The awards season. It arrives every year with graduation, and on Monday we moved through our underclass awards. In a week, many more will be handed out. So much goes into wrangling the names of the winners, and each year I am reminded that the only award that’s easy to determine is one calculated by GPA: do the math, pick the winner. Simple. But do the numbers ever tell the whole story? No. Do they tell the story of character and grit, of intrinsic drive? Sometimes. Maybe. Not always.
Awards can be a challenge for those who win them. For the winners, the danger can be that success creates a sense of expectations – that the next year or the next course or the next community will also be a place of awards. That doesn’t always happen. Recipients should take away a sense of accomplishment in the moment, a sense of pride – it’s warranted – but they should also carry back with them an understanding that the work goes on. Each winner is early in his or her 10,000 hours journey towards mastery.
Oh, the awards table is a tricky one to navigate.
For those who don’t win, the table can be an inspiration: it can fire a student up in an extrinsic kind of way, which is not exactly the intrinsic motivation we seek to kindle. What awards can also do is dispirit. They can make a student feel he or she didn’t make the winner circle and might never be good enough to get there. The table becomes less a table and more a measuring stick that whacks at self-esteem.
So it’s a tricky table.
But here’s the positive. The table can speak to flourishing, reminding students that they are here to thrive, to work hard, to figure out how they learn and discover their passions. Martin Seligman, who has done research - a lot of research - into mindset and grit and the characteristics that contribute to individual success, wrote the book called Flourish. The premise is that we all have strengths, different ones, and that we need to identify them and build on them to flourish. Seligman has identified what he calls 24 “signature strengths” that range from curiosity to kindness to courage to leadership to appreciation of beauty and excellence. He has designed a test, available online or at the back of his book, that help identify which are the dominant strengths in an individual.
The good news is that we all have at least four or five.
If the awards table follows us everywhere like a dog, like a ghost, and if it’s table that can haunt a student if he or she comes up to receive an award or if he or she just stays in his seat to watch, then it’s best to help students put the table into perspective as quickly as possible. We have to point to individual strengths, figure them out, and build on these positives. We need to articulate them and celebrate them.
The awards season. What a wonderful reminder of the strength and talent within our students even if they never walk up to that glittering, tricky table.
Enjoy your weekend! Please share your thoughts with me in the comments below, and follow me on Twitter for additional insights in life at Proctor!
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School