What do we celebrate?

Perhaps there should be an adage–what we celebrate, gets done.

The issue of celebration has been cropping up lately, both in discussions on campus and in my extended network.

When we are doing something well in our district classrooms or libraries, is that being celebrated within the district (as well as without?) 

We celebrate the visible things, like winning teams or competitions, academic test scores, etc.   But are we celebrating equally our daily academic successes?  Are we celebrating lessons that work, transformative uses of technology tools to deepen understanding, a classroom that has struggled and is now finding its way intellectually?

And if we are, are we celebrating it somewhere accessible to our students, parents, other teachers and the general public?   Are we celebrating the joy of teaching and learning?

In his presentation today at Learning 2.0–A Colorado Conversation, Dan Maas, CIO at Littleton Public Schools Schools, pointed out that in education, we typically reward success and punish struggle, when in fact, we should be rewarding struggle.  He believes that the struggle is what leads to the success, and consequently should be considered as consequential.

His point led me to wonder what it would look like for a school campus or a district to really feature learning–not the final end products of a project, or the awards, but the learning.   And what would it do for a school’s culture when  learning was celebrated?

I’m imagining a school newsletter or website or video interview with a teacher or student each month talking about learning and teaching–describing a particular success or struggle in the classroom.   I’m envisioning professionals sharing their thought process as they work through a difficult unit, and the things they consider as they do so.   I’m pondering what it would be like to hear a student analyze how they approach their own learning, or why some classroom activity was particularly powerful for their learning.   

Part of why people don’t understand what education is “like” or what teachers do, is because we don’t engage our public in the deeper conversations about what we do, particularly sometimes in our own districts.  Blogging helps with this a great deal, but only when a blog is really a significant piece in the district’s website.  

I also think this idea of celebrating both academic successes and struggles extends far beyond the “public face” of it.  It has to be an embedded belief in a school or district.   There has to be a level of trust so that people can share their struggles and so they know that the real classroom successes are valued beyond any one assessment score.

One of the best examples of this I can think of is when the Science Leadership Academy was struggling last year with their 1:1 laptop implementation.

Chris Lehmann wrote a blog post about the problem (students using chat too much) and how they were having honest, schoolwide(including with students) discussions about the problem, and how they were working it out.   Embedded in his blog posts were the beliefs I write about–a trust in both the students and teachers, a belief in the students as partners in the solution, and a trust that he could share their struggles openly and not be concerned that the district would impede their process at their campus.   The campus is built around these open types of conversations, it was clear.   We all learned by reading about their struggle and their process, but what we learned most of all is how this school is centered around learning as a core of its very being.

So, the other consequence of celebrating these struggles and successes is that our communities come to know that we are seriously engaged in what we do.   Imagine the increased trust that engenders with parents and community members when they know we are really about learning at a deep level.   And imagine what a better understanding the general public gains of what we do in all of our schools when we celebrate and share our stories about learning. 

4 thoughts on “What do we celebrate?

  1. Carolyn,
    Great Post. Celebrating the process almost never happens. We always reward and celebrate the final product. This happens as a theme in our society.
    What I have found to be successful…
    I explain to students “why” we are doing certain activities. I teach Science to 2-5 graders. Even with their young age, I feel that it is important not only to tell them “why” they are learning what they are learning, but “why” I am teaching the way I am teaching. Getting the students involved in my thought process begins to get them involved in the teaching process. Students begin to feel as if they are teachers also. They have an honest inside perspective as to the questioning aspect of teaching and learning. The process has been emphasized rather than the end product. The students have become more interested in how they learn as well as what they learn. Just as I question ideas, students are open to question ideas.
    Last week, a 5th grader decided to question “why” we were coming up with ideas to fix the beach erosion problem in Ocean City, MD, if Ocean City had already began fixing the problem. This began a 10 minute discussion with the class. Instead of sounding like a group of 5th graders talking about a topic, they sounded as if they were a group of envirnmental/geologic engineers discussing land conservation and ethics. It was a powerful 10 minutes.
    To sum things up…
    Until teachers make the process important, we will continue to celebrate the end product.

  2. Carolyn:
    This is so easy to forget in the day to day process of trying to “complete” everything in a school year. We tend to celebrate the grades and the end products. The more I read these types of posts, the more it sinks in for me. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll have to go take a look at the Ustream if it was saved.

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