Daily Reflections / School / This Is My Life

School Awards — Two Perspectives

There’s less than a month of school left for most — my teacher friends can probably give me an exact countdown.  Which means it’s also the time for award ceremonies again.

As an educator, I always dreaded award time. I knew the awards would make some happy and some sad.  And I don’t think that’s what education should be about.


child different

Awards eventually lose their luster to students that get them, while often hurting the self-esteem and pride of those who don’t.  (The Impact of Awards)

My Thoughts  — From an Educator’s Perspective

Elementary School

For many of my years as an elementary teacher we were instructed by administration to give every student some type of award.  I’ll admit that it was sometimes difficult to find an award that fit every student.  I believed — then and I believe now — that awards can be more harmful than rewarding.  If I was going to give awards; then, I wanted to give one to everyone.

My last few years as an elementary teacher awards were limited to honor roll, citizenship and a limited number of special awards.  That seems reasonable until you realize that the award ceremony was held during the day and every student attended the ceremony.  My heart always hurt for those students that sat through the ceremony without receiving an award.  There were times when a parent came to the ceremony and their child didn’t receive any awards.  The look on the faces of those students and parents always made me feel sad.

Life Isn’t Fair

 not our job

And what about the families with more than one child?  What happened when one child received lots of awards and the other one didn’t?

I realize that life isn’t fair and that students need to learn that it’s a competitive world.  My question is at what point do they have to learn these things?  Don’t you think they already know that life isn’t fair without the public reminder?

I believe that we shouldn’t force kids to change to meet the world’s expectations — that we should teach kids to change the world.  I think school awards force kids to strive for external recognition which causes many to lose their internal motivation.

High School

I also was a high school librarian and teacher for 7 years.  In my district, the high school students receiving an award received an invitation to the awards ceremony which was held in the evening.    It didn’t keep the students for talking about who received the invitations and I know many students still got upset.  At least, students weren’t forced to sit through a ceremony if they weren’t receiving an award.

Administration limited us to honor roll, top student and most improved awards for each class taught.  Of course, this meant that the for the most part the same students were receiving awards over and over during the ceremony.

It didn’t seem that the chance of an award motivated students to work harder or to strive to be a better person.  In many cases, it seemed that there was an opposite reaction.  In her article, “Losing is Good for You”,  Ashley Merman states,  “Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”  In my school, some students just didn’t try — because they weren’t A/B students– there wasn’t any reason.

In some instances, I noticed that many students put just enough effort into their school work to make the honor roll.  It seems that many students were only motivated by the extrinsic rewards and would put forth just the effort needed to get their goal.

My Thoughts — From the Grandparent Perspective


Last year, I went to my grandsons’ award ceremonies.  They were both very excited and happy to have us there.  The kindergartner’s award ceremony went smoothly.  Each student was called up and given a folder with his or her awards.  The teachers read off each award as the student came to the stage.  Some students received more than others; but it didn’t seem obvious to the students.  My grandson had a wonderful end to a good school year.  This is a good process If awards must be given.

The second grade award ceremony was different.  Each award was presented individually.  And as often happens, the same students seemed to be getting awards while the rest of the students just sat and watched.

To make matters worse for some awards like honor roll & citizenship — all the students receiving the award remained on the stage until all names were called.   I watched their faces as each teacher handed out the awards and the ones who didn’t receive an award knew it.  I counted in one class — there were only 5 students that didn’t receive a citizenship award.  Can you imagine how that made those students feel as they sat in their chairs and saw the rest of their classmates on the stage?    No matter what we say, this is difficult for anyone and it was hard for these 2nd graders.

I think the teachers tried to make it not so obvious by giving a Completed 2nd Grade certificate to every student.  Of course, the students still noticed.

My grandson — a second grader — had a difficult year.  I won’t go into the reasons his year was difficult — just know that some of it could have been avoided (but that’s a whole other blog post).

He brought home a special handmade invitation for the award ceremony.  He was so proud to give it to us and wanted to make sure we would be there.  He was sitting with his class on the front row waiting with a happy face.   The only time he was called to the stage was to get the completed 2nd grade certificate.  He kept a great attitude and at the end of the ceremony came over smiling to give us a hug.

Several hours later, he barely made it to the car after school before bursting into tears.  He said, “I didn’t get any awards. I tried my best all year. Didn’t my teachers like me?”  He sat through the awards ceremony,  went back to class feeling like a failure and managed to keep it together until he reached the car.  As a second grader, he didn’t understand the meaning of the awards.  He simply thought if he didn’t get an award it must be because his teacher didn’t like him and that he was a bad student.

