By Teachers, For Teachers
There are always plenty of things to critique or improve upon in a school and in the teaching profession, but we cannot let these monopolize our focus. We don’t have to look around very hard to recognize that there are plenty of elements to celebrate at school, too!
How can you make your school a school of celebration? Here are a few items you can focus on in the teaching profession to recognize and celebrate.
We all have to share the classroom. Just like in preschool when we learn to share our toys, as we continue to grow, we must learn to share the spaces we inhabit with others. How students behave in those spaces matters, since that behavior can either help or inhibit the learning meant to take place there. When you see students behaving in ways that contribute to the learning – rather than taking away from it – those are certainly worthy of recognition by those of us in the teaching profession.
Some students just put their all into what they do at school, and the results are fantastic. Do you have students who really submitted A++ work, nailed it on an assessment, were genuinely invested in their task, or added their creative twists into a project? Whether they perform outstandingly on one particular task or excel again and again in impressive ways, their achievements are deserving of praise.
What about those students who have tended not to excel all at once, but demonstrate concrete improvement over time? School is all about learning, so why not celebrate when students demonstrate they’ve learned? If you have a student who has earned lower scores on work and assignments but takes steps to improve her performance, then take a moment to recognize that improvement. Also make sure to recognize how students improved their performance and be sure to praise their efforts, not just their outcomes.
Regardless of the grade or outcome, sometimes we just have to praise students for the way they go about working together. When we witness our students banding together and having equitable contributions to the group’s outcome, we have the opportunity to recognize the steps they took to be a successful group. Whether it’s how they spoke to one another, how they each contributed, or how they each took ownership of their own and the group’s overall task, praising students for the way they went about working together reinforces the habits that will go on to make collaborative efforts effective.
Let’s keep an eye toward how students are excelling beyond the classroom, too. How might students be using their interests and talents in ways that help others? Perhaps they volunteer to help decorate the building. Maybe some students have leadership roles in their clubs. Maybe they took the initiative with a school program. Or perhaps they play a role in a community organization that helps the school or neighborhood. How are your students applying themselves beyond academics in ways that are worth recognizing?
In many ways, a school is like a family -- it’s fun to take a moment and let the students know that you’re aware of and proud of their accomplishments in all facets of their life. If students are on a victorious sports team, earn their Eagle Scout badge, have a great performance in their dance troupe, win a scholarship, extending the joy into the schoolhouse is a great way to reinforce our commitment to student’s life experiences. This is especially true for students who may not experience a high level of academic success – we are still proud of their interests and achievements!
I’ve said before that we don’t just want strong students … we want strong people. Not only do we want students to achieve in the classroom, but we want them to achieve at playing a role within the broader context of their community. How are they demonstrating good citizenship at school and beyond? This applies to the classroom, cafeteria, playground, bus stop, and even digital domains.
Of course, there are those predictable, celebratory moments that we can cheer for as well. When it feels like there’s no shortage of challenge and grief, it’s worth it to make sure those milestones are built into our calendars. How do we recognize students’ birthdays? Or what about that big moment when they get their driver’s license? Or when they lose a tooth in school? Or how about celebrating the 50th, 100th, and 150th day of the school year?
Other built-in calendar moments worthy of celebration are the “Appreciation Days” set aside for teachers, secretaries, principals, and everyone else in the building. We lean on these staff members so much, but often take for granted their work and their role. Make sure you plug these dates into your school calendar and help students, parents, and colleagues genuinely demonstrate their appreciation for their staff.
A school doesn’t necessarily have to focus on every single one of these elements. The more important question to ask yourself is, “Are we taking time to recognize and celebrate appropriate things in our school?” Those accomplishments, milestones, and victories in terms of both academics and character are important to recognize. When we show students we notice and are proud of what they’ve done, it helps reinforce their achievement and also shows them that we care.
How do you recognize and celebrate students and staff at your school in the teaching profession? Share with us your thoughts by leaving a comment below!
Jordan Catapano taught English for 12 years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an assistant principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s instructional development committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish.