“Like any other tool for facilitating the completion of a questionable task, rewards offer a "how" answer to what is really a "why" question.” ~ Alfie Kohn
It was the summer leading into my first teaching assignment that I read Alfie Kohn's book "Punished by Rewards." It had a huge impact on how I decided my classroom would function. It was an idea that I really hadn't thought deeply about because growing up playing lots of sports I was blessed with a large trophy case to display all my awards. Thinking back on my younger days, however, I really didn't pay much attention to the awards and trophies. They were just there, in my trophy case for all to see. I was more concerned about participating and playing with my friends. I wasn't playing for the trophies. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to win, but the award at the end of the victory was not my goal. All these thoughts have come flooding back over the past few days as we prepare for a night of celebration to honour our grade 8 students who will be graduating and moving on to high school. Of course these celebrations also mean that we will present awards.
Our graduation ceremony is going to be amazing. It always is. I don't think I have been to one yet that I didn't either get a little emotional or shed a tear. It's a special night for the graduates and their families, but also for all the teachers who have guided them along their path at school. The part that still doesn't sit right with me is the presentation of the awards. As a school team we discussed the various awards and the potential recipients. With each award there could have been multiple deserving students, but we needed to select one or two. This is where the idea of awards falls apart for me. I've read where other school districts have done away with the practice of awards and have been met with resistance, but I truly believe it's a practice that we must reconsider. There will no doubt be some very happy students tonight, but there will certainly be many disappointed students as well. And for what purpose. This should be a celebration of the accomplishments of all students. It is a milestone in their lives that they should all be proud of regardless of whether they win an award or not. Deep inside each student should be the desire to do well for themselves. Intrinsic motivation. Schools and parents need to be partners in cultivating this in students. It will only support them in the future as they move into higher education and the work force.
So if I could give each graduate one piece of advice it would be: don't be concerned with the accolades or awards. Concern yourself with being a better person, one who strives to do their best in everything. A person who uses setbacks and failures as a way of learning and growing.
What do you think about awards? I'd love to hear your thoughts.