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Winning or Learning ?

AAS recently earned LEED Gold Certification for the Rila Renaissance Centre (RRC). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it recognizes buildings that meet high standards for being “healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings.” The RRC is the second AAS building to merit LEED Gold Certification. It is something the AAS community should be proud of as it highlights our commitment to sustainability.

Though LEED Gold Certification is not an award, it feels like an award. This feeling got me thinking about awards. I haven’t gotten many awards in my life–I’m not sure what that says about me. When I was about 10 years old, my younger sister, Amie, and I spent a summer with family in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. (Nelson is a wonderful city on Lake Kootenay in the Selkirk Mountains. If it is not on your travel list, it should be.) My sister and I participated in the Nelson Summer Family Olympics. It included events like the sack-race, three-legged race, and running-across-the-field-with-an-egg-on-a-spoon race. We cleaned up. In one day I won more medals than Michael Phelps has won in all of his Olympics appearances. Of course, I was competing against 5 and 6 year old kids, but I didn’t care. Amie and I made the cover (above the fold) of the Nelson Star–the Nelson newspaper. It must have been a slow news day in Nelson (Barney, the town moose, that liked to eat fermented apples and cause trouble must have taken the day off), but it felt good nonetheless.  

Across the world, there are countless awards earned or won each year. I believe there is an important distinction between “winning” an award and “earning” an award. An award is earned when a person does something exceptional just because they did something exceptional. An award is won when someone competes against others and does the best. For example, Rumyana Neykova won the gold medal for rowing in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Elias Canetti, earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981–he wasn’t in a writing race with other authors, he simply did his best and it turned out to be the best that year. It bothers me when people say someone “wins” a Nobel Prize. It may just be semantics, but as an English teacher will tell you, semantics matter.

Each year, students at AAS earn awards. The most prestigious award is the Wolf Award, but more on that later in the spring. 

In many places, it has become normal for all kids who are involved in a competition to win an award. One year, I coached both a youth boys, and a youth girls, football (aka soccer) team. The girls team went undefeated and pretty much crushed every other team. The boys lost every game. At the end of the season, both teams got the exact same award. The move toward every child getting an award has happened because adults want to protect kids from feeling sad or disappointed. That seems to be a worthy goal, but I believe it is misguided. Our job as parents/caregivers/educators is not to protect kids from ever feeling something yucky. That is impossible. Our job is to help kids understand, deal with, and grow from those experiences that don’t feel good. There are important life lessons and skills that can be learned when we lose or fail at something. Winning in something is certainly worth celebrating, but most important, is the internal reward one earns from giving it a go and trying their best.  

“I’ll never try to win an award. I’m just out there playing for my team.”
-Kawhi Leonard

Postscript: To any of the parents who were at the PTO Room Parent Meeting earlier this week: last night on the way home I decided to make shawarma for dinner. I had never cooked it before. The whole family agreed, it was delicious.


Dr. Fries

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