My heart just broke because I know he really did try his best all year.    He deserved a mirror ball trophy just for surviving the year.  For the record, he lacked 2 points in one subject making the A/B honor roll (and that was after a tough year).  He received 4 checkmarks during the year and good citizenship awards went to those with 3 or less checkmarks.

Is this the point of awards?  What lesson did he really learn that day?

It isn’t hard to understand why he wasn’t excited about school starting at the beginning of this year.  I truly believe that the award ceremony and the way it was handled is part of the reason he dreaded the beginning of school.

I still wouldn’t like the school award process even if he had received one or more awards.  However, I feel that any ceremony that leaves out just a few is hurtful and detrimental to the self esteem of those few.

What’s the Answer?


There’s a great debate concerning awards for all or awards for a few.  Do you just do away with awards completely?  Do you make awards more meaningful?  Or do you keep on doing what you’ve been doing?

My thought is that if you must give awards (at school, for sports or any other activity) make them meaningful.  Don’t wait until the end of the year to give out awards.  Give them as you see students doing something special or remarkable. Make the awards for kindness, improvement, helpfulness, responsibility.  Don’t give so many that the awards have little meaning or value; but give them often enough that they encourage the receiver.

Achievements like honor roll should still be acknowledged.  Send home a certificate and note with report cards.  Comment that you (the teacher, principal, etc.) noticed how hard the student worked and that it paid off.  Send home that same type of note to the student that didn’t make the honor roll; but worked just as hard.

And don’t forget to recognize those students that do well in art, choir, band, Ag, etc. as often as those students that are recognized academically.

I know that teachers have little time to spare and I realize that some of these ideas will take some of that spare time.  However, I believe that the results could be amazing for students and that’s what will we really want in the end.

Please note:
This post is purely my opinion based on my experiences as an educator, grandparent and parent.

Below I’ve included links to some articles concerning the award debate.

Building School Culture Where All Kids Feel Special

Year End Awards for the Classroom

The Impact of Awards

The Great Trophy Debate

Trophies for All, or Just the Deserving





8 thoughts on “School Awards — Two Perspectives

  1. This is spot on! Today as I sat in my daughters awards ceremony praying that her one participation award would distract her from noticing she was one of very few who didn’t make the honor roll, I cringed as her face became apparent to me and I realized, she does notice, and she’s mortified. My heart broke for her and I desperately looked for others to see if anyone else was upset and wondered “why are we doing this to these children?” and “Why am I allowing this to happen to my child?” If we shun the awards ceremony all together she would’ve been so upset because she doesn’t understand why we wouldn’t go until she’s there and upset and feeling like she’s not good enough and being singled out as not worthy! Also I become one of those people (the I hate the world because I’m not number 1 type) and no one wants to teach their children to be bitter at the world, to not be happy for others who achieve.

    We can’t teach our children to rebel at every turn but we also can’t watch the world be cruel to them for no reason at all! All of my daughters peers are on the stage faces gleaming with price, while she sat on the floor with very few others (none of which were her group of friends), waiting and hoping her name may be called just one more time so that she can go up and stand with her peers, but it wasn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You didn’t say what grade your daughter is in; but it really doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for your daughter’s experience today. I wish schools would do the end of year ceremonies differently. There are so many other ways to celebrate the end of the school year.


  2. oh I am bookmarking this post! and teachers every where – and administrators everywhere need to listen up – I hate the way the awards are done –

    Can you imagine how that made those students feel as they sat in their chairs and saw the rest of their classmates on the stage? ”

    yes I can – and things sometimes are so unnecessarily painful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading my post. I haven’t had many views yet. I guess not many are really interested. I almost didn’t post this because it seemed so personal and opinionated. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • well keep in mind that if folks see it int he reader – it will not always show as a view (at least I think) and then if they get it via email it will not hit.

        but posts like this are dear to my heart and come a resource for later.

        like just recently I was trying to tell an art teacher about the damage done with awards – she was all cold like the first quote – and after pouring out my heart – and spending time…… well I think I reached her – but folks do not get it. not always – but I will never stop trying to explain. Somehow I learned and somehow people can.

        but a teacher once actually said to me – no – they will be fine if they do not get an award because life is this way and they need to start getting that down
        the hurt and pain does not prepare them – and yes there are times when we cannot cottle or overprotect so they can learn to cope and overcome – but with awards it does not work this way – and when 80% get an award – it becomes “look who did not” and leads to pain.

        I am not all about the “participation award” either – there is balance and a way to edify and reward without this comparative assessing….
        oh I dunno
        but your post will be a potential resource for folks too because I know sometimes when I feel led to speak up – like I did recently – well it helps to have resources to link to – to help the explaining –
        anyhow, I will be back to read this again –

        Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.