Posts Tagged motivation

Is a School Awards Ceremony the BEST We Can Do?

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.

 

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Engaging Without Carrots & Sticks

CC Image from http://flic.kr/p/5PbHjR

Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm and I were recently asked by educator and author Larry Ferlazzo to respond to the question: HOW CAN WE  KEEP STUDENTS ENGAGED WITHOUT CARROTS & STICKS?  My response originally appeared at Education Week here but I wanted to cross-post on my blog as well.

Becoming a father and making the transition to teaching primary students has made it very clear to me that our kids begin their lives with an inquisitive mind and an enviable level of excitement for learning.  Primary students seem to have an energetic curiosity and require very little motivation for engagement; however, as these students progress through our system and the focus moves from the child to the curriculum and learning to grades, they often seem to lose that drive.  We, as parents and educators, often influence a shift in this drive by focusing on results and external motivators.  By dangling things such as grades, praise, prizes, awards, and threats of punishment, we unintentionally rob students of responsibility and their intrinsic drive for learning; we alter the focus to what they will get rather than what they are doing.  By the time students reach high school, their inquisitive desire to learn is often shifted to a quest for grades. For those students who do not see relevance and purpose in this quest, they often disengage as learners and then we feel the need to resort to motivating by offering carrots and threatening sticks.

I strongly believe that (to adapt from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, researchers of motivation at the University of Rochester and written about by Daniel Pink), we cannot motivate students; we can only create the conditions in which students can motivate themselves.  We cannot MAKE kids learn; we can make them behave a certain way, memorize and complete tasks in the short-term when we are supervising them but this does not mean they are gaining the skills and receiving the support needed to be learners.

Even in a system dominated by curricula, scores, and grades, we can still work to tap into that intrinsic drive by focusing on:

  1. Relationships – a trusting, caring relationship helps students to understand the learning is about them rather than test scores and curricula. In order for us to make the curriculum relevant to their learning we must build relationships with our students.
  2. Ownership – Work WITH students so they have a voice in their learning. Through a focus on Assessment For Learning, we include students in assessments and provide ongoing dialogue around descriptive feedback (rather than grades) based on agreed upon criteria and goals.  Harvard professor and author Dr. Ross Greene states that “all students can do well if they can”; we need to provide the feedback on behaviour and learning skills so kids can do well. Too, we need to include students in this conversation.
  3. Choice – Provide students with more autonomy of HOW they will learn and demonstrate their learning.
  4. Relevancy – Relate the curriculum to the interests and passions of our students. They need to see meaningful connections and purpose for real learning to occur.
  5. SuccessTom Schimmer, a BC author and leader in Assessment for Learning, says that we need to “over prepare ‘em” for that first summative assessment.  Push back those first few assessments and ensure students do well then build on this experienced success. We need to focus on strengths, support the challenges, and help students have a growth mindset so they can experience failure and success as feedback and develop the belief they can all be learners.


Our students arrive at school motivated to learn. Through accountability measures and other structures we are often forced to produce short-term results. Unfortunately, this can lead to the use of extrinsic motivators which place the focus away from the learning and on the immediate result rather than the skills and support needed for long-term engagement and success. As educators, we must continue to work to create the conditions to best support our students so that they can maintain that intrinsic drive for learning and not become someone who only reaches for that dangled carrot.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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It ALL Starts With Relationships

CC Image from Beatnic http://bit.ly/uttoUC

I am thrilled to have a former student, Kenny Kou, write a guest post on my blog.  Kenny and I have been conversing (and challenging each other’s ideas) for the past few years on the topic of education reform through email while he was enrolled as an math/engineering student at the University of Waterloo.  He has now started a new journey as a grade 5-7 teacher in Nigeria.  He sent me an email about his experience during his first 6 weeks; his narrative demonstrates the importance of working WITH students by building relationships through understanding.

