Awards and Advice: There Really is Joy in Helping Others

This year I made a conscious decision near the end of the school year to help my students to think outside of themselves. Six and seven year olds are usually all about self and being fair. It’s the developmental stage they are at. They have trouble thinking of others and how they might be feeling. (Truth be told, many adults do as well, but that is another post.)

We did several things at the very end of the school year worked especially well for this, but I’ll share a couple that I think are keepers.

Thinking About Next Year’s Class

We had a chat about how the students had felt when they were just coming into my classroom. What did they wonder? What were they worried about? What made them feel scared?

It was fascinating to listen to the fears each one had had. Many of their worries centered on what they should do, whether the “work” would be too hard for them and (this next one obviously loomed very large for some of the students) was the teacher mean? After the students eagerly shared all of their earlier concerns, I asked them whether they thought that next year’s class would have the same wonders. Yes! What would they want to tell next year’s class to help them understand our classroom, our routines and the expectations in grade one? Their answers came quickly.

The result is this video. I will be sharing it with my new students in a letter later this summer, and on the first day of school next year we’ll all watch it together.

Kids thinking outside of themselves. Kids helping kids. And feeling great because they could be the helpers.

What Are My Friends Good At?

The other highly successful thing I did this year was to have my students give awards to their classmates. This idea was the brainchild of Karen Lirenman and I followed her yearly routine very closely as I did this. I asked the children not to base the awards on academic subjects that their friends were good at, but instead to think of the personal qualities they had.  What made them special? I put each student’s name at the top of three awards to ensure that each student would get the same number of awards and then I randomly passed them out to students.  As the students finished doing one award, I handed them another one to do, so not everyone filled out the same number of awards, but everyone wrote at least one. They loved finding a private place in the classroom to think about and write out their observations. I was touched to see how thoughtful some of their comments were.  The students who wrote that their friends were “kind” or “stuck up for other people” or “helps me when I don’t know what to do” were so accurate in their assessment of their classmates.  I made a big deal that these were secrets and that even after they were given out, no one should know who had written them. I also filled out an award for each child, again based on their character and not their academic standing.

The students asked several times when it would be time to give them out. When the finally time came, I made a production out of each award, starting with “this award is given to someone who…” and then “this award goes to…” Each time the student receiving the award beamed with pride and their classmates (without my prompting) clapped and cheered. I have not been a big awards person over the course of my career, but it was far and away THE best award time of my career.  All the students were honoured for their strengths.  They all felt joy. It doesn’t get better than that. I’m indebted to Karen for sharing this idea and how she made it work in her classroom with me.

It occurs to me that we (well I in particular) need to take more time to celebrate these things in the classroom. It is so easy for me to be consumed with meeting curriculum outcomes, finding a way to support each child’s interests and helping my struggling readers that I fail to take time for these small, meaningful moments. My goal was to get the students to think of others, but both instances resulted in the students feeling better about themselves. There’s another lesson in that, isn’t there?