We Need Awards… Really?

I pulled the following quote from the Bammy Awards Website.  It was posted under a tab titled Promoting Your Nomination.

“The Bammys do what all of us should: acknowledge teachers and great practice. Awards tell us, the educators, who the leaders are in our profession. They are the signpost that says, “These are the models, and we have much to learn from them.” In addition, these awards say to the public, “There are those in our midst worth appreciating, worth admiring, and worth respecting.” The Bammys so that and more. They acknowledge the difficulty of a challenging profession and those who excel at it, making it their own.”

Really?

The only thing I can counter is that surely we can find better ways of honouring the amazing work that educators do?  I truly do respect all the nominees and winners at the most recent Bammy Awards.  They do wonderful things for students and our profession.  How do I know this?  I’ve read some of their stories.

All I can say is if what matters in education are publicizing your success and promoting a nominee we lose focus on what really matters… the stories.  Why is this even mentioned when talking about the amazing stories of educators and students?  We need to find ways where the stories shine and not an award.  How we recognize the work we as educators do matters.  How we honour the learning students do matters.  What are we saying to students who win and students who lose when we do the same thing to them in a school?  What are we saying to kids?  Your stories are important but not important enough to get an award.  This person’s story, grades, actions, etc… are better than yours in our opinion.  The voice of a colleague and friend, Chris Wejr has influenced my feelings on this topic a lot.  He has shared the journey him and his staff has taken to removing these awards ceremonies and honouring the stories of all.  I encourage you to read his stories.  They are inspiring and is a picture of where we all can go as learners, educators, and people.

If we want the public and students to see what learning is we need to do a better job of sharing and honouring the stories rather than award nominations and wins.  We minimize our work and the stories get lost in the shiny badges, trophies, or plaques.  It is the same way we are perceived by the public when the work and learning of students is minimized to a singular test score.  If we want this to change then the amazing learning stories need to be the front of any conversation related to education.  Why are some educators in the business of marketing themselves/others for awards?  Surely the focus is lost.  This is why I love Genius Hour.  It is about the students excited about sharing their learning stories.  They are not motivated by a letter grade.  They are motivated by their love of learning.  It is magical to see a student who struggles with their learning confidently explaining their learning while standing in front of a large group of students and adults.  Stories of success like this are the ones that attempt to honour all and need to be the focal point rather than awards.

One story for you.  When I was younger I strived for awards and badges.  I often cut corners in order to achieve.  I am reminded of when I was in cub scouts, and I tried to get all the badges that were available.  It wasn’t because I loved everything I was doing.  It was because I wanted everyone to see all the badges I got.  It had nothing to do with what I was learning.  It was about status and how everyone saw me.  I know every educator who wins awards are not “in it” for awards.  My only question is then why are there structures in place to promote their nominations?  Our why is important and should be the focal point of any story involved with education.

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14 Responses to We Need Awards… Really?

  1. Hugh, I really wonder about these awards as well. I agree that I, too, think these teachers are stellar, but I only see what they publicize. I am so grateful they share their stories. But what about those that don’t? What about those that just keep teaching as well as they can and cannot take the time to share their stories?

    You told us about when you were younger… I’ll tell you about karaoke. I love to sing. Not for recognition, but because it feels good, and I’ve been told it sounds good. I was in one karaoke contest about 15 years ago – but it turned out to be a popularity contest – the more friends & family you got to come listen to you, the more votes you received. I enjoyed myself WAY more at the variety show I sang in to raise money for school last year – we ALL felt good after that night, perhaps because there wasn’t a winner. I see this all the time online – the more followers a teacher has, the more votes his student gets on her artwork. (I’ve actually taken the time to look at ALL the entries, and many times do not vote for the one I was asked to – I vote for the one I think represents the contest the best.) The more one person works on publicizing his or her blog, the more views it gets, obviously. The more friends you have, the more money you receive for your “Donors Choose” project. The more connections you make, the more comments your students get on their blogs. All great things happening, but sad that it’s based on “who you know,” like so many things.

    So what should we do about it? Keep letting our students work without grades attached. Keep letting them enjoy sharing what they’ve learned or failed to learn. Keep working our best and supporting others who share their stories – and those who do not. Be content with trying our best, and doing what we think is best for students. Am I bitter about the Bammy Awards? I’m not sure. I see great people who share their stories with us and know they are representing us. I’m slightly jealous that I have no occasion to (try to) get glamorous, but I’m happy I don’t have to spend my hard-earned money to fly out there and wear heels all night. 😉 Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Hugh!! Keep it up!

  2. Gallit Zvi says:

    Lots to think about here!

    This is my favourite part:

    “This is why I love Genius Hour. It is about the students excited about sharing their learning stories. They are not motivated by a letter grade. They are motivated by their love of learning.”

