Should we get rid of Teacher of the Year awards?

2014-02-20_1038Good teachers don’t get the recognition they deserve. So when I wonder aloud here whether we should do away with things like Teacher of the Year awards it’s not because I think they shouldn’t be honored and noticed; it is quite the contrary. We, at CTL, believe in elevating the practice of teaching and great teachers. In fact, 2013 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Allison Hunt will play a significant role in our 20 Year Anniversary Event later this year.  But what if we also celebrated and recognized things like the lessons or units of the year? In other words, what if we recognized the specific great work of our teachers instead of just the people themselves?

Great teachers are essential to a high quality educational experience for many reasons, and among them is the outstanding work they create. Acknowledging and sharing that work with other teachers could go a long way in establishing a set of norms across a school, district, state or even nationwide. If we want to talk about alternative and more authentic assessment options I believe we need to have these kinds of critical conversations around the quality of lesson design, including those assessments. What does high quality lesson and unit development look like and what common goals is it attempting to address? How did the teacher intentionally connect his/her lessons to the content and what did the students do to show they “got it”?


One of my core beliefs is that our schools and teachers don’t utilize PLC and planning time as effectively as they might. Teachers may have common planning or intentionally set meeting times called PLC’s but all too often these meetings are guided by two questions: how long will this take and what do we have to turn in? But it doesn’t have to be this way and in my experience working with teachers on project based learning, when teachers are given the opportunity to have rich professional conversations around the work they are doing they often express a sense of euphoria. One way to do this is by using a protocol like Critical Friends where teachers evaluate lessons through the lens of a high quality rubric. What if these kinds of conversations were occurring on a larger scale? What if all of the schools in a region of a state came together in the spirit of collaboration to share, examine and refine their best units or lessons through the lens of a common rubric? Would this help establish norms around quality teacher work? Would it facilitate the sharing of ideas for the betterment of everyone involved, most importantly students? Would it help improve the sense of community and professionalism that most teachers are dying for? Might it help establish alternatives to the current system of testing and assessment? What other fruits might this bear?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we need to get rid of Teacher of the Year awards. Other than the fact that in most cases those awarded have been required to do additional paperwork and “hoop jumping” to prove their worth I have no real problem with the practice. What I do wonder is whether we’re focusing on the wrong thing. As Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently points out, in education we can spend inordinate amounts of time focusing on everything besides teaching and learning. With that in mind I’d like to imagine plaques and awards ceremonies for lessons and units that helped create deep learning for students that empowered and prepared them for success in college, career and citizenship.

Visit About CTL to learn more about how we work with schools to advance this kind of excellence.

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