Blowing The Lid Off The “Awards” Can Of Worms One More Time!

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while now, hoping that as I continue to think about this topic, I can figure out a solution on my own. I can’t seem to though, so I’m wondering if my P.L.N. (Professional Learning Network) might have some insights to share. I’m about to blow the lid off this can of worms one more time: awards

I’ve had some mixed feelings on awards over the years. As much as I value and discuss the benefits of intrinsic motivation, being nominated for and winning an award of my own, makes me feel hypocritical for only speaking negatively about them. Did an award change me? I don’t think that it did. I work as hard now as I did back then, and I still have questions of …

  • are we doing enough?
  • how can we meet the needs of a child that’s not showing as much growth?
  • how can we make our program even better?
  • what do others think when they see our classroom? Do their opinions matter? Why? How can we use their insights to help us determine our next steps?

My teaching partner, Paula, and I reflect regularly, and we’re constantly tweaking our program to better meet the needs of kids. Award or not, we’ll still never see our program as perfect, and that’s okay. It’s this reflection that helps us continually improve.

Considering my thinking on awards then, I’ve been challenged to think differently about them over these past couple of years, as our school does Monthly Award Ceremonies. I’ll admit that I have some reservations about these awards, but there are two things that help me get through these assemblies.

  1. Every child wins an award before the end of the year. All students are recognized for their strengths, growth, and contributions to their class and school communities.
  2. The awards are personalized. We don’t have specific areas of focus. Each teacher can decide on the various reasons for children to win awards: from social growth to academic growth. Last year, there was even a group award, for children that demonstrated specific achievement as a larger group. 

As demonstrated in my Instagram post above, I was definitely feeling better about these awards. Then one night after school, I had a lovely conversation with a parent. This mom came to talk to me because her child came home upset. Her child thought that everyone in the class won “one award,” but she noticed that one child won two already. This child wondered if Mrs. Crockett and I noticed all of the things that she was doing and her growth over the year. This broke my heart!

Sometimes a few children receive a second award because the Phys-Ed or Music teacher hands one out to them. This doesn’t happen often, but it did in this case. Yes, this child was very deserving of this second award, but my conversation with this mom made me think again about awards. We recognize this mom’s daughter in class all the time.

  • Her work often inspires other children.
  • We often look at her work during meeting times.
  • We always provide positive feedback on what she shares.

I know that she feels this acknowledgement at the time, but why is an award more powerful than this? The truth is that we have many children that could receive awards every single month. Their growth blows us away. These children are committed to learning, improving, and valuing the process. Paula and I try to instil in our students how proud we are of them every single day. At the time, it seems to make a difference, but then I hear this award story, and I wonder. 

  • If everyone is getting an award, does this eventually negate the value of the awards?
  • Are students viewing awards as more powerful than genuine compliments and positive feedback? Does this matter?
  • At such a young age, is the stress of receiving or not receiving an award (we’ve been witness to both) too much for our students? What impact might this have on their sense of self?
  • If we don’t use award systems in our classroom, why are we doing so through these Monthly Award Ceremonies? What makes them different?

I really don’t know the answers to any of these questions and nor do I know what to do. Paula and I continue to discuss this topic, and we’d welcome thoughts from others. While I told this mom to invite her daughter to talk to us if she wanted, so that we could solve the problem together, she never did. I know that the mom spoke to her daughter, and this was likely enough, but thinking of how this child feels, makes me feel equally as upset. If this is what awards do to our youngest learners, what about our oldest ones? I know that these assemblies happen with the best of intentions, and I know how proud parents are of their children each month. But experiences like this one make me wonder again about awards, and what might be best for kids. Maybe the answer is not the same here for every grade or every child. What do you think, and what do you do?


2 thoughts on “Blowing The Lid Off The “Awards” Can Of Worms One More Time!

  1. Dear Aviva,
    It is uncanny how often I read your posts and they coincide with what I am struggling with. At our school we have to choose children to win the monthly Catholic Virtue Award. My teaching partner and I must also make sure each child wins an award by the end of the year. This can be somewhat of a challenge because, like you said, some children, because of their nature could win every award. I don’t have the answer to your question but thank you for always giving me something to think more deeply about. FYI. I am really enjoying Stuart Shankers book, Calm, Alert, and Learning, thanks to you.

    • Thanks Maureen! Sometimes even without answers it’s comforting to know that there are other people out there who are questioning these same things. Maybe there is no easy answer. I can’t help but think though about some of the stressors that Shanker discusses in both of his books, and wonder what stressors might be at play when it comes to awards. Thanks for making me think more about this. So glad you’re enjoying his book. CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING has probably changed me more than any other professional read.

      Good luck as you also choose your award winners!

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