The Place For Awards

Awards assemblies are a long-standing tradition at the end of the school year. Students, teachers, staff and families gather together to mark the achievements of the best and brightest. My personal favorite is always the child who isn’t present to receive their perfect attendance award.


I sat through a two-hour assembly this week where a majority of the students in the entire school took their place on stage during a long process of announcing certificate winners. Teachers with 25 students gave out 35 awards to almost everyone in their class. As one of the younger classes began marching off the stage, I noticed that they were returning to a row where only two students remained. I found myself wondering with all the categories of awards given by this teacher if two more awards couldn’t have been found. 

Why do we react to awards assemblies in this way? Have we been brainwashed to believe that everyone deserves a trophy?


Awards are meant to recognize achievement. Awards say, “These students excelled above the rest.” When everyone gets a trophy, no one is exceptional.


I remember receiving my first participation award at the end of Little League baseball season. One of the other teams won the most games but every member of our team was given a certificate. I didn’t even want to keep it. It had no value.

Children know internally whether our awards are deserving or not. When we give a “hard worker” award to a student that fits none of the other categories, we devalue the hard work of the students who also worked hard. Subjective certificates carry little value. They sound like teacher’s pet awards.


Awards are not the only way to encourage our students. Progress charts that catalog individual steps toward a goal help a child visualize how close they are to that goal. Encouragement provides motivation to weary children. Telling our children we are proud of their efforts can help them realize that someone is watching and that someone cares.


Everything in moderation. Even awards. The children know who worked the hardest, who excelled the most and which kid is the fastest or strongest in the class. Trying to make everyone equal demotivates everyone.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday Newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.