    Sharing stories. You are so right! We need more emphasis on sharing vs competing, for sure…in all areas of life.

    I sometimes get too competitive and focussed on winning. Thank you for the reminder about what is really important. Thank goodness for friends like you!

    • I know what you mean. We’ve had many discussions about this and sometimes I look back on my own journey and think for a long period of time before we met I really didn’t get it. I didn’t have perspective.

      When I was a student I use to strive for the award rather than enjoying the learning opportunities that were presented to me. Even when I was in the Education program at University I use to be somewhat disappointed when I “got” 8/10 on a reflection of my own learning. I knew I work hard. I knew I learned a lot, and I expressed it on the page. However I was excited to get my papers back not because I wanted to see what the instructor said about my learning, but because I was excited to see my score and wonder if I “beat” my friend. After seeing my score the discussion about my learning and growth ended. All my learning for weeks was summarized by a number, and I was okay with it. I’m kind of embarrassed by it but it is part of my growth and part of my learning story. Stories need to be shared if we want the reform we want for education.

  3. Chris Wejr says:

    Hey buddy – as you know, I am a big believer in sharing the stories to highlight and create change. I don’t know what it is like to live in the US and have daggers constantly thrown at you as an educator. But what I do know is that responding to the negative criticisms by creating a corporate run event that gives a single winner seems to misaligned with the values of so many educators doing great things. My Twitter has been filled with so many educators that are afraid to speak up against the Bammy’s for fear of “ticking off the big players” in education and for fear of raining on the parade. In my mind, the Bammy’s have the purpose of highlighting the positives in education BUT have caused many to lose sight of the many things that happen every day with great educators. SOme of the teachers in our school our truly amazing – and we do this together. We do not highlight one teacher as being better than others, we highlight what is happening in the classrooms and encourage pockets of brilliance to be shared and spread so it becomes more common in other classrooms and schools.

    There are some truly wonderful educators at the Bammy’s. Are they better than others? Not sure. But I do know that some have created their own brand and marketed themselves very well.

    As you know, I was a “finalist” this year’s Bammy’s – to promote US Education. The irony of this is that I have not been a supporter of the Bammy’s (nor awards in general) and I am Canadian. I did not pull myself from the awards as I felt this gave me a lens to speak from that was not being a naysayer or a sore loser (which that comment says something about the whole process). I did not, however, respond to any emails requesting photos, bios, and acceptance speeches. One email really shows how we have lost sight about celebrating education and gained sight on promoting ourselves. The email encourages the finalist to use their template to send to the media. If this was about our schools doing great things, then I would have less of a problem. However, it becomes about the person. Leadership is not about standing on an awards platform – it is about working alongside and stepping back when the honours occur. It is about taking a stand when the criticisms occur and stepping back with pride when the positives occur. The organizer asked me if I would accept the award if it was given to me (in a comment on a blog post) and I said I would not. I am not saying that people that accept the awards are bad in any way – I just think we need to reflect on the process and ask ourselves, “are awards the best way we can come up with to honour, share stories and create change?”. This is an important conversation and one that educators can lead. I am sure the capitalist, corporate, competitive world will be critical but… well.. they already are so why not try! 🙂

    Here is the template that was encouraged to be sent out to the media:
    http://www.bammyawards.com/index.php/component/content/article/1049

    Thanks for speaking up.

    • Chris,

      I applaud and support you. You’ve inspired me to consider the big question of awards. They always felt awkward to me when I was trying to ‘pick” the right candidate. How does picking one candidate inspire all the rest who don’t win?

      You’ve hit the nail on the head with this:

      One email really shows how we have lost sight about celebrating education and gained sight on promoting ourselves. The email encourages the finalist to use their template to send to the media. If this was about our schools doing great things, then I would have less of a problem. However, it becomes about the person. Leadership is not about standing on an awards platform – it is about working alongside and stepping back when the honours occur. It is about taking a stand when the criticisms occur and stepping back with pride when the positives occur.

      I just hope we can find more ways like Edcamps to share stories, learn, and celebrate the great learning stories of all educators and students. We model what we want from our students. If we model that one is greater than the collective then we are missing the opportunity to celebrate the collective. Surely there is a better way!

      Thank you for sharing your voice. It has helped me find mine!

  4. K. Lirenman says:

    As someone who isn’t a fan of award ceremonies in education yet someone who recently received the 2013 Kay L Bitter ISTE Award I’m a bit torn. For me winning the ISTE award had way more to do with the opportunities it provided me with – attending ISTE, meeting and connecting with many incredible educators face to face, and learning tons; then the actual winning of the award. And yes it’s sad that one of the only ways a classroom teacher can get to such a conference is by winning an award.

