1. Jesse


    I wish I had read this post three years ago, it would have helped a great deal. We always knew that something wasn't quite right about what we were doing, but no one really could put into words what many of us were feeling about our school's end of year traditions. You really said it all here.

    • George

      Thanks Jesse! I think a lot of us (myself included) just went with it because that was just a part of a school. Reading material by Dan Pink and Alfie Kohn really change your mind, while also seeing the negative impact it has on so many.

      It is great to see that you are reading this! Maybe it is time for you to start a blog 😉 Thanks again for the comment.

  2. Like Jesse said, I've never felt that it was really the right thing to do to be giving out awards but didn't really have the explanation for why. Now I do and will never give them out again. One thing I have found are postcards that say 'Your Child Did Something Fantastic Today' on the front and can be sent home to the parents with a short message on the back about why you are sending it home. I'm planning on using those when I get back to a classroom next year.

    • George

      Those "in the moment" types of recognition are the most authentic not only with children, but with anyone. One of my goals as a principal is to ensure that I acknowledge the contributions of everyone. I never want to hear "I don't feel appreciated" from my staff or our students. It is important that I do my part to show them their value in a real way, as things happen. Your postcard idea is fantastic!

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. Awesome blog post, George! I think that I'll share this one with the staff at my school when we discuss "Awards Ceremonies" for the year. I've never been one for handing out awards, but instead, would prefer to provide feedback to students, encouraging them along the way so that they become intrinsically motivated to want to succeed. As the months go by, when attempting to figure out whom to give the monthly award to, I'm not thinking about who deserves it but who hasn't had one yet. I believe that there's a big problem with this system when this is the case. I love your post because it shows so many other ways to encourage students other than with awards. This post is definitely one I'll be sharing!


  4. George,

    Once again a "spot-on" piece.

    My biggest regret in public school administration was my emphasis on standardized data and my push for teachers to use that data to make "informed" decisions. Unfortunately, and in hindsight not surprisingly, that data was used to rank and sort our students. To put them into piles: the "haves" and the "have nots". In my effort to get teachers to use the data to personalize instruction, I led them down a path toward standardizing it.

    As for rewards, competition, etc. I agree, there is no place for extrinsic motivation in school. One could argue that their use is by those that are unable to spark the intrinsic motivation in kids.

    • George

      Thanks for your comment Tony…Believe me, all of us did things that we wish we could take back. The benefit of the time we are in, is that it is easier to access information and create better environments for our students. If we know there is a better way but do not do anything about it, that is a serious problem.

  5. Karen Szymusiak


    You have captured my thoughts. When I finished reading the post, I thought, "I wish I had written that."

    Parents often have a difficult time understanding the "no awards" idea. But we can all go back to a time in our younger years when we were disappointed because we were not recognized.

    I loved the mention of your fourth grade teacher. She got it!

    She understood that each of us need someone to recognize our uniqueness – not how we compare to others.

    Thanks so much for starting my day with this post.

    • George

      Thanks for your comments Karen! More educators are understanding why this is wrong but we need more educators doing something about it to protect our students.

  6. As a fifth grade teacher last year, I was required to choose students in my class who snugly fit into several categories to receive awards in math, social studies, science, etc. Those rewards are effectively useless because they are largely objective. I am willing to admit, like many do, that I have a predetermined list of who "deserves to get something" and I do my best to fit everyone in where it makes sense. What's the point of that?

    The awards night is great for the kids who are recognized, but it's crushing not to get a coveted invitation.

    So last year, I did my own class awards. They worked beautifully because they weren't based on academics. They were based on kids' personalities and strengths as individuals. For these reasons, they were incredibly meaningful. It was one of the nicest days we shared last year.

  7. I used to be big on awards until my oldest son was not invited to his middle school's academic award ceremony because he was temporarily carrying a "C" in one of his classes. Although he has always been a mostly "A" student and did end up finishing the year that way, I felt this went a little overboard. Awards can be positive as long as everyone is at least acknowledged for their own individual achievement.

    • George

      What do you mean by individual achievement? Often times in cultures that have "awards for everybody", we just look for things to give to our students. Some of those are just not authentic. We need to appreciate kids in school everyday.

  8. Greta Sandler

    Wow George! Loved this post! This is something I want to share with everyone at my school!

    I feel this kind of "Awards Ceremony" is so unfair. It's so difficult to give an award to just a few!

