as part of teams.  We recognize that there is great value in our students having opportunity to participate and compete in larger arenas, and although there are still potentially problematic issues of appropriate motivation entailed in such external awards programs, there are not at all the same issues of compromising the learning community that internal awards create.

Some in our community will be disappointed about this decision, certainly.  Awards are part of our tradition, and awards offer value to highlighting the things most important to a school program, academic accomplishment.  Those community members who disagree with this decision are welcome to give feedback or share their contrasting points of view: I value greatly a learning community marked by active, civil discourse and dissent.

For me, the paramount values for an educational program are that we seek to motivate students in the best, most well research-supported ways, and that we strive to create a genuinely strong  learning community where all feel valued and all feel eager to support one another in learning.  Awards, to the best of my understanding and perception, simply do not serve these values.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Martin

0

New Page at Wejr Board – Rethinking Awards Ceremonies

Many people have been asking about information on the topic of awards ceremonies in school.  I did have a Diigo page going (on motivation) but I thought I would add a page on my blog that highlights the words of many writers on this important topic.

Please click here to go to my page on “Rethinking Awards Ceremonies“.

If you know of any other posts/articles on the topic, please let me know.

In addition, if you are a school that has moved away from the traditional awards ceremonies to one that recognizes ALL students, please let me know so I can include you in “Recognize ALL Students – The Movement”.

5

Awards Day – A Poem

While reading and commenting on Amanda C. Dykes’ blog post, “And The Award Goes To…“, I came across this poem (shared by Rebecca as a

By frankjuarez http://bit.ly/jJi5DI

By frankjuarez http://bit.ly/jJi5DI

comment) and I felt I needed to share:

Awards Day – by Beth Moore

I went to my son’s school that day
It was a very special day
When worthy tributes would be paid
To honor students in 1st grade.
Music ushered children in
Faces wet with toothless grins
Flags were raised and banners hung
Pledges said and anthems sung.
I stood with other moms in back
He didn’t know I’d come, in fact
I didn’t want his hopes set high
In case his teacher passed him by.
Every mom felt just the same
All had come to hear one name
The child she hoped they’d recognize
And find deserving of a prize.
The list went on page after page
As beaming children walked the stage
Cameras flashed and parents cheered
Grandma smiled ear to ear.
My eyes were fastened to just one
The anxious posture of my son
Perched at the very edge of seat
Too young to have assumed defeat.
Certificates for everything
From grades they made to how they sing
For days missed, for how they drew,
Good citizens to name a few.
But it wasn’t likely on that day
They’d honor one who’d learned to play
And stay in class from eight to three
Who’d learned to write and learned to read.

We hadn’t hoped he’d be the best
We’d prayed he’d fit in with the rest
I knew no matter who they’d call
My boy had worked hardest of all.

An elbow nudged me in the side
A friend attempting to confide
A boy waving frantically,
“There’s my mom! Right there! You see?”
They never called his name that day
I drove straight home, sobbed all the way.
The boy? He had ceased to care.
He had a mom and she was there.

(poem written by Beth Moore, found in her Things Pondered book)

What happens to a child that, no matter how hard he/she tries, they never win an award? What if this was your child?

As we near awards ceremony days in schools, please take a moment to reflect if this is, in fact, a positive tradition in our schools.

Join The Movement to Recognize All Students.

15

The Wejr Family Awards

The "Weejie Award" from '88 that hangs above my bed for inspiration.

The "Weejie Award" from '88 that hangs above my bed for inspiration.

As we approach May, and now that I have 2 daughters, it is time to continue a long standing Wejr Family tradition – the “Weejies” –  The Wejr Family Awards.

Growing up, I was an A student and a decent athlete so I always looked forward to the day when my parents invited my family over to watch me beat out my sister for the academic and athletic awards.  I really think this helped me to become successful in the “competitive real world” and losing these awards motivated my sister to try harder.  She was brilliant in areas such as care, friendship, and family but always needed a little boost in her quest for the important real world things like grades and trophies.  Although we were two years apart and developed at different rates, I believe that it was important for her to learn how to lose and see that there are people better than her and that she needed to work harder in areas that were important, not to her, but to my parents.

So now, my wife and I have decided to continue on this journey.  Our first Wejr Family Awards have been discussed.  We have one daughter that was born 3 lbs heavier than the other (they are twins).  She has developed a few weeks ahead so is going to clean up this year!  We are so proud and excited for her.  Our other daughter will be motivated by these awards (that have nothing to do with development, of course) and will try harder to maybe be the first to walk or even talk!  (I look forward to grading them in their journey to walk and ride a bike – its important that they know where they are at and what better way of showing them this than a letter grade?).  The key here is that by encouraging our children to strive for these awards, and defeat the other, they will achieve more and be pushed toward a more successful career in the real world.  I know that without these awards, given once a year at the end of the school year, my girls will struggle to see the value in learning and helping others.  That is why I am so excited to continue the tradition of… “The Weejies”.

Obviously we would NEVER do this to our kids… so the question is: WHY DO WE DO THIS IN SCHOOLS?

