I’m a bit of a film buff, so I was eager to learn the nominees for the 2020 Academy Awards when they were announced earlier this week. The big reveal came with plenty of fanfare. People instantly began speculating on who would win Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, etc. My social media accounts were flooded with hot takes concerning which film deserved the honor of Best Picture and why. Yet, as I perused through the list of nominations, a strange thought occurred to me. It’s remarkably simple to overlook talent, especially when it’s not the kind of talent we’re taught to appreciate.

Take cinematography for example. Cinematography is a crucial part of any film. What would The Lord of the Rings be without its sweeping shots of Middle Earth? Or Moonlight without those intimate close-up moments? Despite this, you probably don’t know who the cinematographers were for either movie (they were Andrew Lesnie and Gregg Toland respectively by the way).

This selective bias can occur in other areas as well, and if we’re not careful, it can even make its way into our classrooms.

The Trouble with Trophies

Much like the Academy, schools have a habit of giving out awards. We give trophies for sports victories, science experiments, even for perfect attendance. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but trophies can sometimes work like blinders, narrowing our view of what matters. In the world of education this can be a HUGE mistake. Not every student is going to learn the same way, and even their accomplishments can look different.

Consider the student who persevered their way up from a “D” to a “B”. Their hard work deserves to be recognized and encouraged, but it can often get overshadowed by the classmate who got straight “A”s. What about the student who demonstrates remarkable interpersonal skills? It’s unfortunate, but they don’t give out many trophies for social-emotional learning. As educators, it’s our responsibility to show students that these qualities matter even when they’re not winning any awards.

Recognizing Greatness

Here are just a few ways you can acknowledge and affirm these overlooked qualities in your classroom:

  • Recognize Accomplishments: Success can come in many forms. It can be the student who managed to deliver a solid book report despite struggling in English. It can also be the student who dislikes math but keeps trying until they finally solve a difficult equation. Remember to take a moment and commend students on their hard-won victories. These accomplishments prove they’re growing, improving, learning.
  • Recognize Diverse Talents: Every student has their strengths and weaknesses. Some might even struggle with a learning disability. As such, it’s important for teachers to recognize a diverse field of skills and talents in their classroom. Don’t just limit yourself to the basics either. Compliment students on their ability to work as a team or for asking good questions. After all, these qualities are a key part of learning too.
  • Recognize SEL: Never underestimate the importance of social-emotional learning. Skills like self-management, empathy, and social awareness are a crucial part of any professional environment. If we expect our students to grow into successful adults, we need to show them that interpersonal skills are just as important as academic ones. So, take a moment to recognize these virtues and encourage your students to do the same.
  • Recognize Passion: As an eccentric teacher once said, “Students are like bacteria, give them the right environment and their growth will be limitless.” What projects or hobbies are your students passionate about? Do they like sewing? Creating musical mashups? Collecting crystals? These interests could lead them into exciting fields of study and maybe even successful careers! When you build lessons around topics that students are passionate about, your classroom gets fired up about learning!
Here’s Looking at You Kid

One last observation about the Oscars: just because a movie wins an award doesn’t mean it goes on to make a difference. Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films ever made, yet it lost Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley (Have you seen it? Me neither). In the same way, just because a student doesn’t have a shelf lined with trophies doesn’t mean they can’t make a positive impact on their world. Giving out awards helps us acknowledge achievement, the don’t determine it. Make sure students know the same before they depart your classroom.

What about you? What are your thoughts on giving out awards?