    I always encourage my students to improve on their skills, not only academic skills, but also social skills. I've seen big changes in them. Changes in performance, behavior, attitude, neatness, participation and the list goes on… How would someone that worked really hard to improve the neatness and organization of his work feel, knowing how hard he/she worked? How would someone whose performance is not exactly the best but worked hard and improved a lot feel? Just awful…

    Since I can't avoid the "Award Ceremony", what I decided to do is have a special event on our last day of school. We have a picnic, we sing and play together. I also give all my students a card telling them all the great things they have achieved during the year.

    I like what you said: "Schools are not about ranking and sorting. They are about learning and creativity in a safe and caring environment. They are about empowering all students, not just the ones that are strong at the core subjects"

    I really wish all schools promoted this. This is what will definitely encourage life-long learning. I'm really glad there are many educators who feel this way.

    Thanks again for this amazing post!

    • George

      Thanks for your comments Greta! I really appreciate how much you care for the well being of ALL your students, not just the most academically gifted.

  9. For those unfamiliar with Rick Lavoie, I urge you to see his videos if at all possible. Wonderful, practical approach to some of these issues.

    In one workshop (FAT City), he creates an environment for a group of adults to help them understand the pressures of being a child. He has the group look at a picture and demands to know what's in the picture. No one can name it. So he calls on one woman and essentially says: "Oh, come on! How can you not see it? It's right there. You're not looking hard enough! Look harder!" (Don't we all think and say these things to our kids sometimes?)

    Finally he says, "All right, look. If you can tell me what's in that picture, I've got a blank check for $100 that I will write out to you. You tell me what's in there and you get a hundred bucks!"

    Will that possibly motivate the person to do anything further if she can't possibly see what's in the picture? Of course not. Yet she has the added pressure of the reward making her feel inadequate. Makes sense, doesn't it?

    That's why Lavoie says, and I agree, we should reward progress, not outcome. Unfortunately, our schools are so hellbent on bottom lines that unless there's an institutional standard for appreciating growth and not product, we idealists are stuck.

  10. Techieang

    I believe in creating a safe environment in which all children are valued each day. Thanks for a heartfelt entry that can be used as a springboard for dialogue with staff.

  11. Sarah Edson

    Excellent post, George. Despite the fact that awards appear to serve as motivation for students, I see them more as a relic of a teacher-centered approach to learning. Dangling the same carrot in front of kids year after year requires less effort and pays less attention to the unique characteristics of each child. Spending face-to-face time annually as a faculty deciding which kid fits most neatly into a prefabricated template is not time well spent, in my opinion.

    I also believe strongly that the satisfaction a child can experience by achieving a goal that SHE has set for herself, with the guidance and support of her educators, is far greater than the feeling of receiving a pat on the back for arriving at some extrinsic, sometimes arbitrary destination.

    I'm not optimistic the ranking and sorting trend will fade anytime soon; however, I'm hopeful that more leaders can and will support learning environments in which the progress and achievement of every single student is valued. I think this very blog post is great momentum to initiate such a change. Well done.

    • George

      The ranking and sorting does need to end sooner than later. This is so demotivating to so many of our kids. It is setting this bar that is determined by a process that does not make sense. Does it kill creativity by saying certain things are not important when they mean everything to a child? It does not make sense. Luckily we are not on the same system you are on 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful comment Sarah!

  12. I agree with everything you have written.

    Teachers become addicted to handing out rewards, too. I certainly have!

    For many teachers, handing out rewards is their form of classroom management.

    I frequently ask students, the Pavlovian dogs, if their parents get a reward for stopping at a red light.

    • George

      Handing out awards can get addicting because it is hard to question "tradition". Sometimes we have to realize that we have to move past what we did in education, and do what is right. Thanks for your comment Steve 🙂

  13. Here here! The awards system has to end. It makes kids with amazing talents feel worthless because they don't measure up to the school system awards, and causes kids who excel in school stop trying because they believe they have already made it. You are right, it doesn't make kids feel valued or appreciated. It pits them against each other. Excellent post!

    • George

      Thanks for you comment Kelly 🙂 I am even starting to wonder about why there are so many "teacher" of the year awards. This may be great for one teacher, but does it create a better working environment? I am not sure.

