Posts Tagged rewards

14 Videos for Starting Dialogue on Rethinking Rewards, Awards

It is no secret that I have some strong opinions on using awards and rewards to “motivate” our students to be better behaved and achieve more in schools.  Instead of using carrots and sticks to bribe and punish students, we need to work to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves (adapted from Deci and Ryan) and move to a more intrinsic model of motivation in schools.

If you have further interest in reading my thoughts on rewards and awards, please read my post, “My Issue With Rewards” and check out my page “Rethinking Awards Ceremonies” that includes 50 posts from many different educators.

Here are some videos (in no particular order) that I have used to initiate dialogue around a conversation that questions the use of rewards and awards in schools (if you have any other videos to share, please link them in the comments below and I will add them to the post):

 

1.  Rick Lavoie on “Motivation and Competition in Schools” – here is a mashup I created of 3 videos of Rick Lavoie as he questions the use of competition as a motivational tool in schools.  He is not opposed to competition but he says that we need to reflect on HOW we use it and work to use competition when it is a choice.

 

2.  Daniel Pink on “The Surprising Truth ABout What Motivates Us” – Pink shares research on the issues with using carrots as a tool to motivate and states that we need to focus on creating the conditions through autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Be sure to also read his book, “Drive”, in which he more closely links to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research on “Self-Determination Theory“.

 

3.  Sheldon from Big Bang Theory on Motivation - a comical clip to show the silliness of using bribes and punishments to alter behaviour.

 

4.  Dwight Schrute vs Alfie Kohn - in this humorous video, we see how “business leader” Dwight Schrute (in TV’s “The Office”) attempts to motivate his staff using the legendary “Schrute Bucks”.  Inserted between the clips are references to thoughts from author Alfie Kohn.  If you can access any episodes of “The Office”, be sure to check out their version of business awards, “The Dundies”.

 

5. Dr. Ross Greene: Kids Do Well If They Can – in this clip, Dr. Ross Greene shares how, instead of looking how to motivate kids to be better behaved (“kids do well if they want to”), we need to look through the lens that kids WANT to do well and, therefore, we need to look for the skills they are lacking and teach them so they CAN do well.  Be sure to check out his books “The Explosive Child” and “Lost at School”.

 

6. Alfie Kohn on Rewards – a short clip by Kohn that includes “the more you reward students for doing something, the more they lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward”.

 

7.  Joey’s Soap Opera Awards Loss - although comical, it shows the idea that awards can move us toward a “succeed by defeating others” mentality.

 

8. Nobel Prize Winner Richard Feynman on How He Doesn’t Like Honours – a good clip from the late physicist, Feynman, that challenges the idea of traditional “honours”.

 

9. Edward Deci’s Keynote - Deci shares the research that tangible rewards can actually DECREASE intrinsic motivation.  Deci is one of the key researchers in which Kohn and Pink have based their work.

 

10.  Daniel Pink on TED:  The Puzzle of Motivation - Pink shares thoughts and research on how traditional rewards aren’t as effective and do not motivate as we would think they would.

 

11.  Barry Schwartz on Using Our Practical Wisdom - in this TED talk, Schwartz talks about rules, carrots, sticks and actually choosing to do the right thing.

 

12.  Bribe Mentality: Neglecting and Derailing Intrinsic Motivation – the first 8 minutes of this video are very good and include the words of Kohn, Pink, and Marshall Rosenberg… the last part focuses on a resource-based economy that would go beyond the scope of most conversations in schools.

 

13: Mr. Keefe’s Class Dojo - this video shows how a teacher uses the software Class Dojo to attempt to “motivate” his students.  I won’t get into this one much in this post, and although this video is designed to support Class Dojo, this is definitely a good conversation starter on the use of sticker charts and rewards-based programs in schools.

 

14.  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Christmas Bonus – Clark Griswold shows us what happens when a reward is expected… but not given/received.

@chriswejr

 

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Movement is NOT a Reward

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Camdiluv ♥: http://flickr.com/photos/camdiluv/4441155157/

Kids need movement. We all need movement.  Recess is a need.  PE is a need.  Energy breaks are necessary.

