It’s nearing the end of the school year and time for the annual award distributions. We hand out certificates, trophies, and compile lists of achievements in almost any and every category. Whether in the early grades or at graduation, we seek to point out accomplishments of students. I am guessing that if we could sit down and talk for a few minutes, dear reader, that we would share some mixed feelings about this end of year ritual.
This is an area of our school life that poses potentially large risks to our mission. It is an area that goes largely unexamined and one where we quickly adopt the practices of other schools. It is what we get excited about that speaks the loudest message to our students. I am concerned that sometimes what we do in awards assemblies may actually contradict the kinds of thoughtful work that we have done throughout many previous months and years.
I don’t have the answer to this, but am providing some questions below that might be useful in generating conversations within faculties. I’d be delighted to post your responses.
- If we are presenting awards to encourage students, are there a larger number who are actually discouraged by this process?
- What are we recognizing, and what related values are being held up to our students? Is what we are highlighting in alignment with the mission of our school?
- If we truly believe that all students are gifted and loved by God, how do we determine which gifts to highlight? Could we, or even should we, recognize students for growth in discipleship and becoming more Christlike?
- If we take a “broad recognition” approach and recognize every student for something, is it worth doing?
- Are we distinctively different in our award ceremonies than any other school?
- Do our awards truly celebrate the joy and creativity of learning or a narrowly defined competition that sorts out winners and losers by subjective standards?
- Are students motivated or punished by rewards and recognition? Do we essentially crucify Christ again when we put kids into camps of “winners” and “losers”? Is this a matter of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer?
- What was Jesus’ response to his three closest disciples when they were concerned about recognition and who was going to be first, second, and third? What was Paul’s response about who should get the credit for helping bring others into the kingdom?