    • Guest

      Thank you! I agree; I hate that it happened to my daughter today, and I had to witness the whole thing. I am spitting mad. I will try to get her out of that "elite" school as a result of it, too. May take a while–don't care.

  14. A couple years ago we were required to give every student an award during each assembly. No one would "miss out". Parents were complaining about spending time at the assembly to watch their student just sit with their class. So instead of rethinking awards/rewards and their effectiveness, they decided to do a "blanket" award system. Really? I struggled with this. At the time I felt that were students who "deserved" an award and some that didn't. Some worked "harder" than others; some "behaved" better than others; some "improved" more than others. I didn't see why the "lazy" student needed to be recognized…but then perhaps that's why he's lazy–he had never been rewarded.

    I didn't want my class working for a cheap certificate. Sure they enjoy the moment on the stage in front of everyone, but that "moment" doesn't last long. Heck, I would find a third of the certificates on the floor or in the recycling bin by the end of the week.

    One year I tried character certificates. I focused on aspects of each student's character. The certificate would highlight this trait and I would include a little note of appreciation.

    I hope to do this again. Since awards assemblies will most likely still be a part of our school culture this year, I hope to provide a more meaningful form of recognition for my students.

    • George

      Hopefully Jeremy, with the learning I have seen you do, you can encourage conversation amongst your staff to change this culture. The biggest roadblock for many schools is what parents will think, but if you talk with them, and help them understand why you are moving away from them and how it makes it better for your school community, they will understand. I always ensure that when we discuss these things, we always start with, "We are here for the same thing right? What is best for your child." This disarms many "arguments" that could happen as many realize you are on the same team. Thanks for your comment bro 🙂

  15. Todd Grant

    You have effectively summarized why I stopped giving end of season awards for the teams I coach. I can't say in practice that all roles are equally valuable and then at the end of a season basically say "well these individual roles were actually more important" which is the message sent by end of season awards. I have also carried that practice over to my classroom. I agree that schools/teams are family like and one member is not above another.

    • George

      Everyone plays a role Todd, not just the "star" player. Doesn't the "star" always get a ton of opportunities in their life anyway? Why do we need to recognize them that one more time, while deflating the others that are needed to ensure that they can thrive. We all play a role and we are important. We need to align our practices with these thoughts. Thanks for your comment Todd 🙂

  16. Ruth Cohenson

    Fantastic post! A must-see for administrators and staff as well as parents. Teachers often opt for awards because in the short run, it's easier to 'motivate' elementary students extrinsically, and requires much less effort than guiding students to a place where intrinsic motivation takes over.

    • George

      I agree Ruth…It is an easy way to say that students are doing what you are asking them. Or we teaching them to learn or compliance? I can get my dog to stuff for rewards as well, but I don't see him as a deep thinker. As Dan Pink discusses, rewards motivate people to do simple tasks, but not deep learning. That is what we want schools to be about right? Thanks for your comment 🙂

  17. Bravo George! We need more schools doing this each year. As you know, we abolished our awards ceremony

    this year for the same reasons you have listed. We need to continue to move away from the awards, gold stars, and certificates to a place where people make decisions based on intrinsic values and motivation. We need to challenge other schools to step up and do what you have done.

    Thank you for continuing to be a leader well beyond the walls of your school.

    • George

      Thanks Chris! Your post is one that inspired me this year to write about our journey. We want to do our best to ensure that we promoting learning in our school, not promoting awards. I appreciate your comment!

  18. What a tremendous post and one that is near and dear to my heart. My father was constantly reminding me when I was looking at colleges that there was plenty of time to specialize in something, that college was to learn for learning sake. At the time I thought he was just a crazy old man, but (as Mark Twain famously remarked) somewhere along the way he "learned" something. That is even MORE true of high school. We want our students to come out of school loving to learn, and yet we continually find ways to squash it.

    Your story about your 12th grade experience hit close to home. My most hated day of the school year is the Senior Award Assembly the day before graduation. The underclassmen sit in the gym and watch as the seniors receive scholarships, academic awards, athletic awards, etc. Then, the underclassmen who win academic awards are called to the front of the gym. The day is usually on a Friday in June in a cavernous gymnasium with not the best sound system, where it is typically pretty hot and stuffy. While I understand the thought that says some of those struggling underclassmen might be inspired by seeing the seniors receive awards, I don't think that many of them walk out of there with the thought that they are going to "buckle down" in September and work to be one of those seniors.

