Why our school recognizes honor roll in school pride assemblies

Over the past 6 months I have read numerous tweets and blog posts from other principals and teachers regarding doing away with Honor Roll and school assemblies recognizing students for Honor Roll. I appreciated how this discussion challenged my thinking, but I never joined in the discussion, because I am the one that started the Honor Roll assembly at our school and decided it is time for me to explain why our school started this.

During my first year as principal in my current school I quickly learned that there was a common culture amongst students in our district that learning is “not cool”. We are a unique school made up of students from surrounding small, rural communities and even though we have separate elementary, middle and high schools we are all in one large building. I heard many stories from teachers in upper grades describing examples in class in which students were embarrassed about the high grades they received. I heard about a school assembly recognizing older students for their achievements that didn’t go well, because many students were laughing and teasing each other. The saddest story to me was of a senior receiving a National Merit Scholarship but she didn’t want to be recognized publicly for it out of fear of peers finding out. When I heard this, I knew that we had to do something at the elementary level to change this culture in our building.

Our 4th/5th grade teachers had already begun the tradition years ago of recognizing students that made Honor Roll status of either having all A’s, A’s/B’s or all B’s on their report cards. Students names were written on Trojan Head cut-outs (our school mascot is the trojan) and displayed on the hallway. There were a few years that parents donated money for these students to receive special t-shirts at the end of the year.

At the beginning of my 2nd year as principal, I met with a committee of teachers to build on this current practice started by our 4/5th grade teachers. We decided to have quarterly Pride assemblies to recognize our students for their academic achievements and invite parents to these assemblies as well. We added 3rd graders to the list of students to be recognized for Honor Roll since they also received letter grades on their report cards. In addition, we allowed every teacher in the school (including special area teachers) to nominate one student to be recognized for being “On a Roll.” This could be a student in any grade working hard to improve in any area.

This is now our 3rd year of having a quarterly pride assembly. Yesterday was our 1st Pride assembly for the year and here’s how it went:
*I thanked parents for coming to show their support for their children. I then talked about how hard all of our students are working in every grade to become great readers/writers during Daily 5 time and had student participation to tell what Stamina is, why they need to read so much and how it helps them become great learners.
*I reviewed Pride Assembly behavior:
Used student volunteers to demonstrate the “wrong” way to receive an award (they exaggerated bragging to others, saying “haha you didn’t get one”, etc) and then students to demonstrate the “right” way to receive an award.
Also talked about what students should do if they don’t receive an award (give a thumbs up or congratulate their peers; not pout)
*Presented certificates/pencils to the students for “On a Roll” reading the reason for each recognition (ex: “Johnny is On a Roll for working hard at building his stamina during Daily 5 and increasing his reading level.” and “Suzie has been practicing her math facts and keeps moving up in Rocket Math”).
*Presented certificates/pencils to students for:
3rd grade A/B’s
3rd grade A’s
4th grade A/B’s
4th grade A’s
5th grade A/B’s
5th grade A’s
*I closed the assembly by thanking our students for their outstanding behavior during the assembly and read to them 2 quotes from our guest teachers about why they love to be called to be guest teachers in our school, because our students are always so well behaved.

Each time we have this assembly I am amazed by our students’ behavior of congratulating each other and being proud of their accomplishments. Our parent feedback has always been thankful for recognizing their children and that they are invited to attend these assemblies.

Despite this, I know that this practice may change in the future. Through implementing Daily5/Cafe and focusing on conferring with each student on their current level and their goals to focus on, we are building intrinsic motivation in all of our students. Even in the upper grades we are seeing students continue to love learning and enjoy sharing with each other what they have recently read or learned about during reflection time. We are beginning discussions on changing our grading process and I’ve even heard of some schools eliminating grades. I have no idea where this will take us, but for now, we continue to recognize students for honor roll.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Craig Smith

    I am at Assistant Principal new to my school this year. We had over 400 students make the A/B Honor Roll at my 9-12 high school (appromately 1400 students total(. For the first time, we are honoring these students at school with a surprise celebration during 4th Block on Monday.

