Honoring Process over Outcomes
One cool, crisp autumn day in September a letter arrived from the Dunn Primary School, where my son was studying in. This honestly left me scratching my head a bit. Why would the school bother to mail letters when they could always ask children to bring them home, thereby saving themselves the trouble and the postage cost?
The letter from the principal of the school reads the following:
I’ m very pleased to let you know that your son Jack has been selected as the “International Citizen” for the month of September in class. The honor is for “Curiosity and Eagerness to Learn .” I want to let you know that the school is grateful to you for sending such an outstanding student to us. If Jack continues to perform like this, I am certain that this will not be the last time he receive san award. Wear every pleased to share this honor with you. The award ceremony will be held at 2:30 pm on September 29. I hope to see you in attendance.
My husband and I reacted differently to this letter. The way he saw it, given that one award was given out per month, by the end of two years all 24 students in his class would have won an award.
What he was implying was, that the award was nothing special.
But I was impressed, partly by the effort my son has put in to adapt to the new environment, that he must have tried hard on his side to deserve this honor. Even more by the fact that the school took the award so seriously.
Celebrating Each Child’s Uniqueness
The day of the award ceremony saw a total of more than 400 in attendance. All of the teachers and students were there, with kids sitting on the floor, teachers sitting in chairs against the wall on both sides, and parents sitting in chairs in the back rows.
The auditorium was noisy and clamorous until the principal went up and stood in front of the small podium. She raised her hand, the universal sign for silence, and all the children raised their hands along with her. Suddenly, the auditorium fell so silent you could hear a pin drop.
The ceremony began.
The principal called out the honorees’ names and read the comments on the back of the certificate, which was written by their teachers.
The comments were funny and engaging, full of commendation and appreciation. After reading the commentary, the certificate was presented to each award recipient and everyone applauded wildly.
Each child received different compliments. For those parents whose children have never won an award before, it was a bit of a new experience to hear comments from other children.
One of the comments was particularly charming:
“You always ask why. Why isn’t the sky pink? Why do monkeys like bananas? Why is there such a thing as a honeymoon? I think you ask too many questions.”
The entire auditorium burst into loud guffaws. The parents were laughing so hard that many of them buried their faces in their sleeves.
Being praised on an official public occasion like this must make the award recipient feel very special and proud.
A Special Award
Now came the fourth graders’ turn to accept their awards. A total of six students took the stage. My son showed signs of both joy and nervousness, his expression switching randomly between deadpan seriousness and ear-toear grins.
The principal read out the reasons for the award:
“Jack Yao, you are the honorary recipient of the International Citizenship Award of the month for ‘Curiosity and Eagerness to Learn.’ You are often the first person to raise your hand and ask questions. One of your esteemed classmates has this to say, ‘You always ask when you don’t understand.’ Your ability to ask questions and seek knowledge has given you rapid progress in vocabulary learning and English speaking. We are all proud of you.”
My son took the certificate respectfully and walked back to join his fellow students. On his way back I saw someone from another class reached out to give him a high-five. And with that, the ceremony came to a close.
Later, I saw photos of the students accepting their awards from the previous year and earlier in the year on the school bulletin board. In addition to “Curiosity and Eagerness to Learn,” there were awards like “Thinking and Creativity,” “Reflection and Gratitude,” “Adventure, Independence and Open-mindedness,” “Harmony and Communication,” “Balance, Enthusiasm and Confidence,” “Knowledge and Commitment,” “Tolerance, Integrity and Principles,” “Caring, Empathy and Respect.”
Having nothing to do with academic performance, these awards cover the school’s wall of fame and shine it. (From Twelve HelloGiftsfromaTeacher , Jiuzhou Press. Translation: Lu Qiongyao)