I subscribe to a number of digests to keep up with edtech, leadership, and general education issues - one that I look forward to each week is a brief summary of current global education issues provided by learnit.world. I found this week's article from @jwestanderson to be particularly relevant and am sharing in it's entirety....
Friday 15 January
Dear global education leader,
Back when life was normal, my daughters occasionally came home with “golden moments”, lovely, small, star-infused certificates kids got for upholding their school’s values (treat others as you wish to be treated; do your best to be your best, for example). They loved getting these golden moments, as did we (#proudannoyingparents).
But this week I saw a (long) Twitter thread that challenged my thinking on rewards. It came from Rachel Tomlinson, head of Barrowford primary school in Lancashire, in the north of England. She posted it during the first lockdown and reposted it this week, with UK schools in their second phase of home learning. The original post came after seeing a lot of schools move their celebration assemblies online to call out “stars of the week”, putting children’s work in halls of fame, or critiquing the quality of work with red, green and yellow stamps.
Rachel is all in favor of praise and encouragement, and knows that schools are trying to do their best to motivate kids. But Barrowford has been sanction-free for 11 years and reward-free for 10. Covid-19 and its lockdowns have highlighted for her why ditching rewards was right, since equity is a key school value at Barrowford.
To be clear: reward-free does not mean recognition-free. “Actually, it means the opposite,” she tweets. “It means we value achievement for the effort it has taken at that stage in the process.” Schools can equalize some equity issues—all kids are in the classroom, with the same teacher, and the same materials. But they cannot when every child is at home, and there is no classroom to equalize but rather every student facing different challenges, contexts, materials and support.
Rachel’s tweets say it better, but here’s a short summary of the contrasts she sees (written with her permission):
Imagine that your parents are key workers and you are going to school every day. You can’t concentrate on learning because you are worried about them getting ill. You don’t share your worry - they are so busy! But you are struggling to concentrate and your teacher is cross. Imagine you are caring for younger siblings, or an adult, and you wish you had time for learning but you don't. Imagine you are trying to learn on your dad’s mobile phone, which he needs for work, and you have to share with four siblings. Imagine a family member died and you are wrecked with grief and can't learn, or that your mum cries a lot because she’s breaking under the stress and you need help with maths but you can’t ask because she’s crying. Imagine you try your hardest to do those 10 math problems but you just can't. Imagine you have multiple devices and your parents are home and have time to give, and completing 10 math questions is pretty easy. Who gets star of the week?
Here’s the best part of this story: When Rachel and her team were considering getting rid of rewards about a decade ago, they asked the kids what they thought. “We know you like them…” the students said, meaning the teachers, and administration liked them. But they didn’t. They suspected it was just taking turns, and if a child got recognition, it was because it was their “turn.” What did the students want, the teachers asked? Someone whose opinion they valued to see it, recognize it and celebrate it.
“Life isn’t a pinterest board—it’s far more complex and colourful and unpredictable and exciting than that!” she tweets. “We need to unite and not divide our communities right now. And, actually, always.”