Celebrating ‘success’


I have been thinking a fair bit recently about what success in Education looks like. The annual season of prize givings and prize lists, external exams and last minute assessments is in full swing. Marks must be entered, checked, entered again in case they are needed to derived grades. Students are tired and ratty and over it. Teachers (speaking for at least myself) are exhausted and over it. And in prepping to write this post, I went back over several previous posts I have written that all say the same thing – why am I doing this??? (NCEA as drafting gates, How can I use NCEA better?, I was wrong (it does happen!!), The SNA apocalypse, Recording learning – how do I get this right?. We have had a ‘module’ system for yr 10 this year (except the old chestnuts of Maths and English who stayed in full year streamed classes….) and the process for prize giving has caused huge discussions and upset. I said prize givings were passed their use by date. Well, how would you change them? I was asked. So I said

Why do we need to have a prize giving? I mean, it is still going to be the same 15-20 kids as it is every year? Why don’t we just can it?

Well, this was the wrong thing to say. That is too radical was a kinder phrase used.

I get that excellence should be celebrated, but I certainly don’t think a prize giving is a way to do it. A formal, stiff presentation were the anthems and a hymn or a Christmas Carol are droned out. The somewhat token feeling Kapa Haka performance, along with a musical interlude to mix up the sports prizes. And then our best and brightest look embarrassed as they line up for a certificate, while yours truly martials them into lines with necklaces hidden and rings off and buttons buttoned.

These events miss the kid that started the year getting kicked out of most lessons and finished being able to go a term reasonably settled. It misses the kids who got a dyslexia diagnoses mid year and made massive gains catching up, although they are still behind. The one time a kid didn’t do homework and blemished their perfect ‘learning readiness’ score but who worked their butt off for the rest of the year to finish mid pack sits in the seats torn between being a tween relieved they are not standing up in front of their peers, and frustrated that the one time counted for so much at yr 7. The kid in my chem class that worked so hard for their achieved. The formal prize giving misses sooooo much

I also wonder about motivation. There was an interesting post on a social and emotional learning page I follow about motivation (images are below, and are from https://positivepsychology.com/ which is not an endorsement of the site as I don’t know enough about psychology!!) recently that thrust these thoughts back to my brain. When students are focused on credits rather than learning, it is an extrinsic motivation. Or, if they do work to avoid some punitive action, there is still an extrinsic motivation. Do prize givings contribute to the extrinsic motivations? How do we swing learning back to being more intrinsic?

And does it matter. I know just how much an approaching deadline, or some sort of expectation helps me get motivated to get over the line. But also, I have really felt when those expectations are out of reach how genuinely gutted I am when I can’t make them. Sometimes I give up, other times I thrash and thrash trying to reach something…… So how do these kids feel when they just can’t ever make those top grades?

Or, as a teacher, what does success look like? I got very ranty (even by my standards) when someone suggested it was promotion. But if you are wanting to be the best classroom teacher you can be, it is hard to measure success. At least in NZ we don’t quite have the same pressures on test scores…. but for NCEA there is an underlying pressure in many schools to get kids across the line, or moving in Astles etc. Or maybe I just need a break!!

So, again I have no answers. I don’t know how we should celebrate success in education. But I wish the kids who didn’t quite make the stage know just how proud I am of the improvements they made this year. Or how hard they tried. Or, if they didn’t always try, that I saw them, and tried to help anyways, even if it came across as sarcastic and grumpy. And I valued them all the same.

One thought on “Celebrating ‘success’

  1. I am so with you. I have been thinking about this for years. Why do we do the prize giving thing? Why not acknowledge all sorts of things, not just academic. Let’s make it up every year if we have to do this public thing. Change the criteria… Better yet, not have them… Yes, that might be tricky. Will talk more when we get together.

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