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Whether you are in the classroom or behind a computer screen, celebrating the successes of our students is essential. At the end of a year, students have grown exponentially and have often forgotten where they started. Acknowledging persistence through exploration and practice is a sure-fire way to build student confidence. From art exhibitions to award ceremonies, celebrations are also important for advocacy and bringing closure to the school year.
End-of-the-year art exhibitions are not new to art teachers and students alike. How you set up your art exhibitions to highlight or celebrate your students is key. Depending on how many art students you have and your population, deciding who to showcase without leaving anyone out can be tricky. Creating a virtual art exhibition provides opportunities for even more artists to be celebrated. This method also provides access to audience members who can peruse from their couch.
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Moreover, how many times do you find out your student or parents can’t attend the reception because of other outside commitments? Virtual exhibitions allow us to connect with many more people than expected. Have your students choose their artwork to be showcased, send you or post a short video about their artwork and process. Giving your students a voice and outlet to explain their artwork is essential.
Even the smallest of gestures can carry the biggest impact. Celebrating students consistently builds their confidence as well as your artroom community. In the classroom or virtually, you can foster this community in a few different ways. One option is a formal presentation where the celebrated artist presents their work. Informally, students can “speed date” through a quick musical chairs-style activity with sticky notes. However it works for your classroom, it’s important to explain to students that they are not critiquing, but rather focusing on celebrations only.
These are different than critiques in that you are not looking for specific artistic feedback or areas of improvement on an artwork. Instead, you are looking at the student as a whole person both in their product and in their process. Remind your students what they are looking for in their peer artists. Making this more of a personal note to each other by starting it off as an endearing letter makes these celebrations treasured.
Ways to start a celebratory statement:
Writing on colorful strips of paper makes these notes precious for years to come. Students often collage these on their walls at home or create a special spot in their sketchbook to remember when they are feeling down about their artwork. Virtual posts through Padlet or Google Slides can be a great way for students to send kudos and connect with their art studio community. Whether physical or virtual, a warm fuzzy from your highly respected peers leaves a lasting impression.
Seniors, especially, are missing the closure of their special end-of-year events. Creating spotlights on your senior artists through social media provides an opportunity for them to individually shine among the entire school. When your principal retweets your student celebration, you can guarantee it will reach a wider audience than just your department followers.
Creating a template in Adobe Spark or Canva can help keep your workload down when you copy and paste students’ favorite memories, teacher-isms, or other notable mentions. You can collect standard information from students by creating a Google Form. Ask your artists to include a photo of themselves as well as a chosen artwork. This is a great way to connect the name (and artwork) to a face.
At my school, end-of-the-year award events are a huge deal. If you aren’t able to host an awards breakfast or exhibition in person, a virtual banquet or a YouTube celebration can still show off your hard-working artists. Creating a slideshow can help share achievements. Put it in an email home to students and parents, link it to your school homepage, or circulate it on social media. You might not be able to get those trophies out to each student this year, but you can create certificates for students to print off at home.
Remember to honor not only your outstanding drawing or digital art student, but also the teaching assistants who have helped you prep your artwork for display or organized your classroom when life got hairy. You might even be able to drop off envelopes with a gift card or a handwritten note to your school for students to pick up if there are supply dropoff/pickup hours in place. Perhaps your administration wouldn’t mind helping you out by mailing notes home directly to your students.
Holding a virtual awards banquet via Zoom or a live YouTube or Facebook event is a chaotic but amazing opportunity to see your students again, create closure to your school year, and ensure students are honored. Don’t forget to check with your district to ensure media protocols are being upheld.
However you choose to highlight your students’ achievements this year, celebrations will have an important place in closing out the school year. Not only do you want to make sure students who are moving on (seniors or 8th graders, for example) are celebrated for their hard work, but also that they transition with confidence and a sense of completion. While we may not be able to physically show our love for our students, considering the benefits and wide reach of virtual celebrations will remind you of the community you have built and continue to foster.
How do you plan to celebrate your students this year?
What tools and platforms do you find to make students feel the most recognized?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.