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  • Laura Sarsten & Pam Koutrakos


This post is written by teachers Laura Sarsten and Pam Koutrakos.

We celebrate to lift one another, ourselves, and our work to places we did not know we could go. Significant or small, celebrating the journey along with our students allows everyone to slow down, reflect, honor, and simply acknowledge our efforts. We realized that once we began developing a more mindful presence, our celebrations took on a new deeper meaning. It is important to not only celebrate at the end of the unit when students’ finished products are published and polished, but also spend time living in the moment of the unit and acknowledging the work along the way. By recognizing the journey, we can inspire and encourage our students to be more present in their learning processes rather than being fixated only on the end results. When we celebrate along the way, we “fuel up” for what’s ahead making the voyage to accomplishment worthwhile and joyful.


In fifth grade, every few weeks, we participate in an exchange of notebooks and we have the privilege of walking through each other’s thoughts, ideas, and questions that are so thoughtfully stored in our journals. During this process, my notebook also gets exchanged and students write feedback and comments to my work as well. This small gesture shows that I am not a superior to them, but I am seeking their reactions and recommendations too.

We also participate in publishing parties that engage students in celebrating their own successes, acknowledging one another’s growth, reflecting on the process, and take time to value what they will carry with them. During our recent publishing party, while we were sharing our informational research reports, I also wanted to make sure that not only were the students displaying their finished products, but also recognizing their struggles and transformations as writers. By using reflection questions on each table, students engaged in thoughtful dialogue on the unit’s work and process before sharing their pieces. Some questions included, “It seems that when we learned about cohesion, and how it can influence our writing, it really connected to us as writers. Why do you think that was such an important lesson for all of us? How can we use it in our future work?” or“During this unit you determined what your “writing life-work” each night would be. How did determining your own way to move your piece forward help you become a more self-directed writer? How can this help you in your future writing endeavors?” These are a few ways in which we can convey the message to them, “Your work matters!”


Hearing about the reading workshop celebrations Laura was doing with her 5th grade class was inspiring. In third grade, there is a strong emphasis on bolstering student ownership of reading lives. We promote playfulness and risk-taking in reading notebooks. Students set lofty personal goals for each unit of study and work diligently towards these goals. It was definitely time we paused and celebrated these efforts!

In order to prepare for our first reading notebook share, I asked students to look back to the goals they set for themselves in this unit. Each reader then flipped through their recent notebook work and found entries they felt were indicative of their efforts towards these goals. The students marked these pages with post its. At the start of our notebook share, students took a few minutes to jot WHY they chose these particular notebook entries. The power of these reflections was overwhelming: students valued their own work and accomplishments without looking for teacher approval. It became clear that the daily work students put in over the course of the unit was for themselves, not for recognition from their teacher.

Then, we began our “sharing rotations.” Students first visited their reading partner’s notebook. Partners read reflections and looked through marked notebook pages. Each student left celebratory compliments for their reading partner. We repeated this process two more times. This notebook share gave students a chance to support one another and recognize the remarkable learning happening all around the classroom.

At the end of our celebration, each class member took a moment to share their reactions to this experience. This feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The celebratory reflection students took part in had a lasting impact: many students felt inspired by their classmates’ creativity and determination. The overall level of classroom notebook work has been elevated as a result of taking the time to reflect, celebrate, and share together.

We very much believe some of the best learning & celebrating often happens with others. Celebrating together helps honor student choices and sets students up to learn with and from one another. We invite you to celebrate the everyday moments when students surprise us and surprise themselves. We also encourage you to create celebratory experiences to allow students to soak in their successes and cheer on others. We would love to hear how you recognize and promote celebration in your classroom.

When you celebrate what you’ve accomplished, you raise the bar for what comes next. . . .

Laura taught 5th grade in Hohokus, NJ and is now a literacy consultant for Gravity Goldberg, LLC. She can be reached at or on Twitter @laurasarsten7.

Pam taught 3rd grade at Hillside School in Allendale, NJ and is now a literacy consultant for Gravity Goldberg, LLC. She can be reached at, or on Twitter @PamKou (professional account) and @MrsKoutrakos (classroom account).

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