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Motivation From Within: Moving Beyond Rewards and Awards in Schools


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Keynote presentation given to educators at the 2017 Central Alberta Teachers Convention.
The vast majority of our students enter our schools in kindergarten with high motivation to learn but as they progress up through the grades, motivation and engagement tends to fade. Due to the many challenges facing our schools, educators often resort to a variety of incentives to try to motivate students to learn and improve behaviour to help create the optimal learning environment. Schools also try to encourage students to excel by offering certificates, plaques, and trophies to those who do better than others. The use of rewards can become part of a school culture and awards are generally steeped in tradition… but what if we have this extrinsic motivation strategy all wrong? What if these tactics work in the short term but cause problems in the long term? What if there are students that go through our schools with strengths that are not valued nor honoured? Is there a better way to create the conditions for long-term motivation? Is there a way to move away from awards so more students are honoured, more students feel connected, and there is a more positive, inclusive school culture?

Published in: Education
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Motivation From Within: Moving Beyond Rewards and Awards in Schools

  1. 1. Motivation From Within: Moving Beyond Rewards and Awards in Schools Presentation for the 2017 Central Alberta Teachers Convention Chris Wejr @chriswejr CcimagefromMandias
  2. 2. Two Schools: No rewards system. No awards.
  3. 3. Picture a school… CC image from G. Grossmeier
  4. 4. What does this say about this school?
  5. 5. "I come to you humbly not to tell you what to do on your journey but to share with you what I have learned on mine” Wab Kinew cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Thompson Rivers University:
  6. 6. Rethinking REWARDS and AWARDS CC Image from
  7. 7. The need to reward and award… CC image from Vic.
  8. 8. So why NOT?
  9. 9. Learning from Joe Bower Friend and fellow educator. Critic of extrinsic motivators in education. 1978-2016
  10. 10. Be HARD on content… SOFT on people CC Image from Marin
  11. 11. Rethinking Awards: Not Everyone Agrees “he is just a socialist principal with a feminist agenda” “…no wonder kids these days are this way… me me me - so entitled” “So everybody gets an award – and nobody learns anything about the competitive real world” “this is why the children of today have become the lazy, uncaring adults of tomorrow.” “You can only get better by playing a better oponent (sic). By takeing (sic) away the motivation you end up with the disgruntled youth of today who sit around and do nothing.” “This is the same attitude that has principals puinishing (sic) bullying victims rather than the bully.”
  12. 12. How will being here today change what I do next week?
  13. 13. Rewards
  14. 14. 10 years ago, I LOVED using rewards
  15. 15. Are we talking about the same thing when we say “rewards”?
  16. 16. Intrinsic/Internal Extrinsic/External Image:
  17. 17. Reflecting on rewards…
  18. 18. The ‘Benefits’ of Rewards
  19. 19. A Difficult Job… Cartoon from Martin Doyle
  20. 20. Incentives Work… … in the short term CC Image from Judy Baxter
  21. 21. We slowly remove the rewards…
  22. 22. It’s easy…
  23. 23. Rewards help us focus on the positive
  24. 24. I get rewarded twice a month, so why not?
  25. 25. Motivation With Sheldon Big Bang Theory
  26. 26. 5 Reasons to Rethink Rewards in Schools
  27. 27. We rob students of intrinsic motivation
  28. 28. “We cannot motivate others… we can only work to create the conditions for people to motivate themselves.” -- Edward Deci and Richard RyanImage:
  29. 29. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan Using rewards to motivate children may indeed control their behavior in some immediate sense, but they are likely to have negative consequences in terms of the children’s subsequent interest, persistence, and preferences for challenge. (Deci and Ryan) Controlling people’s behavior with reward contingencies undermines their intrinsic motivation…(Deci and Ryan) Children who were rewarded for doing discrimination- learning tasks learned less well and made more errors than did children who were not rewarded (Spence & Dunton) …extrinsic incentives can, by undermining self-perceived altruism, decrease intrinsic motivation to help others. (Batson) Research From Sansome et al Image
  30. 30. The Overjustification Effect Shifting the appreciation from task to reward What about the student who is already doing the right thing?
