Awards – We’re Doing It Wrong


Awards should be given out to those who earn them. If I have a student who Perseveres, is Enthusiastic, and Cooperative, then they should receive all three awards. Likewise if there is a person who does their job well several months, they should be given “Employee of the Month” for all the months they have earned it.

Why Am I Talking About This?

Recently, we had another Citizen of the Month Award Ceremony. Yeah, it’s become a ‘Let me make you feel good for the few minutes while you get to stand up in front of everyone’ sort of thing. I know this is not just happening in my district. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that it is more common place than I’d care to think about.

This got me thinking, why am I giving out this award? I don’t always necessarily think that student A deserves the Patience award, but they sort of fit that category. And since EVERYONE gets a COM Award, student A gets Patience.

The same goes for teacher awards. Years ago, my district participated in an award that celebrated teachers who brought literacy to their classrooms. It could have been through innovative ways, starting clubs, or getting hundreds of book donations. Those individuals deserved the award. But because my district wanted to be involved in it every year – which I applaud – they would often scramble to find someone to get it. It often times became meaningless.

It’s Okay NOT To Give Someone An Award

Yes, it’s fine NOT to give every child in your class an award. We really want students to work, persevere, be enthusiastic, etc. By the time students hit 3rd grade, they’re on to the game. They know they don’t really have to work at any of the character traits. They know at some point in the year, they will get an award. Then their parents will come with a minimum of 3 mylar balloons, candy and/or a stuffed animal, but that rant is for another time.

Back to the literacy award. I mentioned several reasons why employees received the award, but didn’t talk about the MANY years that we scrambled to have a person. And why did we scramble? Well, there were many times when the discussion was, “Who hasn’t gotten it yet?” That is NOT how we should be celebrating our accomplishments. What if person A created an after-school literacy group year 1; then year 2 provided training for others to have their own literacy group? Well, person A was then out of the running because they had already received the award year 1. What a shame.

What Should We Be Doing Instead?

With my students, each month they should start with a clean slate. If some students don’t get an award that year, that’s okay. If a student gets an award twice, that’s okay too. Looking at the literacy award, if person A did amazing things to improve literacy, they should have received the award more than once, because yes, that’s okay too.

We need to stop making these awards meaningless. My job is not to make a child feel good in the moment, but to teach them to be a better person. Study after study has shown the negative affects of giving everyone an award.

We need to celebrate those that are deserving – even if they’ve been acknowledged before.

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