If I am in a longer session and I need to move, I get up and take a break.  I bounce my legs. I type. This helps me to self-regulate so I can focus more and stay calm.  I wonder how I would respond or how my learning would be impacted if I got up to take a break and was told to sit down and sit still. 

At many schools, students are given energy breaks on a regular basis so students can spend the time in between the breaks being more focused on learning. Throughout the day at our school, you will obsever students walking/running around the school or climbing up and down our hill as we believe in the power of movement to help a child’s learning.

I wonder, however, how often we fail to listen to students telling us they need to move.  When a child is hyper or continually getting out of his/her seat, our first response is often “sit down”.  When a child is tapping their pencil or rocking in their child, we often tell them to “sit still” and  ”be quiet”.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are times when it is important to not distract others but I also wonder how much effort we put into meeting the needs of students by providing an outlet for needed physical activity.  We have teachers/staff at Kent that promote the use of wiggle seats, fidget toys, exercise balls, and also encourage some students to stand up as a way to help them; I see this as a huge benefit for students. The challenge for teachers and staff is to determine an appropriate balance of movement, noise, and quiet, calm time.  My concern is that we confuse our needs with student needs and sometimes observe behaviours as a choice to act out and misbehave rather than a message of what their bodies need.

So if movement is a need that helps us all, how do we feel about these statements?

  • “If we all behave, we will have 5 minutes at the end to go outside.”
  • “If you don’t sit down, you won’t be able to go out at recess.”
  • “If you don’t get your work done, you won’t get to go to PE.”
  • “Every time you are out of your seat, you get a strike.  Three strikes and you stay in at recess.”
  • “Thank you, Sarah, for staying in your seat and remaining quiet.  Here is a ticket.”
  • “Just ask your PE teacher if you can miss PE class to work on your assignment.”

As a former PE teacher, I realize the unfortunate hierarchy of physical education in schools.  I also realize that students need to get the learning activities completed and movement can also be used as avoidance.   We also know, however, that we all need movement to help us regulate so let’s put ourselves in the shoes of students during a school day and reflect upon seat time and movement time.

Let’s work to create solutions to academic and behaviour problems without looking to PE and movement as a reward or something that can be taken away.  This sends the wrong message about physical education and often ignores what they are telling us – they need movement and other sensory solutions!  Each student often requires different movement needs.  Let’s work to create the sensory conditions for students to get these needs met so they can better focus on their learning.  For educators this is no easy task; however, by working together to implement strategies to increase opportunities for movement, this will not only benefit student learning but also the stress level of staff in schools.

Special thank you to Marc Landry, an occupational therapist from BC, for inspiring this post.

NOTE: Although I disagree with the punitive response of keeping a child in at recess I do know that there are times when this extra 1:1 time with the teacher can effectively help to meet the needs of the child.  We have staff that are often giving up their breaks to work with students to support them in many different subjects… including PE.  As always, we need to reflect upon the needs of each child and try to create an effective learning environment for each student.

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Accidental Parenting and Accidental Teaching

From http://bit.ly/o0iYCv

The first 9 months of raising twin girls has been some of the most challenging and rewarding moments of my life.  During these months, my wife and I have been such learners as we try to figure out what works for our girls.  We have read a number of books and talked to many people about strategies, philosophies and ideas that will help us as parents.  One book that has stuck out and provided us with tons of great ideas (and much more sleep) is The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg.  Her philosophy aligns well with ours (we are not the ‘cry-it-out, Ferberizing’ style of parents) as we try to listen to what our children are telling us – why are they crying? What cues can we look for? What is that facial expression or body language tell us?  It is truly amazing what happens when you actually understand what your kids are telling you!

One of the ideas that Hogg writes about is what she calls “Accidental Parenting” and describes it as:

Start as you mean to go on.  Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get the toddler to calm down.  Often the “anything” turns into a bad habit that they later have to break – and that’s accidental parenting”.