By Kenny Kou

On the first day of one of my creative writing classes, some of my students were acting up, so I asked them to stay behind afterwards. Instead of cussing them out (as was my initial plan), I decided to listen instead. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, and what they enjoyed about school. One of the students said he wanted to be an engineer. After a few leading questions, he made the connection that to be a successful engineer, he would have to be able to write well. He’d have to be able to articulate his points, and outline his ideas in proposals. Since that class, he’s been very co-operative and friendly.

I’m also teaching Language Arts to a class of five Grade 7 students. All of them are quite energetic, but one of them takes the cake. He is always jumping around, spouting out random comments during the lesson and interrupting both his classmates and me while ignoring instructions. Even when it comes to his writing assignments, you can see the energy flying all over the page as he’ll frequently go from one idea to the next without completing the first thought. One day, I pulled him aside at lunchtime and spoke with him about the upcoming story-writing project. We talked about what he was going to write, and then he gave me a few of his ideas. They were all fantastic ideas, and he could have made a great story out of any of them. But then we talked about how it was important to create structure for his ideas. That he would be able to write a great story once he put his ideas into the framework and combine the structure with his creativity. After that chat, he started to pay much more attention to instructions, as he could finally see the value in them. Although he still gives me trouble occasionally, his behaviour has vastly improved. Some of the other teachers in the school have complained about him being difficult to teach, but he has been a welcome presence in mine.

In my Grade 5 Language Arts class, two of the students have exceptional difficulty reading at grade-level; when they failed to follow along with their classmates, they resorted to misbehaving, which set off a chain reaction of the other boys joining in and goofing off with them. Since the second week, I have had two hours per week of class time with just those two boys to work on their basic language skills. During those sessions, we joke around with one another, talk sports and keep the atmosphere really relaxed; but, we also get through the lessons. We’ll intersperse social and academic, while occasionally blending the two together to make the lesson individualized and relevant to their own interests. Over the past few weeks, they have demonstrated great growth in their comprehension abilities. As a bonus, their behaviour in the class has also substantially improved. Not only are they not acting up in class, they’re preventing their classmates from stepping out of line by calling them out whenever anyone misbehaves.

Only six weeks down, but I’ve learned first-hand so much about the importance of working WITH the students. As opposed to resorting to discipline as a first strike, I’ve been working to understand WHY the students behave the way that they’re behaving. As a teacher, it’s my responsibility to make the lesson meaningful to the students. In order to do that, I have to learn about what is important to them and figure out how to incorporate those values into creating a lesson that they will buy into. Only then will I be able to provide them with the education that they deserve. It’s been a great learning experience so far and it truly has been learning with the students.

Here are more thoughts from Kenny from previous emails…

  • The students are able to see me as their ally instead of their boss. It’s allowed them me to connect with them, and improve the overall classroom environment and their attitudes toward learning.
  • My next battles: education is not a race and convincing students that learning is more important than grades. Despite my efforts thus far, “Is that an A” is still a very common question and “I’m done” is a very common phrase in my class.

I look forward to hearing more reflections from Kenny during his journey as a new teacher. Thanks for taking the time to share, Mr. Kou!

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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.

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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:

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Reflections of an EdCamper

edcampvan

After a day in which I was truly inspired by the students at our school (post upcoming on our Identity Day), I had the privilege of attending an inspirational day of professional development in which there was no keynote, no registration fee, and no agenda. EdCamp Vancouver was brought to us by David Wees and his organizing team and I think it has truly changed the way I view professional development in education.

Although I see the benefit of an expert keynote speaker, and I think these need to continue, the EdCamp format is nothing short of brilliant. There are so many passionate, reflective, resourceful educators (and by educators I mean more than teachers) in our region that the need for that high-priced keynote is lessened. Also, the learning at EdCamp is completely personalized. Let me briefly explain the day:

I arrived with 2 colleagues, my vice principal and a parent member of our school planning council, and walked into a room not having met any of these people but because of Twitter, felt like I knew them so well.  A few presentation ideas were up on a board.  If you wanted to attend these, you placed your name on a sticky and placed it on the presentation; if you wanted to facilitate a discussion or present on another topic, you posted a new sheet with that topic on the board.  Each participant (there were over 100 of us) chose 4 topics and once the topics had enough participants, they were placed on the schedule.  There were 4 rooms that held 4 sessions so we had a total of 16 sessions.  The organizers moved the sessions around to best suit the participants.  Topics included Moving Away From Grades, Questioning Awards, Project Based Learning, Assessment For Learning, Parent Engagement, Ted Talks for Kids, Making e-Books, Social Media 101, and many others.

