5:30 a.m. Hockey


In much of Canada, Victoria included, the phenomenon of 5:30 am hockey practice for your son or daughter is a common one. Up early, put on the equipment, some quick toast and cereal, and off to the rink. That’s the way it was with my sons.

I’m thinking about this because of the speech that the coaches made at the beginning of each season. This speech was for both parents and the boys and girls who were players – we were all supposed to hear it. Without fail, regardless of who the coach was, regardless of whether the coach had a job that lent itself to moralizing (like mine, teaching), or whether the coach worked on the line at the local General Motors plant (the local GM plant produced more than its share of coaches for my sons’ league), they had similar messages. You could almost mouth the words for them before they were spoken. It was about sportsmanship, equal ice time, and lastly: please don’t give your kids a dollar or two for every goal they get. Please.

I know that for most parents, hearing it the first time, it sounded odd. It didn’t take long to think through, though. If you reward a kid for scoring a goal, he or she starts wanting to be the goal scorer, thinks that goal-scoring is the most important thing, and misses the fact that each individual’s success is actually about making the team succeed. That the team can’t score unless people pass the puck, that defense is important, that skating hard and learning all those other skills is important – and more. The player who lives for the rewards got by scoring goals becomes a selfish player, misses out on so many other lessons that sport – or life – teaches, and never learns about the courage, skill, team play and tactics that would make him or her a much more effective and more rounded player.

I am amazed how this lesson gets lost at times. It gets lost in all kinds of places, including, unfortunately schools. Here at SMUS we have been trying to apply this lesson. The lesson is more ably explained by the following quotation by Daniel Pink. Daniel Pink is one of the most influential thinkers about coming trends in business and also in education, since he sees education as the foundation for the future of business. The quotation comes from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This book is recommended by the Harvard Business Review as one of the most influential books of the year. About motivation, Daniel Pink says:

“Most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money (or grades) – the carrot and stick approach. That’s a mistake! The secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things and to better ourselves and our world.”

Some of you who read this blog of mine (and I am always surprised when I discover readers are out there), will recognize that I have talked on occasion about the importance of intrinsic motivation, of students wanting to learn, or excel at sports, or become excellent musicians, not for the rewards they receive but for the fulfillment they receive, and the delight they give others. Over the past ten years, the School has gradually moved away from certain types of awards, especially those based on the notion that one student is better than another. Instead – and parents will see it more and more – we recognize students and reward them for their achievements relative to expectations and standards rather than relative to each other. Our assessment in the school in general has followed this path, and I am happy to say it works: students feel rewarded for their own success, relative to real standards and expectations, rather than relative to the envy-creating and self-destructive notion of being better or worse than the student next door.

What does this mean in practice? It means that for major awards, for instance, instead of a single winner, there might be three or four or eight – as long as they have met the criteria for the award. The honour roll, long a controversial phenomenon, will be expanded, and will list all students who achieve the standard. These are just a couple of examples.

As I write these thoughts, I am becoming aware that to many in the SMUS community this will come across as rather obvious, not much of an evolution – and probably one that has been slow coming. For others, this will appear new, and perhaps not even right. Furthermore, the process is not finished. We will continue to examine what we do, and how we do it, in the area of assessment as in every other aspect of the school, in order to make SMUS the best possible experience for the boys and girls, the young men and women, who are its students. We adore them, and it is their good that we seek.

Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.


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