    • George

      I agree with you…these programs never really encourage others, but ultimately demotivate so many that do not get awards. We want to think in terms of abundance. Everyone has something that they contribute. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Scott Sherven

    Great words George. I can't agree with you more. We all have stories that need to be shared about awards and rewards and how they can be a negative impact on so many. I love your story about Mrs. Butler. Talk to again George.


    • George

      Thanks Scott…I always wonder where she is. I would love her to know that I still remember that moment 🙂

  20. Kimberley Engler

    George, I have to say that is truly amazing, and feel very grateful that our school has such an inspiring and caring principal!From my experience through elementary school and Junior High, the same kids year after year recieved awards and made the honor roll. There was not much point in even trying.Similar to your story of your grade 4 teacher, the kids's playschool teacher did the same thing for each child in her class, she made such an impact on the kids that we still visit her.Thank-you George!

    • George

      You are my first "school parent" to comment on my blog 🙂 I really appreciate your kind words and it means a lot to me. I am so glad that you understand that what we are doing is NOT because we do not care about the kids, but it is because we care SO much. I want all of the students to do well. You have two children in our school right now and it is important that they both feel valued, no matter their strengths right? They are both wonderful kids because they are just who they are, not because of how they do in any particular subject.

      On another note Kim, from my perspective, the more you are involved in social media (twitter, blogging, etc), the better you are going to be able to guide your kids through it in a safe and respectable manner. You will also help to prepare them to be more involved in their own learning. Kudos to you for taking the approach that you are going to get more involved; you will be so well equipped to help your kids be their best 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  21. Colleen Vanin

    Hi George,

    I appreciate your post. I have previously worked in a K-5 school and after 10 years have spent the last two in a 9-12 school. I fought for 6 years for staff at the elementary to reconsider the awards ceremony at the end of the year as it seemed the same students would be recognized year after year and those as you outlined earlier that came from families with less support who worked 4 times as hard to get an average grade were never recongnized. I am a special educator so I was continually advocating for change. The elementary has since dropped the awards ceremony for k-3 – but have continued with some form of awards for 4s and 5s – many teachers and parents still struggle with letting them die. However, now I am in a high school and the awards for top grades, etc. are an even bigger issue…. How does one argue that "grades" are not what we should be awarding at that level. High Academic Achievement is of course desirable at all levels but seems to be an even more important focus at high school along with of course the athletic awards which is also made a big deal. Yet, no recognition for creativity, collaborative feats, etc. etc…. It takes courage to go against the status quo of high school traditional practices. Any words of wisdom.

    • George

      Hey Colleen…sorry for the delay in response (first week of school). My best advice for changing practice, is to start conversation based on research. How can we justify doing something that is proven to be detrimental to learning? Read Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink and share with staff. There has to be discussion to make change. Discussion usually can be swayed by proven research though 🙂

  22. Mr. Couros, I really enjoyed the post. I don't use individual awards in my classroom. My philosophical underpinning also comes from my background. In my professional career, as a student, as a son, I never tried my best because there was something shiny at the end of the effort. Motivation is internal and rarely affected by extrinsic stimulus. Awards can be inspirational, but their effects are usually temporary. It is our jobs as educators to find what helps feed the fire in our students to do their best without carrots dangling in front of them.

    • George

      I agree with your belief that awards create a temporary feeling that soon evaporates. I do not remember or am motivated by the awards I won as a child, but still am motivated by the things that I love! That is what we have to find in our students. Thanks for your comment!

  23. […] First of all, if you watch Pernille’s video, you will notice that it talks in terms of “we” and “our” and not “I” and “you”.  It creates a classroom community that is working together.  One of the terms that really stuck out to me was, “We Will Celebrate Our Successes”.  I have seen many classrooms and schools talk about how “We” need to work together, but then hand out awards at the end of the year to individuals.  If you really are aligning what you say and what you do, at the end of the year, you will talk about the successes of your school or classrooms as a whole not highlight what individuals have done only.  Everyone plays a role in OUR success and we should continuously recognize what they have done as a whole. This aligns with my beliefs on awards. […]

  24. Deb Schiano

    George-we both participated in Greta's webinar on Sat evening. Your article speaks to me. I honestly have tears in my eyes right now, because I often feel so alone in my beliefs. I will pass this on to my principal. I'm also a huge fan of Alfie Kohn's words and thoughts. Thanks you.