I had the opportunity to “present” on Awards in Schools and Assessment For Learning.  When I say “present” it was more like I did a mini presentation (15 minutes) and then we spent 45 minutes discussing the “how” of AFL.  I was not there as an expert but more as one to throw out ideas, challenge others, and be challenged.  After the presentation, I became a participant of the dialogue so my learning was enhanced.  (You can access my Prezi on AFL here).

A big difference between the Edcamp “unconference model” is the amount of time built into the day for connecting with others outside of the presentations (David Wees has a good visual on his post).  The day is all about dialogue rather than listening to lectures.

Some of the key ideas that I came away with:

  • many educators want to see changes with the way we educate/school kids
  • the shifts are happening in the way we engage and motivate kids in a way that moves from extrinsic to intrinsic and information delivering to exploration
  • there are many powerful ideas but the implementation of these ideas is often the challenge (ie. how do we do this within our current education structures)
  • we cannot and should not do this alone – we must work with all stake holders
  • professional development needs to be ongoing and is best accomplished through dialogue around powerful questions
  • We are not “just teachers” or “just parents”.  BC is loaded with passionate educators!

Two days later, I am still inspired by the day’s conversations; I now look forward to seeing where this model takes professional development in schools and districts.  My final question is this:  if this was such a powerful learning opportunity for educators, how can we do something like this with kids?

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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.”

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Strength In EVERY Child

Mr. Mendez

Every child has a strength; the key for us, as educators, is to tap into these strengths and passion and help students to truly flourish in their lives.

We need to stop putting lids on what kids can do and start opening up their worlds and providing them with opportunities to grow far beyond what they knew was ever possible.

Please take 20 minutes and watch the amazing film, “The Butterfly Circus”, below (or click here to go to the film website).  I show this to our grade 6 classes each year and the conversations we have following the viewing are always some of the most memorable.  One of my students today said, “Each one of us has a gift, and we need to recognize that.”

We all need to be more like Mr. Mendez and begin to see the strength and power within each one of us.

The Butterfly Circus – HD from The Butterfly Circus on Vimeo.

Actor from the film, “Butterfly Circus”, Nick Vujicic, inspires us all….

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Questioning Awards and Grades

Ending Awards in Schools.

Ending Awards in Schools.

As a result of our school’s decision to end our traditional awards ceremony and the blog post by Janet Steffenhagen, Bill Good of CKNW 980 in Vancouver interviewed me and hosted callers on the topic of awards, grades, and motivation in schools.

Please have a listen – would love your thoughts and feedback.

UPDATE – I have added the radio interview with John Tory of the Live Drive on NewsTalk 1010 out of Toronto.  Thank you to Shannon Smith for recording.

I was a bit frustrated with the focus on grades as I was more prepared to discuss the impact of our decision at our school but grades, too, fall under student motivation and is an important conversation to have.  The interview is 18 minutes long and the last caller provides some shock value for you!

One of my grade 3 students said it best while listening to the interview (and the last caller) with his mother when he asked, “why is he saying school is bad?”  Love it.

I have to add a quote to respond to the last caller (thank you to my assistant superintendent for this):

“When it comes to the assessment practices that employers trust to indicate a graduate’s level of knowledge and potential to succeed in the job world, employers dismiss tests of general content knowledge in favor (sic) of assessments of real-world and applied-learning approaches.  Multiple-choice tests specifically are seen as ineffective.  On the other hand, assessments that employers hold in high regard include evaluations of supervised internships, community-based projects, and comprehensive senior projects.”

From the book: “Breaking Free From Myths About Teaching and Learning” by Allison Zmuda.

