I must admit today is my birthday. Waking up to my kids excitement about me opening their gifts and making cinnamon rolls is a pretty nice way to start the day.

It seems like this is also the time of year for lots of other celebrations – Moms, Dads, Grads – certainly keeps the social calendar quite full.

What if schools took the time to celebrate the small, yet equally important accomplishments?

I’m not talking about the end of year classroom parties or school wide picnics. I’m talking about the times when a kid finishes their first chapter book. Perhaps it’s that time your 10th grader finishes a project they’ve poured their heart and soul into. Or it’s the first time your 4th grader comes home, empties out her backpack, and starts her homework without any instructions to do so. Those special moments are equally worthy of a celebration.

This applies to educators too.

Teachers are coming to the end of the school year having completed some form of new national testing – let’s celebrate the fact that PARCC and SBAC are done! But even on a much smaller scale – teachers are often asked to experiment with new instructional strategies that require additional time and energy; let’s celebrate that courageous step toward changing practice.

It’s really not about parties and presents but rather a pat on the back every once in a while. I’m mean look at those college football players – even big, tough, grown men love stickers for their helmets!

That is really what is at the heart of the concept of positive reinforcement.


I wonder how great our school and home cultures could be if we used positive reinforcement more often? The research out there indicates that the use of this strategy for changing behaviors can be widely successful. According to behavioral guidelines published by Utah State University, positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. This is especially successful when the reinforcement is provided enthusiastically – a.k.a. celebration!

One final thought…

One of my daughters’ teachers sent an email home this week to the parents of her students. She told a short story of an incident that occurred in the class where a student lost something very important to her. The rest of class was so comforting, reassuring, and kind to the one student. The teacher mentioned how proud she was of them and their behaviors.

As the parent of the little girl who lost the item I was delighted to see the reaction of her classmates. What a great testament to both the classroom culture that has been created throughout the year and to the student’s character development.

That’s the kind of celebration we all need – whether it’s our birthday or not.

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