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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Is There a Place for Every Student to Shine in Your School?

Recently I saw a student shine in a way I had never seen him shine before. It was on the playground and it was an atypical event--an event that shed light on this child's needs, interests, and strength. He shined.

That made me think about the question, Is there a place in our school for every child to have the opportunity to shine, and how do we make that visible?

There was a time when a few shined in schools and those few got awards, and then we moved away from that to a time when we gave every child a trophy as we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. As I think about this, I think we have to extend our awards deeply and broadly so that we recognize every child in a way that matters.

So far, I can think of may ways that children shine, but we don't necessarily highlight that success. Children shine in STEAM events when they tirelessly test, revise, test, and revise all the while using good strategic thinking about how to make something better in order to solve a specific problem. Children shine in reading when they read lots of books with depth and understanding--those children typically ask great questions, laugh out loud while they are reading, seek more titles, and write great responses. Children shine in math when they synthesize math concepts, discover patterns, demonstrate connections, ace math assessments, and solve big problems in multiple ways.

Where else do children shine in your school?

At our school, students shine in all of these areas:

  • choral presentations
  • school assembly presentations and leadership
  • art projects
  • instrumental presentations
  • project work
  • sports triumphs and success
  • gardening
  • helping others
  • service learning
  • school plays, open houses, project presentations
There are probably so many other areas where children shine, and as I think of this, I realize that this would be a great question for a school staff to brainstorm as they think about holistic teaching and learning.

We recognize students' success in the following ways:
  • service learning certificates
  • grades on tests
  • award ceremonies in some areas
  • verbal and written acknowledgements
  • badges
  • report cards
As I think of the ways we recognize students, I note that the list is small and I wonder if the list should be longer. Should we be recognizing students more often in ways that matter? If so, how would we do that and when?

And as I think about this topic, I'm wondering about students that rarely to never get recognized or receive awards or acknowledgement--who are these students?

Students who struggle with traditional academics may not receive as much positive response as students who have ease with academics. Further students whose families cannot support passion-based extracurricular activities may not have the chance to receive awards or acknowledgement in other areas too. How does this affect these students? Should we make it a point to find a way to acknowledge and develop at least one strength in every child during the year? If so, how might we do this?

Years ago I recommended that a local Award Ceremony change their focus from acknowledging a few best students to acknowledging a best trait, interest, accomplishment of every student in the small group the ceremony represented. For example I thought they could give a book prize that represents the child who is the best historian, mathematician, reader, writer, problem-solver, scientist, inventor, naturalist, and so on. I know that if we nurture these seeds of greatness early on, children are more likely to become great--to recognize a part of themselves that stands out and is worth attention.

I want to think more about this focus--what would you add? What do you do to acknowledge and nurture the strengths of each and every child in your school? Are there children in your school that go uncelebrated or, even worse, constantly barraged by criticism rather than elevated by support? 

This is the kind of question a faculty could have a really good discussion about--a question that would lead to betterment. 

Let me know what you think.