Hogg goes on to give a number of examples such as taking your baby for a drive to get him/her to sleep.  She explains that this WILL work… but unfortunately it will teach the child that he/she needs motion to fall asleep and will struggle to fall asleep on his/her own.  Another one is when an infant wakes up in the middle of the night and parents put the child back to sleep with a bottle.  Again, this works but teaches the child that he/she needs a bottle to go back to sleep.

At times, having twins has placed us in survival mode and we have had to resort to types of accidental parenting at times and although it has worked short term, it has definitely caused problems in the following days.

As my wife and I were doing our best to avoid accidental parenting, I could not help but see the obvious link to what we do in schools.  How many strategies do we use that work in the short term but accidentally cause problems later on?

Here are some examples of “accidental teaching” that I have used in my career as an educator:

  • Rewards, bribes, prizes – if you do this (or do as I say), you will get this shiny prize.  Kids figured out very quickly that it was all about the prize and not so much about the task.
  • Yelling – I yelled at kids and then they became quiet.  Guess what happened after this… they knew that they could be loud UNTIL I yelled!
  • Punishments – I used my power as an educator to give consequences strictly on my terms… because I could.  I was not concerned for the reasons for the behaviour but more about the statement I needed to make.  Kids learned to just misbehave when I was not looking and avoid getting caught.
  • Worksheets – kids were quiet and seemed content to do endless worksheets and busy work.  If the goal was busyness and silence, then this would have been a great success – unfortunately, the goal was learning so I kind of missed the boat.
  • Focus on grades – if you do this, you will get a good grade.  Students crammed, copied homework, memorized… and forgot to learn.
  • Focus on the result – as a young coach, it was all about the score.  When my players faced a tough opponent or were in a big game, they crumbled because they were focused on the scoreboard.  Once we began to focus on process rather than result… we, ironically, started to do better on the scoreboard.
  • Awards - I have given awards and been part of a number of selection committees.  When the focus of players and students moved to the award rather than the process, I realized we had a problem.

In our current system with large class size and challenging class composition issues, teachers often see no other option than to resort to rewards, punishments and other forms of accidental teaching.  I continue to catch myself in a stressful situation resorting to actions that do not align with my philosophies.  The key for me is that I am catching myself and reflecting upon my actions.  I still have a long way to go as I continue to make errors in judgment but I do see myself continuing to grow as an educator  and parent; each year I gain tools in my toolbox that help me deal with stressful situations much differently more effectively.

As stated, I realize that parenting and teaching are often very stressful and majority of decisions are done with the best intentions.  I encourage you, as parents and educators, to reflect upon the decisions we make with our kids.  Are we parenting and teaching for the long term or are we teaching some lessons by accident to help us get through the day?

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Rewards: 2 Parent Perspectives

As a follow-up to my recent post “My Issue With Rewards”, I wanted to highlight the thoughts of two parents from my PLN on the topic of rewards.  These individuals have caused me to reflect further upon the use of extrinsic rewards/prizes both for me as a parent and as an educator.

Sheila Stewart, a parent from Ontario and @sheilaspeaking on Twitter, commented on my post:

I am not sure exactly when and where and how I first began to learn about motivational theories, but I am thankful that I did come to understand more and that I had time to consider such before I taught and before I became a parent.

My approaches with children may simply have a lot to do with my own upbringing. My parents did not use external rewards in any big way to encourage my behaviour at home or beyond. I was their 4th child, but it seemed we were all just expected to be responsible, do our share and conduct ourselves as members of a family and as members of a community. Modelling, of course, was so important.

I am also glad I studied psychology before education. It gave me further insight into human behaviour and motivation. But then probably a lot of my perspective just has to do with me being me – observing, thinking, and aiming to understand why we do what we do. I am often saddened by how entrenched “reward systems” have become in our schools and society. How can we count on future generations to just do good for themselves, others and our world, if we encourage them so much to look for “What else is in it for me right now (or at the end of the month)?”. But I recognize how hard it can be to establish different strategies and expectations in a class or school if they are different or inconsistent from what a student has become accustomed to elsewhere. I think that is often the biggest challenge to face. So great to read about others committed to staying the course though!