    On the other hand I know I am doing good things with my students and I want to share those stories with others. I also know that I am not the only one inspiring learners. I learn from many educators doing incredible things with their students too. And by no means do I see myself as the best of the best, not even close. I am on my own learning journey.

    The Bammy awards did provide an opportunity for face to face interactions for those that were invited(?) and able to attend. There is extreme value there as we rarely get this kind of face-to-face interaction. And to be perfectly honest I would have loved to have been there just to re/connect with people I admire, and to meet those I know nothing about.

    But your big question is “why are there structures in place to promote their nominations?” I struggle with this too. In my own classroom we celebrate individual successes regularly. It’s not a popularity contest, it is who we are as a school family. We care about one another and are excited when challenges are over come and success happens – big or small.

    Perhaps as educators we could develop a site to share the good things happening in education instead of having a once a year award ceremony? Many of us already do this on our professional blogs. It could be a site for best practices in a variety of subject/content/grade level areas. One where people are not afraid to share, or where people can share on behalf of others.

    But I don’t want to dismiss the power in the gathering of educators to celebrate with one another. I do it in my classroom daily, but it’s a lot tougher to do it with my school, district, or global colleagues. Maybe handing out awards isn’t the best reason to get educators together but I do believe we need to better celebrate the obstacles we over come and the positive impact changes we are making in our classrooms.

    Hmm, still equally torn.

  5. Ginny Moe says:

    I am a school board member and agree, while it is important to recognize great education leaders and teachers, the stories are more important than the awards. Somehow we must find a way to publish those stories, and not just to parents and educators. 75% off the taxpayers out there don’t have a teacher or student in the family and are susceptible to every foolish thing said about the schools. This is one way to publicize good things, and other ways are needed.

  6. Great post about a very important topic. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Everywhere we look, serious scholarship teaches us that what matters in learning is not the grade or an award. What matters is the process behind the learning, the stories, as you talk about here. We lose sight of this when we focus on a rank, a trophy, a nomination. So, let’s continue to focus on the stories; they are the real stuff of learning.

  7. mmebunker says:

    This is an amazing post, Hugh! Thank you for so eloquently expressing many educators’ feelings about awards and for having the courage to discuss the Bammy Awards. I’ve also been influenced by Chris Wejr’s views over the past couple of years and I hope he will continue sharing his stories so that others can be inspired.

    I have had a difficult time with awards of any kind since high school. I will admit, however, that like you, I was interested in being recognized. I think that in the social system we have constructed, this feeling is almost inevitable. However, since I began teaching five years ago, my discomfort with awards has grown exponentially. I do think that awards such as the Bammys or the ISTE awards provide us with an opportunity to highlight amazing things happening in education. It is extremely important to share and value these incredible stories. However, there are amazing things happening every day that no one ever hears about. Rather than a culture of awards and recognition, we need to cultivate a culture of sharing. Not just sharing with other educators, either, but sharing with the world. Isn’t that we want our students to do? Relationships, trust, understanding, and sharing are the foundation of what we do as educators; in my opinion, awards seem to be in direct conflict with this belief system. I agree that sharing our stories – and encouraging more and people to share theirs – is what is most impactful and most important in education.

  8. Hugh,
    A well stated post worthy of all our consideration. I share your concerns. Unlike Chris Wejr, I do risk appearing as someone bitter for not being celebrated as these other (albeit deserving) educators are. But I seriously question to what degree this elevates our profession. I agree wholeheartedly we must honour the stories of education at the forefront of every discussion about education we may have. While the intent of many involved in the Bammy’s seem (I hope) to be that same purpose, I think the nature of the Oscars-style approach is defeating of any such purpose. Sure, it is an excellent meet-up event for those invited, and I admittedly envy that as I would love to meet so many of those folks as well. But beyond that, I can’t help but escape a sense that it is misplaced to have such an event in order to elevate our profession. The nature of such an event seems in conflict with the nature of holistic education. It seems there is a different tone in celebrating educators and making a celebrity of individual educators. Indeed we all carry the burden of elevating our profession, and identifying some as “winners” risks diminishing others to non-winner status.

    I was more disappointed after reading the Bammy Awards’ response to Pernille Ripp’s open letter. It is disheartening and misplaced, to say the least. Thanks for boldly sharing such thoughts. These discussions, as they pertain our work, are necessary and hopefully we can all respectfully learn from and grow together through them.

  9. Anne-Marie Middleton says:

    Hugh,
    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. It has hit on some very important points. I am often reminded from Yrsa that it is not about us, it is about the students. She also highlights on a regular basis the need to celebrate everyone’s successes and achievements and that it is the team that makes it all happen.

  10. Thank you everyone their input into the conversation. Here is the link to Pernille’s letter: http://pernillesripp.com/2013/09/22/dear-bammy-awards-where-did-it-go-wrong/

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