NOTE: I want to thank my parents for always encouraging and seeing the strengths and interests in their children.  My sister and I had completely different strengths and because of my parents, my sister continues to be my best friend and teach me so many things in areas in which she excels: compassion, care,and family.

A few more thoughts from me on awards:

23

Awards Prepare Kids For The ‘Real World’ – Really?

I am pleased to have Brian Barry (@nunavut_teacher) as a guest blogger.  Brian is  a Grade 9 Math/Science teacher from Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada who is passionate about education technology and human motivation.  His thoughts on motivation, including rewards and punishment, continue to inspire me as an educator.  For more thoughts from Brian, check out his blog, Against the Wind.

By Brian Barry

When I have the energy I will engage people on why I disagree with awards in school.  The retort I hear most to support awards is, “Well, it’s like that in the ‘real world.’”

Inspired by Rick Lavoie’s talk about competition, I decided to engage today.  I asked a couple of friends a few questions.  (One was a teacher and the other was not.)

I asked if a 120 lb wrestler should be competing against a 200 lb wrestler at the Olympics? They answered, “No.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not fair. They should be competing against their own weight class in order to make it fair.” I agreed. (I also noted that the wrestlers choose to wrestle and train for the Olympics. They were not forced to do it.)

Next, I asked the teacher, “Do you have different reading levels in your class?”

“Yes, there is a wide range.”  So I asked why is it fair to be giving out an award for “Best reader” in your class if it is not a fair contest?  I also noted students don’t walk into class with a choice to compete for that award. It is a given.  The competition is forced upon them.  Indeed, when I framed the anti-award argument in that way, I made some head way with them.

Rick Lavoie notes two differences in competition in schools as compared with the “real world.”

  1. In the world outside of school, people only compete when they want to.
  2. We only compete against peers.

So, if you want to wrestle you choose to do that against others who choose to wrestle. Further, you wrestle against your peers- the same weight class.

In school, students compete against classmates for awards. However, the competition is not a choice as it is thrust upon them.  Moreover, that competition is not against their peers. People may be in the same grade but have different abilities. (Note: When using peer in this paragraph I mean a person who is equal to another in abilities.)

Moreover, Rick Lavoie also notes the following:  Only people who feel they have a chance of winning will compete.  Thus, the competition in class only works for a few.  Indeed, competition creates an atmosphere where students see each other as obstacles, instead of seeing them as team or group members working for a common cause- learning.

I submit to you, as Rick Lavoie does, that it’s time to celebrate personal best, not the best. So, the question still remains: Why are students competing for  awards in school again? It sure does not reflect the so called “real world.”

55

The Price of Grades

What marks do I need to score this?In a recent article in the Vancouver Province, it described an initiative started by a community to pay their children for getting good grades.  After reading this, my heart began to race and I was floored.  How could an entire community believe that extrinsically motivating (bribing) kids into getting good grades was going to help with their learning?

Many of us have read from Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink about the harm of using extrinsic rewards for learning and how this can actually inhibit students from participating in higher level thinking, risk-taking, and deeper learning.  Kohn has stated, “the more you reward someone for doing something, the less interest that person will tend to have in whatever he or she was rewarded to do.”

So why is it acceptable to pay kids or reward kids for learning?  These tactics may work very short term but what about the harm that it does in the long term?  What happens if the reward is removed?  Will the student still see value in learning?  What is the going rate for an A; is there inflation?

I was so fired up that I went in the staff room and showed some staff the article.  A few staff members were appalled, some didn’t really have much of an opinion and one teacher said, “I think it is a good idea”.  WHAT?!?!  I asked her to continue and fill me in on how this is a good idea; she continued, “well, the system is not working for these kids, the community is probably frustrated that the system is not changing, so they are trying something.”  I gave every reason why this was a bad idea (places focus on grades rather than learning, students become more worried about the reward than the process, etc) and we agreed to disagree.

Later in the day, I started to reflect on the words of this teacher.  I started to begin to see what she was saying.  The system is not working for many kids; they are not motivated by grades and their learning is not being personalized in a way that is meaningful and relevant.  So if one extrinsic motivator (grades) is not working, and their intrinsic motivational needs (Autonomy, Master, Purpose – from Daniel Pink) are not being met, the community felt they had no choice but to increase the extrinsic motivator by adding cash.

Boom.  Although I 100% disagree with using money as a carrot/bribe for achievement (please do not do this), the real problem is a system that is failing far too many students.  The system is not relevant to many kids.  (It is far worse when people have the ability to change the system and choose to resort to paying kids for grades like the Chicago Public Schools “Green For Grades” Program).

In BC, there is plenty of talk these days around “personalized learning”.  In order for us to make school more “personalized” and relevant to students we need to change the focus on achievement and grades to more of a focus on the process of learning.  The curriculum needs to be altered (made smaller) so teachers have the time and flexibility to bring in topics and learning activities that are of interest to students.  Students also need a much bigger voice in what and how they learn.  Schools should be a place where students can come and have the opportunity to learn something in which they have an interest, not be forced to learn something in which they have no interest.