I think we often resort to reward systems and strategies in teaching and parenting not realizing we are doing so for short-term benefits. Having been a supply teacher in the younger grades I can understand how easy it is to use rewards, tickets, etc., to get through a short-term teaching assignment, especially with students you may not have developed relationships with yet. I still had difficulty with resorting to those kinds of methods though, so instead I focused on making activities meaningful and engaging and I encouraged cooperation from the students as the experts of their learning and as “owners” of their classroom environment.

I really hope we can focus mostly on helping kids recognize and experience the “reward” that comes with engaging in their own learning, and also with living harmoniously with others in our schools and communities. I think that is the respectful approach and an important goal.

Goran Kimovski, from Vancouver and @g_kima on Twitter, wrote a thought-provoking piece on the Cooperative Catalyst a few months ago and I felt it would be a good addition to the conversation so I have included his personal story from the post.  For the full blog from Goran, click here.

…I’d like to share a personal story. I thought long about this and I decided it is too important to make teachers and schools stop for a moment and rethink the use of incentives — thus I decided to overcome my original apprehension and write about it!

My 7-year old daughter attends grade 1 in a French Immersion program, within a local public school here in [British Columbia]. To deal with the big number of kids who are not making the effort to speak French in class, and after seeing an interesting and seemingly successful program  that the grade 3 teacher next door ‘swears by’, my daughter’s teacher decided to use classroom ‘cents’ to get all kids to speak French:

We have started a new incentive program in our class to encourage everyone to speak French.  We already earn ‘cents’ for good behaviour and work habits but now we are starting every week with 5 ‘cents’ in our special envelopes taped to our desks.  Whenever we hear someone speaking English in our class we get to ask them for a ‘cent’.  If someone hears us speaking English we must give them a ‘cent’.  Madame has also been handing out ‘cents’ to everyone when she hears them speaking French.  At the end of the week we will count up our ‘cents’ and deposit them in our bank accounts for the class store.  So far this week some of our children have earned over 11 ‘cents’ for all the French they have been speaking.

I find this damaging in many ways and have been actively trying to influence my daughter not to take part in punishing kids when she hears them speaking English — even managed to convince her to give some of her ‘cents’ away to her friends!

…I can’t help but find the use of ‘cents’ deplorable and have hard time accepting that many teachers use similar, if not the same method to motivate kids into compliance!

Admittedly, as a parent, I have fallen into the trap many times — from innocent clapping when my daughter would finally dress up after begging her for 10 minutes, to bribing her with chocolate if she eats her broccoli first. I do know better not to use bribing to get her to read a book, or to convince her to stick to color pencils instead of pastel as a way to avoid making a mess when painting at home, though!

The use of extrinsic rewards (ie. prizes and incentives given from someone using ‘power over’) is deeply embedded in our society because it works to get others to do what you want them to do…. short-term.  However, as educators we need to reflect upon the long-term consequences that these short-term rewards (and punishments) may bring about.  As an educator, and now a new parent, I continue to catch myself relying on the use of extrinsic motivation to try to create actions/behaviours in others.

The most important question we can ask around the use of rewards was stated by psychologist and research Edward Deci (via Larry Ferlazzo’s book Helping Students Motivate Themselves:

How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?

I encourage us all to reflect upon our actions and contemplate whether they actually create conditions for intrinsic motivation to grow or they create a dependence on an extrinsic reward.

Thank you to Goran and Sheila for the permission to include their thoughts on this post.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Honouring A Student’s Strength: Story of Daniel

“We don’t know who we can be until we know what we can do.” – Sir Ken Robinson

(This was originally guest-posted as an “A-Ha Moment” on  Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.  With all the talk about how we changed our awards ceremony to focus on ALL our students’ strengths, I felt now was an opportune time to cross post.  Thank you to Pernille Ripp for the opportunity to share Daniel’s story.)

How can we truly see the potential of our students if we fail to provide the environment to bring out their talents?

I have always wanted to be a high school teacher and I was exactly that for 7 years. You never know where your life will lead you and, while completing my Master’s Degree, I was offered the opportunity to work with an amazing principal at an elementary school. Roxanne taught me to seek out the strengths in people and bring these talents out from within and opened my eyes to the power of strength-based, rather than deficit-based, teaching and leadership. My aha moment came in my first few months of being an elementary school teacher and a new vice principal.

When I did the tour of the school I was to be a teacher/vice principal, I met Daniel (pseudonym). Daniel had a smile that was contagious but was disengaged and struggled in school; the reason I met him that day was that he was in the hall after being asked to leave class. I never asked him why he was in the hall, I just started asking him about his life outside of school; we talked about music and friendships in the few moments we shared together on that day.

The next year, I was to teach a 5/6 class (in addition to the vice principal duties) so when we were creating the classes, I requested that Daniel be placed in my class. To be honest, in the first month, I really struggled with the transition from teaching 17 year-olds to teaching 11 year-olds. Many of the students had behaviour, social, emotional, and academic challenges so I spent many hours bouncing ideas off Roxanne and other teachers trying to find out how to reach these kids. I specifically started to talk about Daniel as he was so withdrawn in class – always refusing to take part in any learning activities and that smile that drew me to him seemed to have disappeared. She asked me what I knew about him; the truth was that I knew very little about him other than he struggled in class and liked music. She encouraged me to find out more about him; find out what he loved, what he was good at and try to bring that out in him.

During the next week, I spent a recess having a snack with Dan. I found out that he lived in a nearby community in which he spent two hours on the bus each day, lived with his Grandmother because his mother was far too young, and we shared a common interest in Johnny Cash. We spent much of the recess singing a variety of Cash songs and just laughing. Later that day, I was speaking with the First Nation Support Worker (Nelson), sharing with him about the moment that had occurred, and he let me in on another strength of Daniel: First Nation drumming and singing. He said this was something that he recently witnessed in his community but maybe something that we could support. The FNSW asked me if he could take Daniel and a few others to work on this interest; I believed this was a great opportunity so for 2 weeks, Nelson spent a few mornings a week drumming with Daniel and two others. What progressed after this changed the way I teach and live my life.

I asked Daniel if I could come watch one recess. I was blown away. Daniel was so into the drumming and singing that he would actually be sweating with pride as he was doing this. A few weeks later, I asked him if he could perform for our class – he unfortunately declined. Nelson encouraged him to sing and drum with him in front of our class. He nervously agreed and blew us all away when he performed; other students cheered when he finished and then asked if they could be part of “his group”. Daniel was now not only working with his strengths but also leading others to do the same. His group added girls and grew from 3 to 6 and then 8, including 2 students from another class. They played for our class every Monday morning, to start our week, and every Friday afternoon, to finish our week. They even gave themselves a name, Sacred Connections, and began to play for other schools and community events.

The moment that brought me almost to tears was right before Christmas. Each week, 1-2 new students would join up front in the singing and drumming. We often don’t see the impact of small changes but right before Christmas, the group actually had no people to play for, because every single student was up there singing with Daniel! To create an audience, I invited Roxanne and a grade 4 class to come and see the performance. We all sat there in awe of what Daniel had done not only as a performer, but also as a leader.

The other parts of Daniel’s school and life were drastically changing too. His friendships grew, his efforts in school improved and he became very engaged in learning activities. His reputation grew as a leader in the school and community and his group was asked to play at a local pre-Olympic Games (2010) event and in the spring he was asked to perform with Pow Wow drummers at a huge event in front of our entire school and community! Daniel had gone from a disengaged, quiet student who refused to take part in the learning to a proud leader and confident learner in our school.

Leadership and Strength

Daniel leading the "Welcome Song" to start our week.

That year was one that changed my life. It was not just one aha moment but a series of moments that shaped me as a person. I want to thank Roxanne, Nelson, and most importantly Daniel for teaching me that, as educators, the most important thing we can do is provide the optimal conditions for people to grow, bring out their strengths, and truly flourish.

Rather than only recognize those select few award winners at the end of the year, we need to honour every student every day.  Every child has a strength and passion within him/her; we need to help EVERY student to find this and excel in his/her own way.

Here are the comments that the person who taught me the most about this, Dominic (Daniel).

Dom 1Dom2

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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.

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