This week, I posted Awards for All, where I gave examples of awards from my annual classroom awards ceremony that celebrates children for characteristics unique to them and few, if any, others. Feedback was generally positive, until my good buddy Pernille Ripp responded with Awards for All Means Students Still Lose – No Matter How Well Meaning They Are.
Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for Pernille, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. We just happen to have different points of view on this issue. So don’t read this and take it for anything more than it is: me issuing my defense of why I do what I do based on the points she made in her post. Or you can choose to read it as a general defense for anyone who does similarly.
I read Pernille’s post with great interest and found myself saying in my head, to more than one of her points, “Yes, but…” In other words, it was obvious to me I needed to clarify my position.
Pernille writes, “making someone the best means someone is always the loser. …It is not that I am opposed to celebrating students, I just don’t understand the need to always give them something.” I take exception with these points. Of course, every time someone wins, then that means everyone else “loses.” This, however, is a very cut and dry interpretation of what Awards for All is really about.
Earlier in her post, Pernille posited that, “I got the impression that Matt created these rewards because otherwise his students may never actually receive any form of reward. So then that makes it ok, right?” Actually, yes, it does. In fact, I conceived Awards for All when I taught fifth grade, as a response to the senior awards night. In my first year of teaching, I gave out invitations to that ceremony to nine of 28 students while standing on my soapbox preaching, “Those of you who didn’t get an invitation, you should have been working harder and listening to me this whole year.”
The next year, I was so embarrassed to have to hand out those coveted invites that I met with each recipient quietly and out of view from everyone else. In response to my personal need to make sure each of my students felt valuable – which most wouldn’t because they didn’t get an invite or award – I decided each one of them should, indeed, receive some kind of special recognition.
I make no apologies for this practice.
In her post, Pernille writes, “While personality awards like the ones Matt discussed may seem harmless, I wonder, how does the child feel that really wanted to most improved in math and didn’t get it? Or the child that has been working hard to be kind toward all but is not recognized for it? We are also making losers out of them.” While the actual receipt of the award is a surprise, I am yet to notice any dissent from students about who gets what. In fact, most times, students are guessing the recipient based on the qualities I describe and before the award is presented.
This is because my classroom has a culture of everyone being valued, and everyone being an important contributor and everyone having something that they are better at than anyone else. It’s like Rick Lavoie says in The Motivation Breakthrough, “I advise parents that if your child’s solitary strength is his ability to use a Philips-head screwdriver, … Mom should go around the house and loosen every screw she can find. As soon as the boy gets off the bus, she should hand him the screwdriver and say, ‘Go to it, champ, because nobody tightens screws like you do!'” In other words, my students know who the best users of the Philips-head are, and they each have things about them that make them shine brighter than others in the same areas.
Finally, I’ll address what Pernille says here, “When we choose to focus on one trait of a child’s personality, no matter how kind our intentions were, we in essence tell the child that this is the one thing I have noticed and all of these other things, you did not quite excel enough in. Why the need for recognition? Can we not through our own words and actions give these children enough recognition without having to do it in awards form?” It is an erroneous conclusion to assume that I only “focus on one trait of a child’s personality” (and in fact, I would venture that I am misinterpreting Pernille on this one.) However, I will point out that, often, the pre-award build-up, in which I talk the unnamed student up, is very well-received because I address so many other traits that make the student the wonderful being s/he is. If someone wanted to argue that the certificate the child receives only mentions one trait, then I agree. As I said above, though, it’s not as cut and dry as my original post makes it.
And yes, of course, we should be rewarding students daily through our words and actions. I hope I do and that I continue to.
Rest assured, though, there will be still be Awards for All at the end of the year.