  25. […] Recognizing and encouraging the strength of each child, building opportunities for self-directed and relevant learning, and creating a learning community for our school are things that are going to take work but are necessary for our kids. […]

  26. […] it is important to be visionary about what it will actually produce.  As we moved away from traditional award ceremonies in our school and tried focusing more on our every day culture, I knew that there would be some […]

  27. Wes

    Brilliant – refreshing – I am the Principal of a primary school and have talked about the innate shortcomings of extrinsic rewards – they are ineffective and even damaging for so many reasons. To offer an extrinsic reward for say – learning all your times tables – actually takes away our students natural desire to learn – it is saying to the student – WOW this 'learning must be so awful that you have to bribe me to do it.' In the right climate and with the right teacher, students will want to learn for the sheer joy of 'LEARNING!!! And as the article says – love of learning lasts a life time – the power of rewards last only a moment. I applaud this article and wish it was compulsory reading for all educators – including parents of course.
    You deserve a gold sticker (joke joke)

    • georgecouros

      Thanks Wes 🙂 Please feel free to share with whoever you can to push the right thing forward!

  28. mary peck

    My son's elementary school gave awards to 75% of the graduates. Imagine being among the 25% that didn't receive anything, yet they still had to sit there and clap for the others. It would've been different if only 5 to 10% received awards.

    • Just sayin

      Exactly right. Why give the majority an award when alot are meaningless while still making attendance mandatory. Not me. No more.

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  30. khawagha

    Thank you for this article. It was truly enlightening as well as mindset changing. I have read this in preparation to enter a faculty debate on the efficacy of our end of year awards ceremony which commences in 40 minutes time. I hope I can represent your thoughts with effect.

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  35. […] the situation specifically because I do not know enough about it, I have however have discussed my beliefs on awards before and how they are detrimental to the culture of a school.  I was inspired a lot by the book […]

  36. caplister

    Awards is an area of my practice I've been struggling with this year. I connected with this posting today, George in so many ways, and it has helped me create a framework to take to my admin and change our awards for next year.

    My school, is without questions, awards driven. As I'm typing this comment today I have the awards paperwork next to me that that requires me to fill in student's names and hand back to my admin before the month is out. A brief list of awards:

    'A' and 'B' honours (academic awards)
    Proficiency – only 1 grade 6 student
    Abundant Asset
    Academic Excellence Award boy and girl
    Service Award
    Athletic Award
    The Discretionary Award – up to three per class

    A couple of quote from your writing stand out:
    "Schools are not about ranking and sorting. They are about learning and creativity in a safe and caring environment."

    "If you take opportunities to learn about your students, find their passion, and make connections to their world, you will not need rewards or awards to motivate them."

    Thanks for helping me find a voice on this subject.

  37. Guest

    Thanks very much for this article. I'm going to show it to my 12 year-old daughter. She just finished up her first year at a public school that's a magnet school, runs 6-12 grades, and everyone says it's the best school. They had an award ceremony today; my daughter got none. Zip, nada. I can understand why she didn't get honor roll awards (and I told her that she needs to step up to the plate next time for those), nor did she get any awards for being outstanding in her core subjects (again, I told her “you gotta get those grades up”). I'm not pleased, but I understand. Now, here's where they lost me: why didn't she get an award for arts, or dance or strings? She consistently got all A's (admittedly, not A plusses) in those, even in PE. NO AWARD. When I calm down in a week or so, I'm writing a letter to the principal, assistant principal, and the guidance counselor, explaining just what I've written above. Not acceptable.

    • Guest

      Also, ….I'm trying to get my daughter in a magnet year-round middle school (and if that doesn’t work, parochial school?). Sure, she'd only be there for a year, then go to a large four-year high school, but I don't want to see her go this mischegos again. I've done enough volunteer work; no mas. Anything I do for that school will have to DIRECTLY benefit my daughter, or a kid who needs the benefit. We gave gift cards to the teachers from Office Depot for Teacher Apprec. wk. Know what? Only one of four core teachers gave my daughter a "thank you" note. You can bet I'll write that in a post script to my letter to the principal, v.p, and counselor, too. That's what I think of their "character building." Thanks, but if not giving an A student (in electives) any award at all and not thanking her for gift cards is how you build an "elite" individual and character, I want no part of it for my daughter.

