Sunday, November 6, 2016

Beyond Certificates and Ceremony - Awarding Distinction

Beyond Certificates and Ceremony
Academic Awards

Many parents, students and teachers have posed the question of the purpose of academic achievement awards and the ceremonies where they are given, not to be defensive or offensive, but rather with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand the role and consequence.

We are taking a break from the trimester awards ceremonies this year in the Middle School to engage in an open exploration of the purpose and whether or not the outcome provides a meaningful contribution to a positive school climate. We will continue to recognize students receiving the trimester Loretto Leadership and Spirit awards. That will take place during our MS reflection time after lunch.

We know from research that a positive school climate contributes to higher academic achievement as well as to healthier social and emotional being. We know that recognizing and celebrating academic achievement is not outside of the school’s mission, yet are we recognizing that achievement well and justly. Is there a better way?

If you read the belief statements of faculty and staff, and consider the Loretto School Values of community and justice, there is a force of argument against recognizing less than 1.5% of the student body for excellence in academics each trimester with some students being called forward multiple times each trimester and across the trimesters. The same may be said of recognizing a specific athlete on a team, which we have also put on hold. How is one athlete or one musician in an orchestra to be recognized when the product or purpose is working in collaboration to create an outcome?

For many years now, we have structured the awards ceremony more like a pep rally. The pace is fast, the words few and the applause and cheers frequent. We gather in the Commons and sit in Community Action Teams. One student from each section of a course’s four sections is called forward to receive a certificate and applause. There is minimal space left for additional audience members and we avoid bold announcements of the event on the calendar, which minimizes additional audience. Yet, we surely do not want to minimize the accomplishments of the awardees. The balance is precarious.

How do we fairly choose the recipients when we are continually evolving away from traditional measures of learning, such as scores, organization and behavior, to more progressive ones, such as the capacities to inquire, collaborate, explore and create? When we encourage learning driven by curiosity, are public awards discouraging that sort of learning?

If receiving an academic award in a school career is not a strong indication of future accomplishment, why do we continue with these awards? If receiving an academic award in a school career does not contribute to community and a positive school climate, why do we continue with these awards? Perhaps the reason is that we are part of a culture that embraces competition.

I welcome your perspective and stories. What is the purpose of academic and team awards? What are the consequences or outcomes of awards in our school community and in the lives of students immediately and in the future? How do we choose who receives an academic award and who does not? And how do we recognize the awardee? How do we award social and emotional distinction?