  31. 31. We give too much credit to rewards and not enough to ourselves
  32. 32. Giving credit to the right factors
  33. 33. By offering a reward, we are assuming that kids know HOW to do the task… but they WILL NOT do the task. What if we are wrong?
  34. 34. We teach kids to get good at getting CAUGHT being good.
  35. 35. You caught me being good… Can I get my prize now? Image: Kids get good at getting caught… being good.
  36. 36. Kids who grow up being regularly bribed and rewarded grow up overly dependent on approval and recognition. Deci and Ryan What’s in it for me? How much is this worth? Did you see me do that?
  37. 37. We lose the chance to teach responsibility to do the right thing… just because it is the RIGHT thing to do.
  38. 38. "Extrinsic rewards have a negative impact [on learning] because they undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating and regulating themselves" Edward Deci CC Image from Sarah Sosiak
  39. 39. We assign an external value to tasks, behaviour, and learning
  40. 40. By offering a reward, we are stating that the task is not worth doing... Without a reward.
  41. 41. Reward Inflation: What is this action worth?
  42. 42. CC Image from Bill Ferriter
  43. 43. Motivation With Dwight The Office
  44. 44. The driving question: How do we create the conditions for students to motivate themselves?
  45. 45. CC Image from c_ambler How???
  46. 46. Strengths & Interests
  47. 47. Tap into Strengths and Interests
  48. 48. Purpose
  49. 49. Where are we going? Why? CC Image from BMcIvr
  50. 50. Students do not want learning made easy, they want it to mean something. They want to feel something, to be moved by what they learn. They want to connect deeply with things that matter and they want the chance to make a difference. State of FLOW. Canadian Education Association
  51. 51. Voice & Choice
  52. 52. CHOICES Passion Projects Innovation Days Inquiry Project-Based Learning Genius Hour Outdoor Education Blended Learning MakerEd
  53. 53. Relationships
  54. 54. Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others -- Brene Brown cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Andrew:
  55. 55. Can every learner name at least two adults in the building who believe he or she will be a success in life? Judy Halbert, Linda Kaser
  56. 56. Growth Mindset
  57. 57. Praise effort rather than ability. Use the power of YET.
  58. 58. Growth Through Challenge and Support
  59. 59. Leadership
  60. 60. How can we create opportunities for students to lead?
  61. 61. Criteria & Feedback
  62. 62. Clear Criteria Do our students know “what good looks like”? CC image from Simply CVR
  63. 63. Image:
  64. 64. Talk to your students… Share the WHY CC Image from S. Mannion
  65. 65. A Culture of Reading Without Points, Prizes, or Pizza Parties
  66. 66. EXPECT students to do the right thing... just because it is the right thing to do.
  67. 67. Awards Ceremonies
  68. 68. In Support of Awards
  69. 69. Showcasing excellence
  70. 70. Motivation and Effort
  71. 71. Preparation for the “Real World” CC image from K. Decker
  72. 72. A Lengthy Tradition CC image from brendangates
  73. 73. 5 Reasons to Rethink Awards in Schools
  74. 74. But first…
  75. 75. Rethinking awards… does NOT mean awards for everyone CCImagefromVPohjanheimo
  76. 76. This is NOT just about self-esteem
  77. 77. Awards shift the focus from process (learning) to the result (award).
  78. 78. Demotivating Learning
  79. 79. Inhibiting risk-taking
  80. 80. Defining value and worth based on awards
  81. 81. You love me…
  82. 82. Awards are not always about excellence. They are mostly about simply being better than those around you.
  83. 83. Awards are all Relative Image:
  84. 84. Creating a false sense of excellence
  85. 85. If awards were so crucial to excellence and success, why do we not have family awards for best child? Parent awards? Staff awards?
  86. 86. Awards encourage a culture of competition and inhibit a culture of collaboration.