  38. D. Martens

    Thank you for this excellent article on awards. I am an elementary school teacher in Ontario and I promote collaborative learning. I just attended my son's Middle School Graduation and, once again, walked away feeling defeated by the use of awards for encouragement. Are there any studies out there that actually prove that the handing out of certain awards to specific students at a public ceremony enhances the learning experience for all? I think it leaves a lot of excellent students feeling deflated and sub-standard. I can remember some experiences in my own life and how I was negatively impacted by the use of public awards at graduation. We even hand out awards at our elementary school "farewell ceremony" and I think that is very negative. George's comment about the "best teacher on staff" award is bang on. We expect students to be even more mature than we are as adults.
    Thanks you for your insightful writing and I will pass it on to some of my colleagues.
    And … it's great you are Canadian!!!

  39. William

    Let's see how many of you practice what you preach… let's do away with teacher awards like merit pay after all teachers that don't get them feel the same way the students feel described in the article. How many of you turned down "Teacher of the Year" awards?? Not many I would guess, because you earned it, right? Better get these kids ready, our adult society is filled with awards. Every day adults go to work with the reward of a paycheck, most are offered an extra reward for production. We offer employee of the week, month, year. Each comes with an award. By eliminating this reward system in schools you are setting your students up for a hard taste of reality when they hit the work force. Which might explain why so many of our young people feel a sense of entitlement. They miss the educational piece of "awards" and how to deal with the emotions when you receive or don't receive an award.

    • Just sayin

      @ william… Giving awards in school to 4\5 the students is hardly the same as a quarterly bonus to a paycheck. For starters pay to an employee is like a number/ letter grade to a student, and I have never seen an employer broadcast the amount of an individuals paycheck to the rest of the crew. Secondly, your point is not valid as to entitlement because it would be reversed. For example, if a student is always praised for school work
      with an award… He would fell entitled to
      recognition for work in the workplace. Yet,
      the workplace recognition is the paycheck.
      So in reality, based on your points, having awards in school is setting them up for disappointment. This is especially true in work places where there is no employee of the month, etc.

      I guess this is why stuff doesn’t change in schools because everything is debatable. But if we look at school only as getting students ready for the real world and being adults, alot of change is needed. Being an adult is hardly like being a student.

  40. […] The Impact of Awards ~ By George Couros “Creating an awards system in school; there is no right way. Have you ever been in a meeting with your colleagues discussing how awards should be given out?  Should the average be 85% or 80%.  What subjects should it include?  Should it only be the “core” subjects?  There are so many things that are not right with this process.” […]

  41. At our 4th/5th grade quarterly award ceremony, I had to follow a rubric for a myriad of awards, everything from perfect attendance to top reader. I had 6 students who weren’t eligible for any of the categories. My principal insisted that every student receive an award. Most teachers give the “participation” award for students that fail to qualify for any of the several other categories. Like the historical forfather George Mason who refused to sign the constitution that he fought so hard for because they tabled the issue of slavery, I refused to give a participation certificate because participation is not the same as showing up and taking up space in the classroom. That is called attendance. I complied by creating six unique qualities certificates like Kind heartedness or resilience certificate.

  42. Esther

    Thank you so much for this post! I agree whole heartedly on EVERY single point! Children need to be intrinsically motivated!

    As a child I rarely received honours; it did not matter that I worked extremely hard (harder than most) only to remain “average”; there was no award for hard work and dedication! Year after year, I would watch the “smart” kids being put on display in front of a large audience receiving their awards. These were the same kids that i would see scrambling to finish their homework on the bus, or the ones that didnt “need to study”. Often reward recipients would put in very little effort, yet time and again they were recognized for their “outstanding achievements”!

    Students shouldn’t need an award, certificate or public recognition for a high level of intelligence! What they DO need is motivation, enthusiasm and a strong sense of work ethic that will keep them dedicated and succeeding long into their post-secondary and professional lives! As a parent and teacher, I would much rather foster hard work, dedication and trying one’s best, than pushing my child/student to work for recognition!

    We need to also consider that in school divisions where gradeless report cards are used, giving awards based on marks/grades is hypocritical and contradictory! Academic and personal feedback from teachers/parents/coaches is far more likely to leave a lasting impression and inspire kids than a piece of paper with a golden sticker!

