As the school year winds down, what is your school doing to recognize students? It’s really common at this time of year to have awards programs to celebrate students for success and achievement. A problem with these types of programs is they tend to only recognize a certain kind of student.
Praising compliance, outstanding grades, and high achievement may be motivating for some, but may also lead to disengagement, resentment, and alienation for others. What kind of success are we celebrating?
I don’t want to send the message to our students that only a certain type of success or achievement is celebrated in our school. All of our students are valuable and make contributions in a variety of ways.
And most importantly, I want to celebrate the process of growth and learning, and not just the outcomes. Students can’t always control the end result, but they can control the controllables, things like effort, enthusiasm, empathy, energy, and work ethic. It’s also important to recognize students for curiosity, creativity, and perseverance.
So we do our “awards” program differently.
Each teacher chooses one student to recognize at our end of school assembly. But the teacher selects the student based on whatever criteria they choose. It could be for effort, improvement, citizenship, school spirit, or just showing up well and having positive energy.
Some of the students who receive the award are the typical academic high flyers, but many are not. Many have probably never had their name called out in front of their peers, or their parents, to receive an award.
Each teacher says just a few words about why the student was selected. These stories are powerful for showing how we value students for more than just the grades they earn.
For some of our students, receiving an honor and affirmation like this could be pivotal. It could give them the spark of confidence and belief they needed at just the right time. It could inspire them to take on new challenges and set their sights higher.
Here are three reasons to recognize effort and growth over achievement and outcomes:
1. Avoid alienation.
By the time students arrive in high school, far too many believe the system of school won’t work for them. They are checked out. And no wonder. They’ve seen a certain type of student celebrated. They’ve built their identity around not being like those students, because they can’t measure up to those kids anyway, the ones who get all the awards. Personal growth isn’t even on their radar, and they don’t see that as the purpose of school anyway. To them, school expects quiet compliance, right answers, and perfect grades. That’s how you measure up. Recognizing progress and growth levels the playing field for all students.
2. Reinforce healthy attitudes about success.
It’s not healthy to get your sense of value or self-worth from achievements. For some, success is like a drug. They need more and more of it to get the same feeling. No matter how successful they are, in the end, it’s never enough. They are dependent on success to feel good about themselves, to feel secure. Any mistake or failure is almost unbearable. They feel threatened when others do well. Some of the most high performing students in your school may not be well-adjusted in this sense. It’s great to pursue excellence. But excellence is in the process of doing your very best, growing your strengths, and finding your purpose.
3. Encourage growth mindset.
A key finding of growth mindset was the recognition that praising effort was much more effective in motivating learning behaviors than praising fixed characteristics. The belief that I can grow my intelligence leads to better outcomes in the end. But the focus is on the process of growth, not the outcome. When we only recognize students for their achievements, we reinforce the fixed mindset. But when we recognize growth, we encourage all students to stretch themselves and strive to take on challenges. Success isn’t as important as progress in this system. And failure is only a temporary setback that provides an opportunity to learn and grow.
How is your school recognizing and celebrating students? Are you encouraging effort and growth over achievement and outcomes? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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