There is so much required of teachers, school leaders and schools that it can be hard at times to lift our heads above the parapet and smell the roses. There never ever seems to be enough time in the day, week, term or semester to complete all that needs doing. Young or old, new or experienced, teachers tend to be tired and exhausted. Added to that is the frustration of seemingly never ever completing all the tasks that need to be undertaken. The more one does, the more there seems left to do.
This can settle an air of despondency upon schools, taking from the positive atmosphere that should embrace our centres of teaching and learning. It manifests in there being less smiling between people, with lightness of spirit being absent. It can also happen that anxiety and academic focus reduces the quality of empathetic care which should be part of the school.
There are challenges about teaching but the work we do is not only essential; it should also be rewarding. Part of that joy comes from celebrating the accomplishments of students within individual classes and throughout the whole school.
Individual Student and Class Level Celebrations
* Offering recognitions for subject accomplishment by individuals, groups and the whole class. This might include notes on work, project sheets and so on. Stickers from both teacher and Principal reinforce pride children feel in tasks that are well done.
* Recognising efforts of children in extra-curricular activities (i.e. sport).
* Celebrating birthdays.
* Culmination of units of study by having a rounding activity (i.e. presentation) to which parents of children are invited.
* Reflecting positively within class the success of assembly items presented to the whole school.
* Celebrating the success of class ventures, for instance the growing of vegetables, the planting of a special tree, success in earning the school conduct or behaviour or class cleanliness award presented weekly or periodically by the unit leader or school principal.
* Placing stories of individual accomplishment or class success in the school newsletter onto the class link to the school’s website.
* Arranging through the school’s leadership team for media coverage of a quality presentation, practical project outcome, excursion success or similar.
* Arranging visits by parents to class to share the learning of children with them.
* Notes of congratulation about individual student success and accomplishment to parents. This is outside the formal reporting process.
* A personalising touch is to ask the school principal to consider writing notes of congratulation to students or classes who have cause to celebrate successful outcomes
Nothing succeeds like success. To recognise and reward student effort helps cement within children a keen desire to keep doing their very best. Tp appreciate and praise genuine effort and quality outcome is an invaluable intrinsic motivating strategy.
Celebrations at School Level
There is much that can be done to celebrate success at the whole school level. Success is a quality that can help bind the school community with a sense of togetherness which is both precious and scarce. Preoccupation with obligatory tasks and bending in response to system demands can mean that success and celebrations are overlooked. There is just no time to stop and rejoice together in accomplishments; but there should be!
Some suggestions for commemorating special outcomes and events follow.
* Consider having plaques created to mark areas of significance around the school yard that recognise people who have contributed. If the school has a caretaker, a plaque that personalises their abode is an example. Should someone create or donate a lovely garden area, an appreciative plaque naming the garden in their honour might be considered. If someone has been connected with the school for a long time, an honorary plaque or similar might mark their contribution.
* Honour boards to commemorate academic accomplishment, citizenship, musical prowess, house success into perpetuity in competitions and similar, are wonderful markers of school history. Students, growing into adults, will come back years later to revisit their successes marked on honour boards. Organisations and past school associates are often happy to sponsor the cost of boards and their annual engraving.
* Whole of school photographs taken annually and placed on walls for all to see, are wonderfully recall school history and participation of students. Present students like to visit the area where photos are mounted to see themselves as they pass up the grades and through the years. Secondary school students enjoy revisiting their primary school, to ‘remember’ themselves as they were. Years on, adults share a similar joy in viewing their past and remember the times of their childhood. Photos are great mementos.
Similarly, photos of staff and student representative councillors over the years bring with them positive reflections of past remembrances. These mementos live on for years, enabling schools to revisit their history. If schools ‘build on traditions’ this is a way of showing those who have involved with the school over time to the present day.
* Hold regular whole school assemblies which allow classes to share items with other classes, parents and invited persons.
* Over the years, school students as individuals and teams representing the school win trophies which are held by the school. Some schools choose to put trophies in boxes or cabinets to gather dust. Others have display cabinets which let visitors know about success in sport, arts and cultural events and in other activities. To have cups, shields and other artefacts on display sets an example to current students. It also sends a positive message to parents who come to enrol students.
* Celebrate school anniversaries. Holding school community events to celebrate schools turning 10, 15, 21, 30, 40 or 50 years of age makes an indelible imprint on present and past students. Anniversaries bring the school and community ‘together as one’.
* The completion and opening of new facilities is a great reason to celebrate the school. Upgrading the event to event filled gala day status can add to the specialness of the occasion. Media might be invited to attend and a print supplement in the local newspaper is possible. The striking of commemorative plaques to be permanently displayed adds an enduring touch.
* Media plays an important part in displaying schools. Using media to sell good news stories emanating from its students, classes and the organisation as a whole
affords a sense of pride in attainments. To share outcomes through media, print, TV or radio was something that I found stood schools and community in good stead.
Advising media of upcoming events, therefore using it promotionally is a good way of getting the message out. That goes a long way toward ensuring success through attendance.
* An extension of media, is to organise for the inclusion of supplements celebrating school anniversaries in local newspapers. These days supplements do not come cheaply, but can be underwritten by sponsors who carry congratulatory advertisements within the insert.
* Holding special assemblies for the presentation of key awards is a great school celebrating strategy. University of New South Wales certificate earners in Maths, Language, Computer Studies, Science and other subjects can be presented to those earning credits, distinction and high distinction awards in front of the whole school. It is a great idea to invite parents and relations of students to share in this celebration. A media story is possible.
* Holding an end of year awards presentation day or evening is a great way of culminating the school year. This can go down and include all primary school children from Transition upwards. Awards might recognise academic outcomes, effort and citizenship at each class level. Then the idea of primary awards for star students and stand-out seniors might be a part of the priogram. Having presenters of awards include key community members can add to the flavour of the evening.
Some schools ask that people or businesses within the community sponsor awards which they are invited to present during the awards program. The event is a great way of celebrating the year that is drawing to a close. It also builds anticipation toward a return to school after the long holiday break.
* A school yearbook, in print, on DVD format or available in both formats, offers an indelible memory of the year that has been. Yearbooks are great mementos. Again, costs can be defrayed through the offer of sponsorship opportunities to local families, businesses and notary public persons.
* Publicly recognising staff for contributions offered, awards received and so on is a way of offering intrinsic appreciation for enterprise and copmmitment. Quality staff members add great blessing to their schools. To show appreciation is a reciprocal action.
* Inviting key departmental personnel, notary publics and others to visit helps make the school known beyond its boundary fences. Having senior students accompany visitors around the school adds to the occasion for visitors value the chance to appreciate schools through the eyes and interpretation of students. This helps reinforce the fact that ‘schools are for students’.
The suggestions contained in this vignette are suggestions. There are many bother ways of celebrating and I have included only a selection. It is important that celebration is part of the school psyche. That is a way of building spirit and developing positive school atmosphere.