A not-so-typical Awards Ceremony

Every once in a while, the subject of school awards comes up on the DWS mailring.  Usually the person is concerned that their school requires teachers to present student awards.  The concern is that this thinking doesn’t mesh well with the philosophy of someone wanting to foster internal motivation.

On another mailring recently, I read a post from a teacher whose school gives awards to every child in the school––but in quite a different way than most do.  I asked her permission to reprint the idea here.  I thought it might interest those looking for genuine ways to acknowledge children, without the typical problems associated with awards (as we usually think of them.)

Here’s her post:
At our school we do not focus on academics at our end-of-the-year awards ceremony but instead on the positive character traits of each child. (We send home honor roll certificates (based on the year end average) inside the final report card envelopes.) At our final school awards ceremony each child in the school is given a character award based on what the teachers feel is the most positive character trait of that child. Each child is given individual attention. Almost every parent, both mother and father, as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. show up for the awards ceremony to see what their child will receive.

It is really neat to see what each teacher chooses as the most unique character trait for each student. We do not talk to the teachers who had the child in the years before; we feel that if the child gets the same award more than one year, then this is simply confirmation of that gift in that child. Many different lists of character traits can be found quickly on the Internet.  Here’s just one example.

I tell my young students what their award is ahead of time and explain to them what it means. I have been at schools who do all academic awards and I highly recommend the character awards because every child is recognized and made to feel special.


Kerry’s comments:

I am impressed with the care and individual attention that your school has chosen to give to every child so as to recognize the best in each one. I know that takes a lot of extra effort, but it is in taking that effort that every child feels honored in a sincere and meaningful way. As I mentioned on another thread, my school has chosen to no longer to give awards in the more typical ways because we found it led to unhealthy competition and comparisons among students and parents.

I think that the way in which your school has found to honor kids would not lead to the same sorts of competition we experienced because you aren’t “measuring” anything (the best at this or that, good at this or that etc.) You’re simply looking for something unique and special about each child that can be celebrated.  I love how you have decided to take the time to speak with each child ahead so that they truly understand the meaning behind the recognition you have given them.

I think that all schools hold the same intention as your school but I don’t think many schools have found a way to achieve that objective really well.  With your approach, since one character trait holds, either no more, or no less, value than another, there’s nothing to compare. Done in the genuine way that your school hands out these awards, it wouldn’t lead to the same sort of competitiveness or bragging that we experienced (where an “effort award” was considered less valuable than an “academic award” for instance.) I think that the success of your approach becomes obvious by the number of family members who turn up to witness their child receiving their character award.

I would think too that having such awards would encourage teachers to be looking at their students in a more positive way all year round because they would need to be actively looking for the GOOD in each one. Sometimes, with some students, it’s much easier to be focusing on the opposite. Your school’s emphasis must remind teachers that with those more challenging kids it’s doubly important to make the effort to see their positive points. Once a teacher is thinking along those lines, life improves for the child in the classroom too and they start to behave in the ways the teacher is expecting––the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy.