Teaching Profession Opinion

‘The Deweys': Schools’ Answer to the Academy Awards

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 26, 2015 4 min read
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Awards are part of our culture. Just as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has the Academy Awards, schools and districts hold awards for students as the year comes to an end. Awards are like summative assessments. They are the conclusion of a value of the work done by a person or persons. What if school districts developed a culture in which a celebration of each other’s work was an annual event? What if we all held our own Oscars for teachers? We would call them the “The Deweys”.

After a cursory web search for the indicators used to determine how a movie is voted upon for the Oscars, the only official information we found said that all voting members are eligible to vote for Best Picture Nominees and that all members in each category can vote for winners in that category. No information was available to explain the dimensions or indicators used by the voters or how movies were nominated.

Well, that would never work for The Deweys. First, a design committee would have to tackle the hesitation about competition and recognizing one colleague over another that exists in our profession. The idea of winners and losers is not something those in education have made peace with, even though students have that experience all the time. Leadership steps would have to be taken in order to begin a change in the culture. Once that process has begun, then the design committee could begin determining the categories for the awards. Some possibilities might be:

  • Best Creative Multi-Disciplinary Lesson/Unit Design
  • Best Use of Digital Resources
  • Best Use of Professional Partnerships
  • Best Application of Information Learned from a Professional Development Opportunity
  • Best Development of Collaborative Learning Opportunities for Students

Next the process for nomination would have to be developed. What would be good requirements for nomination in each category? What are the best avenues for ways to communicate the announcement of The Deweys? Transparency about the qualifications necessary to be nominated and awarded including the process used is paramount. A section of the school’s and/or district’s website would be filled with information about The Deweys. The nomination rubrics, describing the dimensions and indicators for steps toward the award level would be developed with the entire district, with students and parents input included, and would be sent out to all voting members of the faculty, administration, students and parents. Then, once the nominations are announced countdown to the award gala could begin. Once the votes have been tallied and the awards night arrives, students will perform music and dance numbers. Perhaps students even host the entire evening along with other chosen members of the school community. Everyone in the audience is excited and waiting to see who wins for each category and who wins in the Best Teacher category. Winners celebrate. Losers begin the path to improvement in hopes of winning to next year’s Deweys.

The Deweys would be fashioned after the best assessment practices used with students. It would not be a popularity contest with no one knowing what made one person a winner and another not. The qualifications would be known and reinforced all the time. Awards, which are really an example of the highest grade, are effective only if those being graded have the information about what they are being graded on and how. In classrooms, and in teacher evaluation, the aspects of what is being graded and how it is being graded ought always be presented in advance and afterwards with evidence. Even if the idea of The Deweys seems unlikely, the comparison to the Academy Awards highlights what we do well in assessment and what we might do even better. Here are some questions that can help guide a review of assessment practices.

  • Is the current process of awarding recognition, whether to teachers or students, equitable and broad enough to include all the talents that are part of teaching and learning?
  • Do teachers, their students, and the public have clear knowledge of how they are being evaluated?
  • Does the district keep the expectations for performance of students and teachers consistently communicated in a clear and accessible manner?
  • Is being considered the best at something a celebrated event?
  • Are there varied paths and categories in which many have the opportunity to excel and be recognized?
  • Is there a clear and articulated process for teaching how to handle loss?

As long as schools continue to communicate the aspects of learning that will be assessed in advance of the learning experience, share the qualities that are essential and will be measured, use feedback as a way to help students and teachers reach success, vary the types of assessments, and are vigilant about openly communicating this assessment information to the entire school community, perhaps the Academy could learn from us!

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