  87. 87. Success in a Competitive Culture
  88. 88. The only person motivated by competition is the person who believes he/she has a chance of winning. Rick Lavoie CC image from Jayneandd
  89. 89. I am better than you.
  90. 90. Awards prepare our kids for the big bad, scary, competitive real world… Really???
  91. 91. “REAL World” Research CC Image from K Hoeppner
  92. 92. Kids need to learn how to lose be resilient.
  93. 93. There are two kinds of winning. Some can only win when others lose. Others seek to win by helping others succeed. One of these approaches scales far better than the other. Seth Godin
  94. 94. Education should not be a zero-sum game. CC image from S. Tell
  95. 95. Competitions are ALL or NONE
  96. 96. Awards assume that ALL students learn at the same rate and have the same opportunities.
  97. 97. Variables affecting achievement (beyond a child’s control): • Family and home life • Mental health • Date of birth • Genetics • Parent education • Socioeconomics • Income and educational opportunities • Language • Parent social and cultural capital
  98. 98. Who are awards REALLY for? Do we want the best for our child or for our child to be the best? These are not often the same thing. Martin Seligman
  99. 99. - Original quote from George Carlin
  100. 100. At what age is it acceptable to offer awards?
  101. 101. Awards offer a narrow criteria of success.
  102. 102. Deciding the WINNER
  103. 103. Do we believe… ALL students have strengths and ALL students can learn?
  104. 104. We know kids are so different – so why are we ok with ranking them based on narrowly defined criteria?
  105. 105. We ALL have a ‘Jagged Profile’ Todd Rose Image: Todd Rose, The End of Average
  106. 106. Do your awards ceremonies align with your school vision?
  107. 107. Schools Without Awards
  108. 108. CC Image: pennstatelive
  109. 109. Celebrating Our Strengths
  110. 110. Moving From Honour Roll to Honour All
  111. 111. No awards. No student of the month. No honour roll. 5 years later.
  112. 112. Pride in Who We Are
  113. 113. Honouring Assemblies Strengths Talents Interests
  114. 114. Ongoing acknowledgement helps everyone CC image from D. Krebbs
  115. 115. Highlighting growth and excellence in NEW ways.
  116. 116. Starting the conversation on moving away from awards ceremonies
  117. 117. Driving question: How do we honour our kids in a way that brings out the best in ALL kids, aligns with our school vision, mission and values, and highlights a broader definition of growth and excellence?
  118. 118. Give Students a CHOICE to Compete CC image from Kentucky Country Day
  119. 119. Set the Bar – Use Clear Criteria With a possibility of multiple winners
  120. 120. Move from a focus on celebrating THE best… …to a focus on celebrating Personal Best Rick Lavoie
  121. 121. Celebrations of Growth & Learning
  122. 122. CC Image From Tony Baldasaro CC Image from Terry Priest Find the Fireflies Create the conditions for ALL kids to shine. Rachel Macy Stafford
  123. 123. WHY We Need to Rethink Rewards Awards 1. We rob students of intrinsic motivation 2. We give too much credit to rewards and not enough to ourselves. 3. We teach kids to get good at getting caught being good. 4. We lose the chance to teach kids responsibility and independence. 5. We assign an external value to tasks, behaviour, and learning. 1. We shift the focus from process to result. 2. We award for simply being better than those around you. 3. We promote a culture of competition and inhibit a culture of collaboration. 4. We assume that ALL students learn at the same rate and have the same opportunities 5. We offer a narrow criteria of success.
  124. 124. “Rewards and recognition are important, but as the research has so clearly shown, when rewards and awards are used as a means of motivating people, they are likely to backfire.” Edward Deci
  125. 125. Change is hard… start the conversation Is an awards ceremony at the end of the year the BEST we can do? CCimagefromUSDE
  126. 126. Go ahead. Take a risk.
  127. 127. Picture a school…
  128. 128. Motivation Honour Excellence Pride Inclusion
  129. 129. Connect With Me @chriswejr