In the United States, educators are encouraged to recognize their students' academic accomplishments to motivate them to learn and become a better person each day. Traditionally, most schools hold an awards ceremony that's held at the students' school. Typically, parents, family members, and close friends of the student are invited to attend. The principal may issue a certificate, plaque, or trophy that's custom-made with the student's name, school, and accomplishment engraved on it.
We live in a word where competition awards few people on the backs of many, and where rewards and resources are conferred inequitably, it is understandable that children associate awards with a system that reinforces self-worth by naming winners and losers. It is going to take a broad movement to shift toward an institutional worldview that emphasizes cooperative, collective action and equity.
Teachers can take these last weeks of school to recognize students for their diverse achievements, efforts, and ways of being in meaningful ways, ultimately honoring the collective results of the student body. If schools do decide to recognize the specific efforts of each student, these guidelines can help make awards safer and more equitable:
- Be specific about praise when talking with students: Recognize what you see in their work, relationships, and words that inspire you.
- Identify assumptions you may have about what makes a “good student” that may limit seeing every child and seeing the whole child. These assumptions may have roots in cultural bias.
- Discuss the process by which your school gives awards: Are they based in high stakes, exclusionary or general praise, without ties to specific efforts? Raise the conversation about whether your school should try a new process.
- Analyze who is given which awards. Are awards being conferred in line with cultural stereotypes or assumptions?
- Treat children with dignity: They want to know why/how they earned an award. Talk to them individually and honor their roles in the award exchange.
- Talk to families about what they see as the successes of their children. Bring their celebration of their children’s achievements in the classroom.
- While creating cooperative, collective action and equity-driven schooling with youth is a complex, challenging goal, acknowledging all students’ contributions to the school can emphasize the importance of the school community as a whole. Working from students’ interests, questions and life experiences, as well as helping students confront problems in their world, will result in individual and shared accomplishments.
Teachers have their hands full with classroom management, and it can be challenging to motivate their students to learn and participate. It's traditional to issue awards to students for good behavior or academic success. A physical representation of his accomplishment will motivate him to work harder to achieve his goals.