    • George

      Great points Esther 🙂 I am hoping that you could share this with your own staff and parents at some point to spark some discussion. Great teaching is VERY hard and to not dangle the carrot in front of a kid takes a lot since you REALLY have to get to know your students. But that is why it is GREAT teaching. Saying, “Do this so you will get this”, does not enhance deep learning but the very surface area type discussions.

      If you are ever looking for a great read on the topic, take a look at Daniel Pink’s work in the book “Drive”. It is a fantastic read and really changed my thinking on this topic.

  43. Jen

    I appreciate and agree with this author but I must suggest that you proofread your “there” and “their” because misspellings instantly lower the credibility of the author, in my opinion.

    • Just sayin

      The spelling of a word does not at all minimize the points he made. And he didn’t spell the words wrong… he spelled them just right. Maybe mixed them up while typing his very thoughtful and well-delivered post. Way to minimize your appreciation though.

  44. Nick A

    There’s a lot of good sense here; but I think there’s more to say. Yes, we can agree that it’s no possible to get the right student every time; that’s philosophically and pragmatically impossible as you have rightly argued. There’s a lot of noise, some irreducible in principle, in the system.

    We want kids to be intrinsically motivated; of course. We want a curriculum that is it’s own reward, and that kids love. Agreed. Now, suppose that broadly speaking, you have that. Not perfect, of course, but student and parent feedback overwhelmingly positive; kids complain that they want to take all the courses, not just some, and actual attainment is really high. I know I am prividleged to be a Principal in a High School where that is roughtly true.

    Then it seems to me that allowing students to vote for a Most Valued Classmate can be a powerful thing. Especially when the criteria contain things like ability to collaborate, to communicate, to empathise, to be principled, to think critically and creatively. This allows the school to signal what it values in the criteria (which by the way we can use for service, for sports, for academics…) and for the students to make their own meaning of them, in the contexts that are real for them.

    I guess these are less rewards from the school as they are celebrations/recognitions from peers. These seem to me to be a good thing. I appreciate not everyone gets one; I was struck at a sports award dinner by a girl who did not get an award, though had hoped to. She said something like “I was really disappointed, but at the same time I was so happy for XX, because we are on the same team. And I guess, in sports we learn to lose gracefully – so that’s what I am going to do”. Generous in victory, graceful in defeat – seems like a win-win to me.

    Would welcome comments on this.

      • Nicholas Alchin

        Only if we allow it to be; we talk to the kids about what makes a good team player, what it is to make a contribution and to struggle when things are hard. We explicitly discuss the popularity content, and ask them how they feel about that. And then the voting is by secret ballot, with a reason why they are voting for that person. When the awards are given we read out a few of the reasons; and it’s a moving and collaborative ceremony. And the ‘popular’ kids get no more awards than any others.

        So as so often in education, how you do it is almost as important as what you do.

        And we only do this for sports, where the competitive element makes a difference to the academic one, IMHO.


  45. Tabs

    Im so late on comment here but had to say thank you for this. I found it in my search to find reasoning on attending or not for my 1st grade/ 7year old son. His school sends out this announcement… Awards day is may 28 at 9am. All students will perform all song but will not receive awards. Parents will be notified in advance if your child is. Then it list 14 different awards, 2 of them has to be boy and a girl- total 16 awards.

    20 students in the class but 16 awards for some rediculous stuff… too many to make them matter and not enough to keep everyone from going home feeling dumb, worthless, or not good enough. So these 4 children are stuck with this feeling at the end of their year even though they are all great kids. How is this fair?

    In all honesty from how my son talked to me about it, he feels bullied- by adults! And I wont stand by and watch his little heart break!?

    Ive been wrestling with the decision of do I…

    A.) Let him leave early because its not worth it for him to feel bad and I dont agree with it? Or

    B.) Make him stay and fulfill an obligation that was put on him by faculty since it is during school hours. Although principal approved early dismissals for all at end of awards.

    Others say kids have to learn life isnt fair sometimes and awards ceremonies teach this, but is this really the right way to learn it? Should awards be humbleing for most kids but a reality check/ borderline punishment for the other 4 kids?

    Aside from that, is it fair for one teacher to judge 20 kids on 16 categories? Can any teacher really say that each of the “chosen” kids really were best for that 1 specified award? No one can tell me that 2 of the 20 kids couldnt be equally fit for 1 award.

