“Celebration is to the culture of a school ‘what the movie is to the script, the concert to the score, and the dance is to the values that are difficult to express in any other way.’”[i]
We all know how important good communication is in a school community. And we know how difficult achieving it can be. We all have the stories. The authors of Learning by Doing suggest that one powerful tool for communication is often overlooked and underutilized. The tool? Celebration – regular public recognition.
To celebrate is to extol, honor, commend, praise, show gratitude or appreciation, remember, or recognize through the use of rites or ceremonies, formal or informal, planned or spontaneous. Recognize comes from the Latin “to know again.” Public recognition reminds the learning community what they value. Engaging in joyful or playful or solemn celebrations has the potential of weaving members of the learning community together around shared purpose and growth toward fulfilling that purpose.
“When admiration and appreciation are repeatedly expressed, organizations create a culture of ongoing regard that sustains effort because such language is “like pumping oxygen into the system.”” [i]
What is celebrated is, in part, context specific. Each learning community must identify their values and common commitments and keep track of progress toward fulfilling them. Public recognition can be a powerful tool for marking and even making progress. Celebrating short-terms wins has the potential of undermining the resistors and “building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters and reluctant supporters into active helpers.”[iii]
Actions, practices, or behaviors related to common commitments regarding student learning should be the primary focus of celebrations. To be effective, it is important to make a clear link between the act of recognizing and what is being recognized. Generic praise is an ineffective communication tool. While there may be appropriate times to recognize individuals, where possible, that individual’s contributions should be linked to team efforts. The learning that we are most concerned with is that of the young people in our learning spaces, but teachers need to be continuous learners as well in order to facilitate student growth. When we celebrate teacher learning it should always be linked to its contribution to student learning.
While school leaders may take the lead in creating space for celebration, they should not be the only ones deciding what to recognize. A positive impact on student growth is the responsibility of the whole community so the whole community should be alert to recognizing and identifying those practices, actions or behaviors that contribute to student growth. Celebration is the responsibility of every member of the learning community.
The ways we can celebrate are only limited by our collective imagination. The point is to keep purpose in mind and to be intentional. Everyone may agree that celebrating is an important tool in building and sustaining a collaborative culture, but it will likely not become an integral part of the way the community works together without a plan. Learning communities need to be intentional about creating space for regular celebrations.
[i] Terrence Deal and Allen Kennedy in Corporate Cultures quoted in “Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in “The Learning System” NSDC Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5.
[ii] Kegan & Lahey, 2001, p. 102 as quoted in Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37
[iii] Kotter, J. “The eight step process.” quoted in Tools for learning schools, p. 3. Fall 2013, Vol 17, No. 1 Learning Forward: Oxford, OH.
Armstrong, A. “Celebrate professional transitions and successes to drive and sustain implementation” in Tools for learning schools. Fall 2013. Vol.17, No. 1. Learning Forward:Oxford, OH.
DuFour, R.,DuFour, R.,Eaker, R. & Many, T. Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37-41.
“Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in The Learning System. Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5. NSDC :Oxford, OH. P. 4-5.
elaine brouwer, alta vista