It’s a Celebration!: Why We Should Honor Achievements in the Classroom

My 40th birthday is in a couple of days, June 6th to be exact. I expected this to be a difficult time in my life as I don’t like accepting that I’m getting older (turning 30 involved a lot of crying!). It has been kind of the opposite; it has made me appreciate the cliche of “older and wiser”. It has also caused me to be celebratory in realizing this is exactly where I need to be in my life. 

I started thinking about this in terms of school and our students. Do we stop, pause, reflect, and celebrate their achievements, goals, and accomplishments in our classrooms? I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t do this nearly often enough. I wished I had taken more time to celebrate the students’ accomplishments in relation to their goals. 

Why We Should Celebrate Achievements in the Classroom 

One of the reasons we should encourage and utilize more celebrations in the classroom is that it builds stronger classroom culture. According to a study conducted by Virginia Farr at East Tennessee State University, it was reported that “Celebration is one strategy that has been used by educators to create a sense of community in the classroom.” Farr goes on to discuss that classroom celebrations caused more collaborations with students and created a sense of group solidarity. It really made the teachers and students feel like they were in this together. When they felt united toward a common goal, it made students start to rely on and trust each other as they moved forward in the learning process. 

Another reason Farr suggests that we should celebrate academic achievements in the class is that it increases risk-taking on the students’ part as they feel they are safe to do so. If students feel that, no matter what happens, they will be celebrated or given some positive feedback, they are more likely to try something new or different or include more creativity into their work. We see this all the time in writing instruction. Because of state mandates, we often put students in small writing boxes and limit their risk-taking because we want them to do well on state tests. Imagine if we taught writing while honoring their creativity and author’s craft, how much more we could get out of our student writers. 

Beyond classroom culture and risk-taking, Farr discusses other reasons why classroom celebrations were important: academic achievement, equalization of social status, class discipline, enjoyment of students, and finding joy and personal meaning in teaching. Imagine if we built our students up and encouraged risk-taking, what kind of writers would be sitting in the classroom.  

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Why We Should Celebrate Achievements During the Writing Process 

In her book Celebrating Writers, author Ruth Ayres discusses the important difference between celebration and publishing: celebration is about the writer and is done throughout the process but publishing is part of the writing process and is about the writing piece. She also points out the important messages that are sent to writers during the process of celebration. Here are a few that she discusses in her book: 

  1. The writer is more important than the writing. – We want the writer to see the growth and progress they are making through their writing piece. 
  2. Learning and growing writers are the ultimate goal. – Taking risks, playing around in the writing space, and testing conventions and grammar are all part of learning the writing process and getting students to know their own writer’s voice. 
  3. Everyone has a story to share. – It is imperative students learn they have a voice and story to share with the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean they become famous authors, but more about learning words have power. 

How to Celebrate Achievements in the Classroom 

In order to properly honor student achievement in class, teachers must make the time to do so during class. This can seem cumbersome to many as we are always faced with “We have so much to do!”, but I assure you that it can be done effectively. Here are some useful ideas on how to incorporate celebrations in class:

  1. At the end of the day – In Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s book 180 Days, the two teachers describe what their day (and year) looks like, which is very helpful for teachers to structure their class. They advocate for the end of each day to include a celebration of beautiful words or writing. The teacher, or students, would share their or a peer’s writing that really moved them. Sharing each other’s writing in this context can really boost a student’s self-esteem and encourage them throughout the writing process. 
  2. End-of-Unit Publishing Party – In this blog post from TwoWritingTeachers, author Beth Moore discusses several ideas on how to celebrate student writing at the end of a unit. One of her ideas, Writing Picnic, suggests students bring snacks and drinks to class, go outside or in the gym, spread out blankets, and have the students read their writing to each other. I would make the argument that you don’t have to wait until the end of a unit to do some of these activities. As we are trying to build student’s confidence and self-esteem throughout the process, taking a break to reflect and give each other positive feedback on the writing process is worth it. 
  3. Author Fair – At the end of the year, have students decorate their desk, or a table, with displays of their written work from the year. Invite parents, community members and other school personnel to attend and encourage them to ask the authors about their writings and their writing process. (From the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers)
  4. Badge System – Teachers can create or use a badging system based on standards or some other goals they want students to achieve. They can award students badges as they progress and master the writing process. The students can proudly display these badges on their desk, locker, cubby, etc. Teachers can also draw attention to students as they earn badges for an in-class celebration. For more on a badging system, click here. 
  5. Social Media Shout-Outs – As students are rocking it in class and through the writing process, ask the principal (or whoever runs the school Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) if you can post a shout out to the student on social media to showcase their outstanding work. Make sure that you have permission from parents first! 

Students need to take the time to measure and see the growth of their academic, and personal, lives through celebration. It is important they reflect on their life in your classroom. After all, they are only with you for one year, so stop, pause, and celebrate the lives and growth while you have them. 

How do you celebrate the writers in your classroom? You can connect with me on Twitter @shawnaeaston03 or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.

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