    I have already had some teachers tell me that they are so excited that we are recognizing these students. We are hoping that this recognition will provide some extra motivation to those students that are on the “cusp” of earning A/B honor roll next grading period.

    Feel free to follow me on twitter @CSmithGoBlue

    Keep up the great work!

  2. photomatt7

    The On a Roll idea is a start at a solution for what I consider the biggest problem with Honor Rolls and rewards: they exclude students who deserve accolade and never receive it. I walk past a list of honor roll students everyday, and I am yet to see the name of a student from a special Ed class listed. Awards for academics only benefit the highest achievers, not the hardest workers. When I taught 5th, it was a sorry sight when I handed out awards night ceremony tickets. So many kids were made to feel they were insignificant because of their grades. I could go on for a long time, but my point is this: when you celebrate grades in this way, you automatically assign students into haves and have nots. I have had many students who will never win an award for academics, and because grades are the currency, these kids will grow up thinking all award recipients are better than them. Awards are nice for the recipient, but what about everyone else?

  3. George Couros

    I agree with Matt and I am going to have to push back on this post.

    What happens often is that we teach them that learning is not about learning, but about grades and awards. We should be recognizing kids for different strengths. I used this analogy in my own blog post but I think it is important to put out there:

    Take two students. One from a home that is well off with both parents supportive and able to help their child. The other from a single parent family where the parent has to work considerably to make ends meet. Although both families love their children with all of their heart, one has more advantages in their life. The “privileged” child is not really engaged in academics, does not work hard, but is able to easily meet all the “rubric” requirements for the year. The other child works their butt off their entire year, has little support at home, does whatever they can, but pulls off a 70% average. Who would you give the award too?

    Here is the whole post:

    I know that when people have awards their intent is totally positive. I do however think that it is conditioning kids in a way that we are surprised that they don’t want to do anything just for the love or sake of it. You will need to keep upping the ante. I have always wondered why students in middle schools tend to disengage in school, and I think that this is a big part of it.

    I think of it this way; if I was hiring a teacher, I would much prefer to hire someone who did it for the love of kids and learning, as opposed to someone who just wants a pay cheque. Yes people want to be compensated fairly just like all students and need to be recognized. This doesn’t mean awards though and it doesn’t mean public ceremonies either.

    The hard thing to do is to build a classroom or school environment that doesn’t need awards for the kids to be engaged or feel appreciated, but I believe it is what we should be aiming for.

  4. Bill

    I like the idea of “On A Roll” to recognize all kids equitably, and doing away with an Honor Roll. Of course those who achieve letter grades i.e. A’s and B’s would be included on this. I agree that teachers themselves should have authority and control to nominate a student and to hold a celebration more frequenetly than just a grading period. Thoughts?

  5. PrincipalJ

    Thank you everyone for the comments (and to those of you discussing this via twitter). In response to Matt-our students with IEP’s and modified curriculum can also achieve honor roll. We’ve had students with significant needs make the honor roll-an issue that has made some discussion amongst our teachers (won’t this upset students that made the honor roll with the regular curriculum?). I have been amazed to see each time these students have made honor roll that their peers are just as proud of them as we are. They see the progress that these students have made too!

    George-I do agree with you that honor roll recognition can make it an extrinsic award, which I do acknowledge and enjoy learning about how schools are getting rid of their honor roll recognition in response to this.

  6. George Couros

    To be honest, we got rid of them a couple of years ago and not one kid complained. My question is, who are we really doing this for?

  7. Douglas Green

    So how do the kids feel that have to sit and watch the honor roll crowd be honored? Some not honored may even work harder than some who are honored. Grades are extrinsic motivators and as such are not helpful to promoting love of learning. Read my summary of Daniel Pink’s book on motivation called “Drive” for details at http://bit.ly/jl7ara. Once a student does what it takes to get an A, they get the idea that learning is finished. Worse yet is the kid who gets a poor grade at the start that never goes away thanks to the evils of averaging. You can’t just build up accomplishments in school like in the real world since every thing you do is averaged. We need schools with some backbone to drop grades altogether and let kids learn at their own rate and spend more time pursuing their interests. At least drop the honor roll idea that draws an arbitrary line to honor some kids.

