Honouring All Students


cc licensed flickr photo shared by ILRI

Recently, an article in the Vancouver Sun discussing Chris Wejr’s post on the “Death of an Awards Ceremony” has been receiving some very interesting comments from all different types of stakeholders.  As one of my own blog posts was linked (The Impact of Awards), I felt it necessary to comment.  I would strongly suggest that you look at the other comments as healthy debate helps us move forward in education, but I wanted to share what I wrote:

Some very interesting comments here and it is interesting how some of them turned into political statements.

There are two different categories of students here from the conversations.  The kids that win the awards and the kids that don’t.

We all know that being up for an award and losing ends up to a humiliating or sad circumstance for those kids.  I know many adults who are parents that still are upset they were continuously compared to their own friends and siblings but never quite measured up.  If people are taking this into their adulthood and still upset, is it an effective practice for them?

On the other hand though, we have the students that win the awards.  Research has shown that students winning awards often takes their focus off the important learning that happens in the classroom and has students focus on simply getting the award and “checking off the list” as opposed to deep thinking.  Again and again, research has shown that awards are detrimental to critical thinking activities. (Watch this Dan Pink video: www.ted.com/…/dan_pink_on_motivation.html )

With that being said, as a school administrator, if I know that it does not benefit either set of students, how could I go forward with these initiatives?  Many people believe that it is being soft or taking something off of an educators plate, but it is actually harder to create lessons that students are engaged in as opposed to having students do something to get a reward.

I also was curious towards the trustee that stated it was nice for them to give out awards to the kids.  The fact is, this is not about us, it is about the students we serve.

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.

It is my obligation to do my best to continuously recognize and honour the strengths of all our students as often as possible, not just once a year.  It is more work, but better work for all of our kids.

17 thoughts on “Honouring All Students

  1. Ryan Neufeld

    I am with you for much of your idea, but I struggle with the all or none mentality. I can share many stories where an award was something that the student was very proud of, celebrated with their peers and parents, and was a shining moment for them years later. I believe the problem is less with the award and more with the focus, culture, and promotion of the awards. When an award or recognition is genuine, a result of hard work, and community based, rather than the motivation for the hard work and a comparison game than the "losers" don't feel like losers at all. They are part of the celebration.

    1. George Couros

      I think that our focus is that we recognize our kids through meaningful conversations and those special moments that we have each other. Most students are inspired by teachers that inspired them, not by a trophy they won. We have to make more of those moments connecting with our students, as opposed to handing them something at the end of the year.

      The other thing about awards is that adults decide they should be for everyone. A lot of people don't feel comfortable receiving public recognition but we as adults decide that is right for them.

      Get to know the kids, connect with them, and recognize them for what they do every day. That's what I believe.

      1. Dave Meister

        George,

        This is exactly the point teachers and parents need to understand. It is the individual interactions with students, where the student feels worth as a person and competence as a learner that make the true changes in self concept that allow one to become intrinsically motivated. The trophies, certificates and ribbons become a cheap token economy that is at best meaningless and at worst humiliating. This does not mean we should not push students just beyond their comfort zone so they can grow? No, but it must be done so with a caring attitude and a recognition of each student's worth.

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  4. Patrick Larkin

    I am still unclear as to how people can debate some of this. If your school Mission Statement says that you focus on ALL STUDENTS, the choice is clear. The other option is to say that you prepare some students or many. But you can't do both.

    1. George Couros

      It boggles my mind Patrick, but I guess if it was easy, people would have been doing it years ago. Through progress and innovation comes adversity but if it is the right thing to do, we must.

      Thanks for your comment buddy :)

  5. Nancy Skinner

    All I can say is Thanks George!! You know my son's story and mine as a worrisome Mom. You have helped to put it all into perspective. :)

  6. kelalford

    Awards ceremonies are something that has been a part of schools for a very long time.So are textbooks, grading, having students in a certain grade just because they are a certain age, and a host of other things. I think you are so brave to look at all of these practices and ask the essential question:"Is this best for kids?"

    I find it strange that we are trying to reform schools by doing the same things, and the only thing that changes is the amount of testing we are subjecting students to.

    I think everything we do has to put the students first! I applaud you for doing this for your students. I hope you and Chris blaze a trail for other leaders to do the same in their schools.

    You both are amazing!

  7. John M. Hudson

    George,

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and backing your statements with thoughtful insight. I'm torn on this issue. I fully support the idea of recognizing all students throughout the year and not just on 'Awards Day.' We must encourage our students to achieve their personal best in every aspect of life; including academics, arts, sports, but also in their effort in these areas. Only one person can have the best grade in a subject or class but does that mean all of the other students have failed? Absolutely not!

    However, I have seen my daughter work hard and improve her grades over this first semester and she made the Honor Roll. I don't think she needs the school-wide recognition but the smile she gave me after I praised her for her efforts will not soon be forgotten by me. She beamed with pride and we had a nice chat about her hard work.

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  10. miss

    our school is really deep-set into awards so I fight it the only way I know–every child in my class is recognized for 1 strength or another. We don't have alot of variety in our award types but I manage to find a way that works out. I will need to bring up this topic more to our staff though so we can engage kids more rather than dangle carrot sticks. I know it caused me alot of insecurity growing up and even now as a grown up. I knew the "game of school" really well and got lots of awards. Its still a process but I have made alot of progress in not being afraid to take risks anymore and learning its ok to make mistakes–yes, I am an adult and a teacher. But I teach my students now what has taken me years to learn by sharing my experience with them.

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