I have taught grade 1 through grade 12 and as they grow older, many students seem to lose their sense of curiosity and learning – a primary student has yet to ask me, “Is this for marks?`while this is a common question in most high school classes.

So what happens to this inquisitive learning nature in children? Why do some feel the need to have to resort to bribing students into doing well at school?  As students move up through the system, the societal and educational focus shifts from learning to grades and from the child to the curriculum. Some of the teachers at our school have stated that they would love to just teach what is meaningful to their students but they are pressured from society and the Ministry of Education to define student learning in the form of a single letter or number. Too, they feel pressure to make sure they get through the mandated curriculum.

So what is worse: paying students to get good grades? defining learning with a single letter? forcing a student to fit into a system that may not be relevant to him/her?

Every student and educator WANTS to do well. We need to change the system so that they all CAN do well (Dr. Ross Greene).  If we create an education system in which educators and students have the flexibility to make learning truly personalized and meaningful to students, people will not have to resort to the behaviourist theory of using harmful bribes and extrinsic rewards such as grades and money.

Let’s work together as educators, parents, students, and community members to create this change so there is no reason to consider the price of grades.

7

Good Luck, Thank You, Farewell

I have been asked by a few parents to post my Farewell Speech to the Grade 6’s that was said at our Grade 6 Year-End Honouring Ceremony June 24th, 2010:

When principals come up and give farewell speeches to classes leaving their school, they often talk about moving on and getting a step closer to the ‘real world’.  Lately, I have been pondering this idea and I have come to the realization that to our students, school is the real world.  This is not some fantasy fake world that exists in some other level or continuum – this IS the real world.  We have to be careful about ‘warning’ our students about entering the real world because as I have grown to know these amazing students, I have realized that their present real worlds may actually be more difficult than the world in which they will enter after high school.  Many of the kids in front of you are determined, supportive individuals who have overcome an unbelievable number of challenges and obstacles just to get to this point in their education.  This needs to be recognized.

EACH student needs to be recognized for all their strengths and talents that they have; they also need to be recognized for the contributions they make to our school and community.  As you are well aware, the Kent Staff has made a monumental step to change the way we honour our students.  In the past, we would be here and watch a select few students get recognized; we still want to recognize those athletes and academic students, but what about the students who spend every lunch hour working with younger students?  How do we recognize them?  They do not do this for any award, they just do this because it is the right thing to do – and this needs to be recognized.  I will never forget last year when I overheard a student say that they “lost the athletic award”.  This student has a strength in athletics yet he viewed not getting the award as a loss.  This is exactly why the First Nation program at our school puts on an honouring ceremony that recognizes the strengths of every FN student in the school and why we have expanded our year end ceremony to include all members of our grade 6 class.  The recognition of all our students is so important and so very well deserved.

In the next few minutes you will hear teachers talk about their students’ strengths and qualities.  It is our hope that these students are already aware of these amazing qualities and will leave our school and continue to focus on these talents.  It is our hope that these strengths are, in fact, passions and that they spend their time doing something in which they are passionate about.  So grade 6’s, you know what you are good at – do it!  Really challenge yourself in these areas.  Push yourselves and encourage each other in these areas of strengths.

When you push yourself you might actually go outside of your comfort zone and take a risk.  When you do this, you WILL make mistakes – please remember mistakes are made because you are pushing yourself and that is a great thing.  That is how we learn and move forward in life.  My wife, Tonya, is a dance teacher and there is a saying that she uses in dance:  “if you fall, make it part of the dance”.  That is what we want you to do – push yourselves, take risks, fall, get up – and make it part of the dance, make it part of your plan.  Times when you fall is when the best learning takes place.

Although, there are many teachers in this school that have put in significant amounts of time to help you to learn, I just wanted to take some time to thank you for some things YOU have taught ME:

  • Thank you for teaching me that field hockey can be played with lacrosse sticks and can involve teamwork of players in grades 1 through 6
  • Thank you for teaching me the importance of buddy reading and the power of having an older literacy mentor
  • Thank you for teaching me that it is ok to show emotions and that growing up can be one of the most difficult times in our lives – and that we need each other so much during this time
  • Thank you for showing me that kids do NOT need to do things for a reward – the volunteer time you have put in to help supervise our primary students at lunch time, run our gym equipment room every single day, go out every lunch and help students in our strong start centre, preparing lunches for gatherings of our families and elders, helping to ref mini-hockey games in the primary end, for giving back to our community by giving up your Saturday to accompany two of our valued elderly adults as you pushed them in their wheelchairs to attend the Highway of Heroes event a few weeks ago.

These are just a few of the things that you have taught me.  You have not participated in these important activities for any reason other than ‘because it was the right thing to do’.  We need to recognize and honour all of you for not only your accomplishments and strengths but also what you have taught us during your time here in your ‘real world’ at Kent.

Today is your day, enjoy the moment and we wish you nothing but the best in the next phase of your education.

Thank you.