Winter Solstice is a time of reflection as we appreciate what darkness brings and celebrate the return of the light, through longer days. After years of not being able to gather together and celebrate the changing seasons and other holidays, the opportunity to do so this year sparked a greater appreciation in doing so. It also allowed me to reflect deeply on what is truly important and what I will choose to focus on during 2023.
In reflecting on celebrations, I thought of June, the end of the school year for us here in Ontario. What a joyous, transitional time for us to celebrate our school year, our students’ success and ready ourselves for a time of rest and relaxation as we anticipate summer break.
The past three “Junes” were not quite the same as what we’re used to. Although this year, we will not likely endure drive-by graduations, individual photo-ops, social distanced chairs or other modified year end celebrations keeping us more than just physically apart; It is hoped we will finally be able to celebrate the successes of our students, together, in ways we have in the past.
This opportunity to gather and celebrate student resilience and growth should be a celebration in and of itself. Perhaps though, the pause button during the peaks of the pandemic combined with the COVID-19 restrictions we were following, may also provide us with the opportunity to consider the past celebrations and rethink how we view student success and what we choose to highlight, honour and celebrate.
Last June, as the music teacher, I was asked to select one grade six student to acknowledge for their individual music achievement. To many, it seemed a simple enough task. Selecting the student who obtained the highest achievement or grade, showed the greatest improvement, was determined most valuable, or was the hardest worker were some suggestions to narrow down the recipient.
But still I struggled. And in the end because I could not choose just one student, a music award was not given.
Like many good teachers, I had spent the better part of the school year encouraging cooperation, interdependence and group success; I promoted group interaction and dialogue. And by the end of the year, my students, for the most part, became a unit. A group. A community. They were a community of learners: Where everyone tried their best; Where each student improved in some way; Where every single student felt valuable; And many attained high grades.
Students supported and helped one another. In my eyes that was the success. What else could I want from a heterogeneous group of eleven and twelve year olds from varying backgrounds, strengths, challenges, and capacities? A community of learners. Could our year end celebrations recognize the collective success of students rather than honour only those whose individual achievements stand out? What message do we want to send our learners as they move into the world and become our future leaders? That of individualistic achievement and getting ahead of another or do we want to emphasize the sense of community, collaboration, collective growth, and group wisdom?
As we move into 2023, and old traditions reemerge, I will continue to reflect on and challenge our traditions, their origins, and the messages they send by asking myself:
Whose philosophies are these practices built upon? Whose worldview do they highlight? Do my current practices and past traditions align with my teaching philosophy, classroom makeup and community values? I urge you to pause and ask yourself the same.