  8. Mr. Blyleven's Blog

    At my son’s school instead of recognizing grades the staff hosts a breakfast for students who excel in the learning skills categories. By celebrating learning skills, all children, regardless of academic achievement, have the potential to be recognized.

    I think that this sends a much different message to the entire student body that character is more valued than marks and that everyone has it in them to have success.

    I am ok with celebrating success and the academic gifts of students. There is a place for all types of celebrations, however, I think that it needs to be setup in a safe manner such as it seems is being done.

  9. Gail Ray @used2bprincipal

    Though celebrating academic achievement is important, it should be celebrated for all students, not just for a select few. If each child’s achievement and growth were measured against him/herself and not against what the powers that be consider the norm, then the awards become inclusive, not exclusive, as they are now. Until that happens( and I’m not optimistic that it will) in my opinion, “Awards for All” (http://photomatt7.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/awards-for-all/) is the way to go. I think an appropriate version could be adapted for high school students as a personal way to recognize everyone and celebrate the individuality of all students.

  10. Tracey

    I love this conversation! Right now our school does do an Honor Roll (no ceremony or assembly, just in the newsletter and on display), however we are in the midst of piloting standards-based grading in some grade levels in our district before it rolls out district-wide. As you can guess, with SBG you have to rethink all of this because grading is radically different. It is no longer about A’s and B’s or averaging. It’s about how well the student achieved the standard compared to him/herself. It’s not about missing assignments getting a zero and bringing your grades down at the end of the trimester (or quarter, etc); it’s about grading what the student DID do and what they DID demonstrate as knowing when tested on the standard using the rubric.
    I think we will have to rethink what we are currently doing (a long-held tradition I inherited and probably could/should have re-examined before now) but it will be for the right reasons.
    Thanks Jessica for the great idea of ‘On a Roll’!!! I might try to do this immediately!! Love it!

  11. Anonymous

    My daughter’s school just posted all the students names (on a cafeteria bulletin board) who scored at the Advanced and Proficient levels on our recent state test. When I picked my kids up from school, her friends all pointed out there names and asked me where her name was (innocently.) My daughter looked embarrassed and ashamed. My heart sunk. She scored a few points below proficient in Lang. Arts, so she wasn’t “eligible” for the bulletin board. This made my stomach churn. I teach 3rd grade, the grade she’s in. We work ENDLESSLY on her skills, and more importantly, how to be a kind, caring, compassionate, well-rounded human being. My husband and I wrote a long letter to the Principal, sharing our feelings on the school’s decision to put this board up. It’s just WRONG. It will not motivate my daughter (or any special ed child or underachieving child) to do better. It will simply discourage them more. Please consider the ramifications before you make public statements (bulletin boards/newspaper articles) that contain students names. Also, this seems a bit illegal to me as well; arent students’ test scores private?
    Thank you.

  12. Jacki Scholle

    We are having this discussion at my school right now. I really appreciate hearing both sides of the issue from people who have also experienced it. I am a special education teacher and want to recognize the hard work that my students do, even if they don’t work at grade level. On the other side of it, I can see how students who work at grade level and achieve high grades deserve recognition too. What is it that we are rewarding? Why are grades – a number condensed down from all the work done – so important? It is a tough issue and there aren’t any easy answers. One teacher I work with asked the students. It will be interesting to see what they wrote.

  13. Pattie Thomas

    My school http://www.rlyoung.blogspot.com has Honor Roll Assembly each six weeks. The students are encouraged to be proud of all who do well. I often used the quote over the intercom and when we are gathered “when one of us doing something good, it makes us all look great”. This plants the seed that it is OK to congratulate and be happy for others. With some kids you almost have to give them the idea that being excited for someone else is cool! I loved your post and join you in keeping this practice. Rewarding good attendance (TOP DOG Club…no tardies, check outs, or absences) good behavior, and academic efforts is important and serves as motivation to others. Having a most improved and I brought up my grades ribbons helps, too!

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