Celebrating Success is Good for Schools and Students, Too

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in the Vancouver Sun

Everyone wants our schools to do a better job of educating our kids. When some schools do just that, it is cause for celebration.

There was magic in the air at the Georgia Hotel in Vancouver on Tuesday night. An energetic crowd with a keen interest in education gathered to celebrate the success enjoyed by outstanding school teams -- principals, teachers, and support staff -- from 28 British Columbia elementary and secondary schools.

The occasion was the annual Garfield Weston Awards for Excellence in Education dinner, and it was all about educators who have found ways to help kids do better at school.

After all the strife surrounding education in this province over the past months and years, the energy, the enthusiasm and the sense of community that was palpable at the gala was a tonic to the spirit. The participating schools represented the great variety that makes up our education system. Among them were urban schools and schools from small towns. There were public schools and private schools. Some of them served students who face a variety of serious challenges.

These school teams were honoured because each has found ways to rapidly and significantly improve their students’ academic achievement -- as reflected by their rating in the Fraser Institute’s Report Card -- over the past five years. It is hard to think of something more important that you could ask of educators than that they be tireless in finding new ways to help their students do better at school.

While there are several provincial and national awards programs recognizing educators, the Weston Awards are unique in that they are based on objective measures of student performance. Since, in the end, it is results that count, one might expect that such celebrations would be commonplace across the country. Regrettably, they are not.

Their scarcity is likely because some educators believe that such public celebrations of excellence are simply bad for the system. They feel that recognition programs of this kind pit one school against another with prizes for the winners and disgrace for those who are, as yet, unsuccessful. After all, they argue, success at school has more to do with the individual and family characteristics of the students than with the skill, hard work and dedication of the staff. So why celebrate success when it is really just the luck of the draw?

Nonsense! What goes on in schools makes a difference and some schools make a greater difference than others -- the Report Cards prove it. The educators we toasted on Tuesday night have proven that with focus, dedication, enthusiasm and a willingness to try new ways of doing things they can ensure that their students do better at school regardless of the challenges that the kids might face. These educators richly deserve our congratulations and our thanks.

But while making successful educators feel valued is reason enough to publicly recognize them, programs like the Weston Awards make other important contributions to our children’s education.

First, by celebrating success, we remind all of the province’s educators that society understands the importance of their work.

Second, no improvement plan is going to be of much use if those who embark upon it don’t believe that improvement is possible. The Weston Awards showcase examples of real success. They shout, It can be done, and here’s proof! What better encouragement for educators who are not yet successful?

Third, we know that among achievement-oriented educators, the Weston Awards encourage a little healthy competition between rival school teams to see which one can improve student results the fastest and sustain their upward momentum. When the prize is a better education for everyone’s kids, what competition could be more important?

Finally, by identifying successful school teams, the Weston Awards offer a concrete opportunity to those who have not yet found the keys to success. School teams honoured by the program might mentor other school teams that are struggling to improve their students’ results. I can see it now: A few years down the road we can initiate a new prize for Tag-Team of the year -- mentor/mentee teams that combine for the most rapid and consistent improvement in student achievement.

If some educators really feel that it is wrong to celebrate success, then they’d better start emptying out their schools’ trophy cases.

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.