Please click here to listen to CKNW interview, come back and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Thank you to Bill Good and CKNW for the opportunity to continue this important conversation.

Please click here to listen to NewsTalk 1010 interview.  Thank you to John Tory for the opportunity.

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Is Learning A Sport?

Awards: One winner, many losers.

Awards: One winner, many losers.

“Schools are not about awarding the best and brightest, but developing the best and brightest.  Awards take away from this.  We can not let our own bias of our own school experience or beliefs get in the way of what research has told us about effective pedagogy.” — George Couros

“Recognizing every student is no more an exercise in mediocrity than believing all children should graduate from high school.” — Joe Bower

This week the topic of awards surfaced again on Twitter.  As a result, Vancouver Sun reporter Janet Steffenhagen posted part of my blog “Death of An Awards Ceremony” that described the decision parents and staff made to significantly alter the way we recognize kids.  Instead of our year-end awards ceremony, we decided to have a year-end honouring ceremony along with recognizing individuals throughout the year for their individual strengths and passions.  Awards ceremonies are zero-sum, meaning that although they create a few winners, they create many losers. Some great conversations are happening on Janet’s post so please chime in with your views here.

Through twitter and Janet’s post, a common opposing argument to ending awards is that if we get rid of awards we:

“should end all games in a tie”

“might as well get rid of championships”

“might as well eliminate sports teams too”

“are not preparing our kids for the competitive environment that is the ‘real world’”

Sport is huge in my life.  My friends, players and teammates will tell you: I am one of the most competitive players and coaches in the rink and on the court.  I have spent the majority of my adult life coaching volleyball, basketball, and track.  During this time, although the main goal was never to just win but more about the journey and process, I was involved in sports that resulted in a winner and a loser.  I am not against competition (there are still fun, healthy competitive games in schools and classrooms); I am against awards ceremonies and events that place emphasis on the result rather than on the learning.

The key difference between sport and learning is that you CHOOSE to play sports and you go in with the knowledge that there is a winner and a loser.  Students should not go to school to win; students should go to school to learn.  Students should not go to school to compete for some award at the end of the year; students should go to school to collaborate and learn from teachers and peers.  We rob our children of intrinsic motivation by continually offering extrinsic motivators.

Also, for those who say, “if we get rid of awards, we might as well get rid of test scores and grades and entrance exams”; I say: ABSOLUTELY, these also do not promote learning.  I will, however, leave this conversation for another post.

To many people, unfortunately, learning does seem to be a sport.  For those people who believe this, here are some questions to consider:

  • When/why did learning in school become this zero-sum activity that creates winners and losers?
  • Are certain areas of school favoured over others?
  • How do you award the top learner?  How is one learner better than another?
  • How much do politics play into awards in schools?
  • When did learning in school become a place where “some students need that competition to excel”?
  • Is it more about the parents wanting their kids to have awards or is it about the kids needing awards?
  • Who has taught these kids that awards are important?
  • What stays with you for life – the intrinsic motivation of knowing that one can learn or the extrinsic motivation of trophies, certificates and prizes?
  • Do we give out awards for top academic child in the family?  If an argument is that we “need to prepare students for the competitive real world”, why do most not do this within their own families?  (I am still awaiting for me to get to this “competitive real-world” that people keep telling me about – please see my post “School IS the real world for our students”)

Obviously, I am being a little cynical with these questions but hopefully it makes people reflect on the flaws in having learning viewed as a sport with winners and losers determined at awards ceremonies.

If all students can excel in something and all students can learn, how can there be losers?  The answer: hand out awards for learning and make learning a sport.

We need to work to see the value and strength in EVERY child, EVERY day.  If we resort to recognizing only a select few at the end of the year, we are failing the majority of our students.  Let’s tap into our students’ interests and work to honour our students for the strengths and passions within each one of them.

Learning is NOT a sport, it is a journey; an enjoyable journey that never ends.

UPDATE: PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO (added from Sue Downey’s comment.. perfect!)

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