Awards vs Recognition


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Patrick

Today is the day our year 12 students results come out and it has me reflecting on the value of grades and awards. Some of our students will be ecstatic, some relieved, others disappointed maybe even somewhat devastated. It is easy for me to say that it’s just a number or a letter and it doesn’t reflect who you are or how far you have come, but I know that for the next period of their lives these numbers may have an impact on their choices, their opportunities and how their peers and family respond to them.

Our school will celebrate the top scores and reflect on how the moderation impacted the end results. My thoughts are with the kids who put in great effort and focussed on their work despite the demands and challenges of life beyond the school walls. I hope these kids feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride in themselves. Perhaps they could have done better in different circumstances but meeting their challenges head-on and persisting will provide them with life skills that will hold them in great stead.

I know that certificates and awards can be meaningless, often demeaning, devaluing and destructive and rarely motivational. I was guilty of giving certificates and ticking off students to make sure they had all received one in my early years, even though it never sat comfortably.  I have never rejoiced my own children getting certificates at assembly or felt that it reflected their performance or effort.

At the same time, there is no doubt that a champion holds up a trophy, a medal or a flag and the accumulation of hard work and effort is realised in that moment or often later in reflection when staring at that symbol. I love watching a medal ceremony, a championship team celebrating their win, a graduation ceremony or a student who has presented their work and received a rousing applause! Watching anyone who has put in their heart and soul to achieving something, realising their efforts have been rewarded, is magic.

I am all for recognising hard work and promoting a growth mindset by acknowledging the effort and persistence shown in any challenge our kids face.  I do not support blanket certificate/award giving across the school and I know that any selection process regardless of it’s merits is rife with judgement and bias. This is something I will continue to try and find a balance with and in the meantime, though I choose not to nominate my students for whole school certificates, I will continue to showcase their work, provide continual feedback on their learnings and actions and celebrate their successes in meaningful ways.

As for our graduates and their results? I hope that they know, that the score they receive today will not be how they are remembered, that what counts is how we treat each other and whatever we choose to do, if we always work for ‘great’ it will lead to success.


  1. kadri2013

    End of year results are the immediate reflection of not only year 12, but 13 years of school. Yes, some really took them hard. The key is to allow for the emotions of dissappointment ……then look to future solutions. There are many ways goals can be achieved. Maintaining contact with graduates is critical over holidays , communicating options. Social media has been great for this.
    End of year is also an anticlimax for students……where to from here? OMG….starting the next unknown chapter in their lives. Like transition from Primary to High School, transition from high school to future pathways is equally an anxious time. What role do we play in this and how can we improve ? My enquiry for 2014.

    • rhonimcfarlane

      It’s all in the approach isn’t it? If we are secure in knowing that what lies ahead is opportunity and know that we have people we can rely on to support us through any rough patches we can jump with greater confidence. Our community is extremely lucky to have the likes of you to calm the waters, provide a guiding hand and encouragement. Looking forward to our continued wellbeing growth in 2014!

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