A Celebration of Learning

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One of the schools I work at recently decided to try a new way of recognising student achievement. We are having an ongoing discussion about how to recognise achievement, when that might happen during the school year, and what that might look like as we move forward in the school year. While the discussion was initiated by me, the teaching staff are definitely willing to give something new a try. I think we all agree that Honour Roll assemblies and medals for Principal’s List, while motivating for some students and celebrated by parents, are not recognising the bulk of the students at our school.

Through my blog reading and following Twitter, I am aware of many discussions about this topic, and decided I would do my best to bring this to our staff team. I am also hoping that the discussions amongst staff will spread to other stakeholders in our community: students, families and extended community members.

Our first step this year was to have a Celebration of Learning assembly. Each teacher agreed to choose one month in the school year to bring something that students are learning to our monthly assemblies. The intent is that students, whether it is two partners or an entire class, will share something with the school. I made sure to let staff know that the parameters are wide open, as long as it is tied to something the students are learning in class. I was both please and surprised by the results of the first assembly.

Our oldest students were the first to present at the October assembly. Students came forward to recite poems on a Halloween theme, many of them by Edgar Allen Poe. I was pleased by the courage many students showed, reading or reciting aloud in front of their peers, parents, grandparents and a school trustee. One thought I had afterwards was that while everyone had a chance to present, the length of time it took to for all students to share their poem definitely watered down the power of the moment. Another surprise for me was the video their teacher chose to show as a wrap-up — a short animated clip that I did not have the opportunity to preview (note to self: preview all presentations in the future!). Many students enjoyed the clip, but the content was not appropriate for all ages, in my opinion.

A happy surprise was that another teacher made a last minute decision to put a video together of a project her class had just finished. Candid interviews on the topic of bullying, along with the “why’s” and “how’s” of dealing with the issue were spliced together. The culmination of the short presentation was a song, sung by the entire class, decked out in pink shirts. I did have the opportunity to preview this film, and it was a wonderful wrap-up to our first Celebration of Learning.

While our journey is just beginning, I feel like we have taken an important first step. I was able to share the rationale for beginning this process with some parents. Some of our teachers were able to see an excellent example by a passionate teacher of just the sort of initiative I was hoping for. I feel like it primed the pump for future conversations during the rest of the school year.