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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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. Although the conversation didn’t necessarily go the direction you were hoping for Chris, I thought your responses were very articulate and positive. There just seemed to be a condescending tone from the start, which is really unfortunate.

    I felt quite angry toward the last caller (especially to hear that he has spent several years in the school system). I thought he was offside in many ways. For him to say (directed to you): “once again we have a teacher who simply doesn’t understand what little use most of the learning does to kids in school” makes me quite defensive. My anger has since softened to sadness in that here is a guy who simply doesn’t get it. His theory of school being a place to “prepare worker bees” is just an exclamation point on his misunderstanding of what the vast majority of teachers do everyday: to enhance learning and expand understanding.

    I’m pleased that you brought out the “research has shown . . .” side of this issue. I also thought you stick-handled some pointed comments well and provided a balanced view to the counter-points that were raised. Whether we agree with the end of Awards Ceremonies or not, no one should have the right to dismiss the positive strides being made in the vast majority of schools. It’s too bad that some of the callers tried.

  2. I listened and thought you spoke very well… didn’t back down and continued to defend your decision re the awards. I still cannot believe the last speaker… such a negative attitude about school, teachers, and fellow students. Can’t wait to hear more!

  3. Great job Chris. My preference would be to cut out grades, but I would settle for more descriptive feedback. The biggest problem still in my mind is that parents only know what they had in school and do not understand that there is a much better way. The good news is that in communities like yours that have worked hard to make the case, parents are getting how important this change is.

    Thanks for all your work on this! I will be sharing it in Burlington soon.

  4. I was very impressed with how you handled the questions and comments being thrown at you. Even the host’s attitude came from a “well we’ve always done this” side of things. The last caller made me laugh at first, how many times as an educator have I heard the same arguments? Then it made me sad to think that there are people out there that can’t embrace the fact that education is changing. More and more conversation is happening around the system that has been in place for decades and it is forcing change. People are finally asking why we continue to do things the same way when they don’t work and are not in the best interest of the students. I can’t wait to see where education is going.

  5. Chris,

    Thanks for sharing. We are just starting the grade conversation at my school in Rhode Island. It is great to hear other perspectives from around the world. Good luck with changing the mindset of your community.

  6. You handled the interview great considering the host not only does not understand education other than from an outsider’s perspective. The host sounded like he believed that the way he was educated is the only way to educate. He totally ignored the points made through research and how education has changed and continues to change. This is the challenge out there – how do we educate the non-educators as to how education and teaching has and will continue to change and evolve? We expect our educators to keep up on current reseach withing their practices, yet those who are not involved in education still believe that they way they were taught is the correct way. If this was an issue regarding the medical system, society would not accept medicine being delivered the same way it was 20-30 years ago so why does society believe that education should be taught the way it was taught 20-30 years ago?

  7. Great arguements Chris, you did more than hold your own with the interview.

    Our challenge now in BC and across the educational world is to change Chris from “radical thinker” to just one of many who believe. I’m going to share this idea with my district and try to continue the conversation. Chris, youre not alone.

  8. I admire your ability to tolerate the highly opinionated, unaware and seemingly brainwashed amongst the masses that tend to be the “responders” on shows like Bill Good’s talk back radio show! You held an unwavering tone that was positive and worked at using a variety of examples (like a good educator does) to help listeners understand the concept of recognizing strengths in children as a way to increase engagement and motivation in learning.

    There were really two issues however: Awards (how and what to recognize) and Grades. Unfortunately, Bill Good presented the two as married and then slanted the conversation to be about grades. So about grades…

    A common misconception of the callers seemed to be that they believed that “grades” were what they were receiving in their world of work. “…of course I get graded, it’s called ratings!” “Ratings” though numerical in nature, serve as only one means of defining (assessing) performance at a given moment in time. The reality is that Bill Good has likely spent a great deal of time “learning” his craft and it was probably largely experienced based. In addition, now that he has attained a level of mastery, he still has a team of people (coaches) who help him discern ‘how to do his show” including what to do about his ratings should they be “assessed” as low!

    I think the key to helping the general public understand what your school is attempting to do with awards is is to help them understand the difference between assessment and recognition.

    As you mentioned, (continual) assessment, on an individualized basis, is what helps anyone (especially not-yet-mature humans) to continue to move toward mastery. Equally important to note is that not everyone attains mastery at the same time. (The notion that we should all be, or want to be masterful at all of the designated ministry curriculum is, of course, another matter which I will save for another conversation).

    Recognition of individual student strengths is a way to honour and value students for who they are and the contributions that they make, perhaps above, beyond or outside of what “schools” traditionally report on. The distinction is that award ceremonies can (and should) focus more holistically on students and not just limit recognition of student strengths to academic and a select few athletic or artistic awards.

    I get it, but of course, I’m part of the choir. Will do my best to continue to sing out loud, the praises of what you are championing!

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