Why We Love, Hate, Need Recognition in Flipped Education

Special / Uncategorized / March 19, 2019

-Errol St.Clair Smith-

In education, some topics reliably evoke a wide range of opinions. Grading, homework, tenure, teacher evaluations, and lame professional development are all subjects that can drive an education discussion from 0 to 60 in three seconds or less. High on the list of topics that can quickly accelerate from collegial to dogmatic is the subject of recognizing educators with awards.

The Love

Teacher of the Year, Principal of the Year, Superintendent of the Year, School Nurse of the Year, School Librarian of the Year, School Counselor of the Year, School Custodian of the Year, you get the point. We’re hard pressed to find a role in education that doesn’t have an award to recognize its members. Further, there’s virtually no limit to how segmented and granular theses award programs can be: Science Teacher of the Year, California Science Teacher of the Year, Future Science Teacher Award, Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics in Science and Teaching, the beat goes on…

Education awards are a global phenomenon. A quick Google stroll around the world will turn up the Distinguished Alumni Awards in India, the Yidan prize out of China, and the Global Teacher Prize with offices in London, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Accra, and Kampala. Yes, education awards are “a thing” with no end in sight. Research for this piece revealed that just last year, a brand new education award was born down under — the Australian Educator Awards.

On the surface, it appears that education awards are clearly popular, expansive and growing. So awards must be a good thing. Right? After all, the hundreds of education organizations, thousands of educators, and scores of the countries involved in education awards can’t all be wrong. Can they?

The Hate

It can be difficult to uncover the issues teachers have with education awards. For contrast, Google the term “Academy Awards, criticism”; you’ll get pages of results with words like backlash and outrage and fuming. Then try entering “Emmy Awards, criticism,” and you’ll unearth a new set of unhappy terms like racist, political, mad and snubbed. But to find the issues people have with education awards, you have to dig a little deeper. You’ll need to visit some chat rooms and blogs to get a sense of the prevailing attitudes about publically recognizing educators. Below is a short list of why some educators detest education awards.

Criticism from Charlotte Pezaro writing in Education Research Matters:

  • Is a teacher’s success solely due to their own efforts? Is it fair to award such a significant prize to a single individual?”
  • “Attempts to assign a value to the individual for what the group achieves ultimately undermines the work of all teachers.”
  • “Teaching is not competitive; nor should need it be.”
  • “And what about all the other wonderful teachers who are doing wonderful things in their classrooms, every day, too?”

Criticism from The Chronical on Higher Education Forum

  • “Teaching awards can backfire, sapping the morale and productivity of professors who try too hard to win them, writes David G. Evans, in this week’s Chronicle Review. The criteria for winning the awards are often ambiguous, if not arbitrary.” – Forum Moderator
  • “Since I won such an award, my peer evaluations systematically zing my teaching… So I’ve begun to wonder if teaching awards hurt us with our colleagues. New professors should avoid teaching awards like the plague. Better to be a rotten teacher and have the admiration of your colleagues… ” – Anonymous 
  • “Boy, will I agree that winning a teaching award can cause more harm with colleagues than by not winning one. When I won my award… the rumors started flying that I fixed the election since I was the faculty sponsor for the Student Government. My advice, get rid of that award on all campuses.” – Thomas Orf  
  •  “There was only very scant vetting in order to determine a winner.” – Artsearch
  •  “Can it destroy tenure? Perhaps, perhaps not. The killing of tenure for the award recipient may reflect the bias (and jealousy or envy) by others (administration or fellow faculty) who did NOT get an award. Sadly, awards that kill tenure can also be a true reflection of how the college (or university) truly feels about teaching versus research-in short, “to hell with the students we serve-get that damn grant money!” – Lawrence Roberge, ChairScience

The Ambivalence

We also found a stunning level of ambivalence about awards in this Chronical of Higher Education forum:

  • “Tenure should be granted independent of awards; but, isn’t tenure a reward as well?” – Lawrence Roberge, ChairScience 
  • “I also have a problem with the idea that people set out to win teaching awards. There may be people out there for whom the award itself is a major life goal, but I haven’t met any of them…  This implies that the author thinks taking steps to improve one’s teaching is stupid and self-interested, rather than sincerely motivated by a desire to be good at one’s craft, or god forbid to actually help students learn.” – Guest denied once.
  • Finally, there’s the hidden ego factor summed up with wit and humor in the following 38-second video clip:


The Need

Considering the deeply held anti-award sentiment held by many in K12 and higher education, why do so many education awards programs still exist? Why are new awards programs launching? Didn’t these program organizers get the memo? Don’t they have access to chat rooms, teachers lounges, and local watering holes where teacher push back can be seen and heard?

Again the Chronical of Higher Education forum provides a clue:

  • “I was nominated by faculty and students… which I value very much. I put the award on my wall in my office, and when I’ve had a challenging day, I look at it. Seeing that award recharges my enthusiasm, despite what senior admin think. Though I know what the students think of my work in the classroom, (and for me, that is what really matters) some tangible recognition was very much appreciated.” – Guest – buglet
  • “Isn’t the alternative not to recognize any of the outstanding teachers at an institution? Given that teachers often feel like they toil away tirelessly for minimal reward, certainly minimal pay, shouldn’t there be some sort of recognition available?” – Guest Umm Confused
  • “I received 4 different teaching awards, one from each major stakeholder (faculty, students, administration, parents). My department paid careful attention to these awards when recommending me for tenure, saying that ‘if ever there was a time to taking a stand behind teaching excellence, this is it.” – R Barr
  • “I think awards are good; but, education must become aggressive to praise and build up those who sweat for their students-just as they sweat over the research labs, publications, or the next grants. There is room for all of us…we need to work to find resources to praise all who build up our students.” – Lawrence Roberge, ChairScience

Despite the downsides, liabilities, unintended consequences, criticism–and in some cases–poor execution, these comments suggest that there are significant potential benefits to education awards when done well.

Improving the International Flipped Learning Awards

This coming June, the Academy of Active Learning Arts and Science will introduce the updated International Flipped Learning Awards program. The original International Flipped Learning Award will continue to honor those who are blazing new trails for Flipped Learning around the world — the innovators and first movers.

Three main changes will define the new program:

  • This year the nominating process will be open to the entire Flipped Learning community. You will be able to nominate teachers, principals, peers, administrators, school leaders, or yourself.  The AALAS Council of Peers and Delegates will cast anonymous votes and decide who will receive the honor.
  • Next, a new category has been created for schools, university departments, and universities that adopt the new AALAS global standards and meet the requirement of a world-class Flipped Learning implementation.
  • Finally, a  gold version of the IFL award will be introduced.  The gold Mazur Award will recognize those who are producing notable results and are having a global impact.

Recognition Matters

Though we have a love-hate relationship with recognition, it’s fairly clear that the future of  Flipped Learning will be determined by:

  • The people who recognize what Flipped Learning can do.
  • The people who recognize effective Flipped Learning when they see it,
  • The people who recognize what’s required to implement Flipped Learning well.
  • The people who recognize the need to embrace and maintain standards for Flipped Learning

The updated awards program was refocused to support the AALAS Global Standards for Flipped Learning. The awards aim to recognize the individuals and institutions that are leading the adoption of the Global Standards and implementing Flipped Learning at a world-class level. The entire program has been realigned to invite the entire global Flipped Learning community, to participate in recognizing the people and organizations who are helping to set the gold standard for Flipped Learning around the world.

Why? Because despite our ambivalence with recognition, recognition matters!

Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

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