    I find it mean and pointless. The kid who gets the award may be happy for a day or few but the kid who didnt will remember it much longer. And be reminded every award day in the future.

    Either way I will be informing the school that we wont be paricipating now or in the future, even if he would be awarded, because an award givin to him may just make another child feel just as bad and I am not ok with that either.

    Thank you again for an educators perspective.

  46. May

    Hi there! I came across this when i came home today after dropping off my kindergartener to school. I googled ‘my soon has never received an achievement award’ and this was the first thing i read and i am so glad i read it. It put my mind at ease just as i was about to cry and head to the school districts office to change my son’s school. My son is in KG and every month they award students with character trait awards. They also give out green star cards everyday to students who had a good day and after they receive 10 they get to choose something from the treasure chest. If a student has been extra good they get a gold star and something extra which i cant tell you what because my son has never received one. Everyone in his class has gotten at least 1 gold star this past year except my son. Ive tried positive encouragement and reinforcement and all he gets is green cards and an ‘ i almost got gold’. I feel so sad for him because i know how encouraging it is to get an award and make my mom and dad proud. This morning i attended an awards ceremony – the last for the year and i felt so disappointed in my son and i felt like a failure. Why were all theae kids getting awarded and my son never? Was i not participating enough in classroom help or activities? Was i not donating enough school supplies? I have a 1 yr old baby so i know i havent been able to engage as much as i wanted. My son has also had some issues that has affected his concentration in school and we had a discussion with the school counselors about a month ago. Last year my husband was diagnosed with cancer and was very rough on us with chemotherapy sessions and the year before when i was pregnant i had a very hard pregnancy and spent half the time in hospital. What bugs me is that the teacher and counselors knew all if this and i mentioned that a little bit of encouragement for anything he does good will make a world of difference…but still no awards or gold stars. I feel like i should move him to another school although i like his school and the academics of it. What do you suggest i do or do at home or say to my son?

  47. harry

    lol i am also very late in commenting on here but i would like to also say thank you. the system of awarding students is obviously a controversial idea. but i have to agree with you in saying that it is not very beneficial for those who don’t receive awards. my prize giving is coming up in a few days and i don’t think i will be getting an award. my high school sent out letters to those who are getting awards and many students in my class have received letters already however i haven’t. all of my friends have received letter my group of friends are all very intelligent, last year the top 3 students in the school were my friends. i feel very upset because i thought i had worked so hard this year. i have received top marks in a few of my subjects, math, science and media studies however i know none of these awards will go to me. i am in 9th grade taking 11th grade math next year and 11th grade chemistry however i am not receiving any awards. i feel as if this is extremely unfair as i know that some of the people receiving the awards don’t even do some of the work or hand int in a week later. i also feel as if these people are only getting the award because the teachers have a personal preference over them. last year i experienced not receiving an award. at the end of the year only 7 people from my class did not receive awards including me. all of my friends were up there and i felt extremely embarrassed and as if i might as well not have gone to school. looking at other websites i see that these awards may not seem like much in the future however it is still disheartening to know that you’re not getting award because of unfair reasons.
    but again, thank you for surfacing this topic because i think it is one which we are under educated about.

  48. Marie

    An extremely negative concept. Which will prove to do more harm than good for our children. Our children will be disappointed at times. Why not teach them early how to deal with disappointment, empower them with incentives to do well.
    Why punish those that work hard and achieve?
    George you are still hanging on to the old concepts of psychology. Try embracing positivity instead of complacency.

  49. MME

    Thank you so much for this. I have actually been targeted in my facility for not wanting to participate in a blanket awards ceremony, for these exact reasons. It is nice to know that I am not alone in finding blanket awards, or a seeking out of reasons to give awards to “the kids who fall through the cracks” along with GPA and etc, finding these awards to be trite and pieces of paper students will most likely discard the next day or find years later and not remember the slightest why they got it in the first place.

  50. Atlas Educational

    The whole purpose for learning is intrinsic. When you’re working for someone or something else, it diminishes your ownership and your ability to complete a job or learn a new skill. When education becomes more student-centered and intrinsic, students (& teachers) will invest more in education. When administrators realize & allow teachers and students “choice”, we know that they are encouraging our intrinsic drive to take over and are not directing the learning. It does involve giving up control and that seems to be the current struggle in education.

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