Musings on Recognition


the acknowledgment of achievement, service, merit, etc.

It is difficult to avoid the myriad of recognition rituals occurring at this time of the year in schools. For me, recognition can be duplicitous. On one hand it can feel extremely rewarding. Last week one of the principals I have been working with called me after his achievement results showed great improvement to thank me for my help. His call made me day, while I thought our work together was making a difference, his acknowledgement of the value I brought to his work validated our time together and made me hold my head a bit higher (also the scores were great!).

On the other hand, I sat through a recognition program at my son’s schools and after watching ¾ of the class walk away with scholarships and / or arbitrary awards I was sickened how the event reinforced the notion that in the class there were clear winners and losers. Don’t get me wrong I am not one of those people who think every child should get an award for showing up and breathing. I am an extremely competitive person and understand that in life you don’t always win. What bothered me so about this event was that the students didn’t really know the rules. Arbitrary decisions were made on scholarships with ambiguous language based on the preferences of a few individuals.

I know that we crave recognition. A colleague of mine shared recently how excited they were when achievement results came in and there were strong gains in almost all grade levels. When the results were shared with the boss rather than being recognized for their hard work, they were reminded that they need to keep pushing and improving. The question then becomes how do we provide meaningful recognition to staff and students? It is human nature to want it, but how do we make authentic?

What if–

  • we didn’t make recognition in schools time bound, meaning at the end of the year? What if we recognized achievements when they happened? Think about how many opportunities there are throughout the year for this– when a PLC meets a SMART goal or a student hits a reading target, opportunities are endless.
  • we made sure all recognition was in context of a larger goal? Random affirmations can be meaningless so what if we made sure recognition was tied to results? I don’t just mean a test score here, but as a result of doing the work, meeting the goal, contributing.
  • we did away with awards assemblies? Would students quit trying? Check out this school’s take on the year end award assembly. It can be done.

Food for thought at this crazy time of year.



June 1, 2015

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