12 Reasons To Stop Awards Ceremonies And 4 Better Ideas To Use

Discover 12 Reasons to stop awards ceremonies in schools and learn 4 better ways to celebrate kids.

There’s a glut of awards ceremonies in schools today and they can do more harm than good. Read on to discover why awards ceremonies should stop and learn better ways to celebrate our kids. 

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Students Need To Be Celebrated 

     Recognizing students’ growth and accomplishments is a huge and necessary part of a teacher’s job. However, far too many schools default to the publicity and efficiency of awards ceremonies. Such ceremonies vary widely: They can be casual in-class meetings, whole school assemblies, or almost graduation services. They range in time from day to afternoon to night. They can include simply reading lists of names, handing out paper certificates, or awarding medals and gift cards. 

Here are twelve reasons that awards ceremonies should stop: 

1. Awards ceremonies violate privacy policies. 

     This alone is enough reason to stop hosting awards ceremonies. Educators should know that student grades are private information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). By publicly announcing kids’ high grades, we’re automatically announcing other kids’ low grades. By doing so, schools are in direct violation of FERPA. 

 2. Awards ceremonies are classist. 

     They reward the kids whose parents have the time and resources to help them achieve. Children who are just as bright and deserving, but who don’t have stellar support at home, are often ignored. 

3. Grades are often subjective and therefore, unfair. 

     Teachers are human. We make mistakes and we also have opinions. When we have to grade work products where we need to rely on subjectivity – like projects, writing assignments, and whether to include homework - we’re apt to differ. These differences are out of a student’s control and should not be paraded in front of others. 

4. If behavior and attendance are included, it’s worse. 

     No student should have their academic progress, their behavior, and their attendance combined for assessment. They certainly shouldn’t have any of these elements made public. While each element can affect the others, they are vastly different parts of a child’s life. 
Poster with "Awards don't always motivate students to perform".

5. Awards ceremonies unfairly impact special needs children. 

     Children who struggle are often the ones who don’t receive any awards. While many schools go the extra mile to level the playing field, it can be difficult for special needs students to meet the criteria for awards. 

6. Many awards are meaningless. 

     There will always be children who don’t meet their school’s criteria for an academic award. Well-intentioned educators then create meaningless awards so everyone will be recognized. I have seen kids throw their awards in the trash before they left the auditorium. They know the awards have no value. 

7. Many parents can’t get time off from work to attend ceremonies. 

     This is an economic disparity that unfairly impacts families. 

8. Awards don’t always motivate students to perform. 

     Grades can be a powerful motivator for some students. They can be just as defeating to others. Our goal as educators is to help students learn, grow, and develop independence, not just attain grades. 

9. They’re busy work for teachers because they’re unnecessary. 

     Final grades should never be a surprise to students, parents, or teachers. Digital reporting makes grades easily accessible. Award certificates, while nice for the memory books, are redundant. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent creating student awards. Was it wasted time? Not completely, but I could have spent it far more profitably for my students and been a lot less stressed. 

10. Some kids are accidentally forgotten or overlooked. 

     This can be devastating to students and parents. Again, teachers are human. We mistakenly miss names and forget students. I’ve done it and I still feel awful about it. 

11. Awards ceremonies can damage relationships. 

     One of the biggest challenges in education is maintaining positive, workable student-parent-teacher relationships. When parents think their child has been slighted or misjudged, teachers can seem like the enemy. If parents are out for blood, it can be devastating. Most importantly, children can feel hurt, left out, and unloved if their teachers don’t seem to value them.
Picture of teacher, parents, and student with words " One of the most challenging goals is to maintain positive relationships".

12. If we’re only recognizing academic grades, we’re not trying hard enough. 

     Awards ceremonies tend to focus only on grades. If we’re not recognizing all of the successes that children achieve, we need to rethink our end game. 

What We Should Do Instead

     None of this is to say that students shouldn’t be recognized. They absolutely should be! Here are better ways you and your school can celebrate kids:

1. If you want to award certificates to students, place them in an envelope that only parents and kids should see. 

     If you time this to go along with the report card, newsletter, or other school communications it’s no big deal. 

2. Showcase your kids but let them choose what to share. 

     This could be a museum-type show, a living theater, a tri-fold walk-through, or other exhibition, all un-graded, of course. This could be taped or live-streamed for parents who can’t attend. 

3. Private notes, emails, and phone calls. 

     Few things warm a heart like hearing your teacher’s voice celebrating your child or receiving a handwritten brag note. They take time and organization, yes, but the encouragement and goodwill fostered are priceless. 

4. Special activities. 

     One school created a menu of special activities as behavior rewards. It included extra technology time, a drum circle, lunch with friends, art projects, and extra outdoor time. This could easily be adapted to celebrate academic performance. 

Celebrating our students should be a positive event that builds relationships. Let’s stop awards ceremonies and find better ways to recognize their progress and achievements.

Growing Grade By Grade
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