Thursday, January 5, 2012


Our middle school staff just had a lively conversation about the possibility of making some changes to our student-led monthly award assemblies.  Currently our middle school staff gives monthly awards such as perseverance, problem-solving, common sense, etc.  Kids also get lottery coupons for doing something positive, earning a high grade on a test, etc.  Some of the conversation was about whether giving awards for high scores should be done in a public setting such as an assembly.  Other suggestions were to reward students for academic excellence by inviting them to a breakfast with the principal or other event and to use assemblies to recognize kids in other ways. Does receiving an award motivate kids? How does it impact kids who may never receive an award?  What happens if some grade levels give most of the class an award each month?  One of our questions is how does receiving/not receiving awards impact students' self esteem and future performance.  What do other schools do for award assemblies?


  1. For an extensive list of blog posts about awards see the Wejr Board, Rethinking Awards Ceremonies-->>

  2. A teacher on Twitter responded to the idea of "good" students getting breakfast with principal with a similar example, "I know of a school where 'good' students can 'win' rides in an administrator's Porsche." Same principle but the second example sounds so much worse. What does that say about the former?

  3. Hey Al - Brian has mentioned all the posts that have been written by so many people questioning awards. This is something that I am very passionate about as our school ended the awards ceremony 3 years ago and is just part of our culture now. We have never been a "high ranking" school but since changing the way we honour kids, our top academic students continue to excel but we have more students becoming confident leaders and learners.

    I cannot say much more than what I have written... we would not go back - parents like it (and wer part of the decision), teachers like it, and students like it.

    I will respond briefly to your questions:

    I think student-led assemblies are a great thing but giving awards is not. If we give out a few awards, we miss out on honouring so many. If we give out many awards they become less meaningful. Either way, we do harm. Also, according to the well respected work of Deci and Ryan, when we reward people with external prizes for doing something they already do - we actually INHIBIT intrinsic motivation as the eyes move to the prize rather than the process.

    To me, it is not about self-esteem but more about encouraging students to become learners. Learners take risks. Learners fail. Awards hurt students who want to take risks, try something new, and possibly fail.

    It took about 3-5 years of discussions to create change at our school. Keep plugging away. We give awards because we cannot imagine a school without them. Come talk to our students and you will see that awards are irrelevant to their learning. We still have our excelling learners and our struggling learners... but we do not pit them against each other in the game of school.