I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable at our year-end awards. It seems that it’s always the same students who reap most of the bounty, and many hard working students are never recognized. And yet, I’m not an advocate of making up frivolous awards just to include all students. Research, too, indicates that giving students frivolous awards or trophies for just being on a team or being part of a class has a negative impact on self worth.
And yet, don’t we tell students that they all have their own set of strengths and talents on which to build their careers? That the top performers are not the only ones who succeed? And as we all know, not all top students succeed. So, what about the student who shows up day after day, does his or her work on time all the time, is respectful and cooperative, but only manages to maintain a strong “C” average? Should this student be left out of the awards line up?
Our school tried something new last June to see if we couldn’t come up with a solution to this issue. We have been working towards becoming a Leader In Me school for the last two years. The Leader in Me program focuses on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers by Sean Covey. The belief behind this program is that by having the seven attitudes or habits, every student can be successful regardless of academic ability. So, in addition to our usual awards for honors, merit, arts, leadership, athletics, and various options, we added the 7 Habits as well.
We had all of our junior high students write down the top three habits that they thought they demonstrated exceptionally well throughout the year. They also had to back up their choices with evidence of how they demonstrated the habits. The Awards Committee went over the responses of those students who were not receiving any other awards and chose their strongest habit. In the end, almost every student was recognized.
I had the privilege of emceeing the awards ceremony, and it was awesome to see almost all students recognized with an authentic award. The best part was seeing the pride on the students’ faces. They knew they were being recognized for something as valuable as all the other awards being handed out.
Not only did we hand out awards for academics, arts, and athletics, but we honoured attitudes as well. And, as we tell our students all the time, having academic or art or athletic abilities means very little without the right attitude.