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Educational leaders often bemoan the state of celebration in their organizations. For some, the problem is their tendency to solve a problem, meet a challenge, complete a crucial project, or achieve a key milestone, and then move immediately to the next urgent item on the organizational agenda. For others, it’s that celebrations don’t seem to resonate with people in the organization, so their impact is diminished. For others still, it’s the fear that celebration will be read as a signal that success has been achieved, so there is no need to continue focusing on and investing in future efforts.

We could tolerate any of these problems if the lost power and opportunities associated with organizational celebrations were not as great as they are. When we don’t engage in strategic celebration, we fail to tap a crucial culture and capacity-building leadership action. As a result, we miss the opportunity to focus organizational attention, marshal key resources, build commitment, and create a sense of connection.

In fact, celebrations are to organizations and organizational performance what feedback is to learners and learning. Tweet this We know the power of feedback to learners and learning (see Hattie, 2008). Celebrations can tap this same energy at the organizational level to accelerate progress, increase focus, and build momentum.

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Let’s examine the parallels between these two powerful processes of feedback and celebration:

  • In the same way that feedback must be frequent if it’s to be accepted and used, organizations need frequent celebrations for participants to feel comfortable engaging in the activity and focusing on the highlighted milestone.
  • Similar to good feedback, the celebrated topic, behavior, or accomplishment needs to be specific and connected to key priorities, commitments, and challenges faced by the organization.
  • Like good feedback, celebrations need to be timely so that the work or issue is still on the minds of those participating in the celebration.
  • Drawing from what we know about powerful feedback, celebrations need to be genuine from the perspective of participants. Attempts to manipulate will quickly backfire and undermine trust.
  • Paralleling good feedback, impactful celebrations should focus on what has been done and what needs to be done to reinforce efforts made and the work remaining to be accomplished.
  • Like good feedback, effective strategic celebrations need to be actionable. We can recognize fortuitous events, but the power of celebration is in the power and invitation to replicate what has been accomplished, redouble current efforts, or take on the next key challenge or opportunity.

When these elements are present in our organizational celebrations, we reinforce the culture we want to build, inspire participants to commit, create a sense of belonging, focus energy, and reinforce the importance of the mission we share. Far from sending a signal that the work is done, good celebrations ready everyone to move forward together to meet challenges and take advantage of the opportunities ahead.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Thought for the Week

AI can teach and share knowledge, sure, but it lacks the key elements of human modeling, nurturing, and connecting that are essential components of a comprehensive learning process.

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