Monday, June 13, 2011

Awards, recognition and a growth mindset

Does every student in your school have two adults who are crazy about them?

June is the time of year when family members cram into school gyms and auditoriums to celebrate the accomplishments of their young scholars, athletes, and citizens. School awards ceremonies are steeped in tradition and to question the way we recognize our learners can bring out all kinds of emotions.

We know there is an on-going debate about how we recognize excellence and effort - and the extent to which awards ceremonies reinforce what Carol Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset (my abilities are inherent – “I am rotten in French, so was my Dad”) or encourage a growth mindset (I can get better at anything with effort and support – “If I work hard at Math, I know I will improve”). Dave Bartley, Principal with his Star

We also know from the research of Kim Schonert Reichl, that what builds social-emotional strength and resilience in young people is having two adults at school who are ‘crazy’ about them. This is an extremely important finding and is leading us to wonder the extent to which this is the case for all learners in our schools.

Earlier this month, we had the chance to attend a very special ‘Stars’ evening at Skeena Junior Secondary School in Terrace. Organized annually by Phys Ed teacher Frank Morelli, this event has quietly been taking place for the past ten years. Every staff member is invited to nominate a student ‘star’ for the evening. This may not be a student who will win an academic award or who is a starter on a school team; what they are is a ‘star’ in the eyes of the teacher for their effort, improved attitude, contributions within or outside of class, or for something as simple yet important as showing caring for their classmates and their teacher. Each ‘star’ receives an invitation along with their family to attend a potluck dinner at the school. None of the students knows who nominated them until one by one their names are called and they stand beside the teacher who described why they are stars.

We watched as “Tom”, hat on backwards, looking down at his feet, heard his teacher say how proud she was of the positive changes he was making in his behavior and how pleased she was to see that he was growing into a fine young man. We watched him stand just a little bit taller and a hint of a smile creep onto his face. We heard another teacher read a poem he had written about “Candace” a young girl with unique learning needs who made his day, every day, by asking how he was – and then listening to hear the answer. Candace glowed as he acknowledged her kindness.

Whether or not this approach to awards will work everywhere is not the point. What does matter is that for this evening, in this school, with the dedication of these teachers, these young people know what it like to have at least one adult who is crazy about them. And maybe, just maybe, they will begin to see themselves as real stars.

Network Reflections and Impact

Over the last few weeks, celebrations of networked learning have been held in twelve sites around the province. Linda and I were able to attend several and in every spot, we were deeply impressed with the quality of the work, the focus on learners owning their own learning, the teamwork across roles, and the dedication and commitment of all of you to achieving our shared vision of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. We have seen countless examples of the positive impact of formative assessment and the confidence learners demonstrate when they can answer the three key questions: Where are you going wih your learning? How is it going? and Where to next? We came away from both the seminar and the celebrations more convinced than ever about the power of networked inquiry to create both quality and equity.

Later this month, along with some Network colleagues, we are meeting with the Minister of Education to share some of our observations about the impact of the Network. We would welcome any observations that you would like to share and invite you to post or email us your comments.