As an educator, I have had so many moments that have taken my breath away; working with kids, we often find ourselves truly inspired. On Thursday, April 14th, 2011, I had the privilege of being inspired by every student at our school in a way that I can honestly say, had me leave the school that evening with a memory of the best day I have ever had as an educator.
The idea of Identity Day started at Forest Green School in Stony Plain, Alberta and was shared with the world by George Couros. I presented this idea to our staff in 2010 and they agreed that they would be willing to take a risk for kids and give the idea a try. Part of our school goal is to have our students “develop their unique talents and interests” so this idea felt like it was made for our school.
The idea behind Identity Day is that students create a project on themselves; there is no criteria, no grades, and no set topics. Students were encouraged to design a demonstration, video, powerpoint, slideshow, poster, display or anything that would help the audience to learn something about them. (see Prezi on Identity Day here). The idea was that each student and staff member would present in a way that shared a talent or interest about themselves.
Students were given about a month to prepare their projects along with some class time. Families were encouraged to be involved and those students that struggled were given extra support from older students and staff members. After presenting to each class, I was not sure how the day would go (whenever I bring a different idea/event to the school, I get nervous about the result); there was not a whole lot of interest a few weeks before… but when students began to bring in their projects a few days prior, we could feel a huge buzz in the school. Kids were bringing in Lego, pictures, books, posters, stuffed animals, sports memorabilia and equipment – the students were beaming with pride about their projects.
The day of our fair was nothing short of brilliant. Each class hosted the other classes at one point during the day. Kids were so excited to teach
others about what was important to them! We had students bring in all sorts of animals (including a goat!) as well as so many things that were meaningful to the students and staff. They presented and taught others everything from “stuffies” to “animals” to “sports teams” as well as things more personal like “things I like” to “my family”.
It is so difficult to put the day in words; you had to be in our school to truly get a sense of the pride and excitement in our students. Our school was full of parents, community members and students all genuinely interested in each other. I learned more about our students in one day than I do in an entire year!
Because of Identity Day, I can now approach any child in the school and have a conversation about something in which they are interested. In the past week, I have stopped students to ask about dance, Lego, their family, and various sports. What better way to have students proud of who they are than to have them showcase…. who they are!
Every child has a gift; it is up to us, as educators, to create the environment that encourages the student to develop this strength and passion. Identity Day is one example of the many things we are trying to do at Kent School to help children find their gifts. If you have any questions on bringing Identity Day to your school, please comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mrwejr.
I want to thank the students, families and staff of Kent Elementary for their outstanding efforts. Also, thank you to George and his school for the idea and the encouragement to bring something truly amazing and inspiring to our school.
Here is a video that includes a few of the projects from Kent’s version of Identity Day:
This another example about how effective schools ignite student passions, interests and ability through relationships. It is important for schools to recognize students for who they are – not who someone else expects them to be.
Congratulations for trying something new for the sake of the students.
Chris, what a great post. I recently read about the Identity Day and was intrigued. Our school has done a talent show for the past two years. We have a great turnout of students and parents and it is non-competitive (i.e. no judges or losers) and everyone who competes “wins”, but only about 1/2 of our kids are up on stage. What I like about the Identity Day is that it celebrates all students “uniqueness” and brings the whole school and community together. I am going to bring it forward for next year. Thanks for sharing!
Awesome buddy! A great day for kids and more evidence of why educators should network. This great idea that came from my staff and students that I just had the opportunity to share . I am glad it has impacted your kids and community in a powerful way. Thanks for sharing your day with the world. Hopefully evidence such as this gives more credibility to the idea of openly sharing!
Thanks for sharing this Chris. Many years ago one of our staff members brought forward an activity she identified as “Bag of Me”. The premise was simple enough in that she had a large gift bag that contained personal items related to her life. As students selected an item from the bag she explained the significance of the item in her life. This paid great dividends in fostering relationships with her students and others on staff took up the idea.
Thank you for sharing this success! I have heard of doing identity boxes/bags in a class but never on this scale. What a great way to celebrate the individuals in your school!
Thanks for sharing Chirs. What a fine example of showing kids we value them for who they are. This is also a catalyst for kids to not only build relationships with teachers but with other kids.
To quote my favorite Keven Henkes book “All she could say was Wow!”
Thanks for sharing this day, Chris. What a wonderful way to have students share what is important to them as individuals. I think I’d like to propose this to my administrators and see what they think!
So cool. I shared this post with some teachers at my school. I hope we can try this out too!
It might be useful if you share some of the planning that occurred to make this successful.
Thank you for sharing.
I’m so glad you shared this and I came across it. I can see how a project like this could have long-lasting impact on a student’s educational future. Just great. And timely for me, as I’ve been immersed lately in research on the role of identity development in my own subject area, music education. Allowing students to express individual creativity is something my field can struggle with. Thanks again.
George influenced my school too. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It’s already on our schedule for next year. We send the project information home during the summer with their classroom placement letter and they bring their boards in the second week of school. I still get chills thinking about how proud the students were and how interested the teachers were!
I really enjoyed visiting the school and talking to all the kids about their interests – sometimes they were interested in surprising things! I just wish I had had more time that day to look at more projects. I think a highlight was when I talked to a grade six boy I didn’t know about his interest in minerals. That was a neat way to get to know a child I may not have ever met otherwise. Kids seem to open up when asked about something they are genuinely interested in.
Chris, congratulations on pulling this off so successfully in your school.
I’m not going to echo everyone else’s comments about wanting to do it in their school, but I will grab a megaphone (anyone still use those?) and propose that we plan a province-wide (or bigger) identity day in schools next year. What a great way to raise the profile of the great programs and educators in our network and give all kids the opportunity to share who they are.
Thank you, Chris, for taking a risk and trying something that was so engaging for our students. I hope that you will share the highlights of Identity Day at our Public Forum this evening on 21st Century Learning. Congratulations to you, your staff and students! Well done.
What a great idea… students and teachers being able to learn more about each other and to also be able to share, with pride, what they value in their lives. Love the video and ‘familiar’ background music! 🙂
This is awesome!! Our Identity Day is on Thursday, and I can’t wait. You can already hear the buzz around our school. I’d love to share your Prezi and video with the staff and students at my school. Are you okay with that?
Thanks Chris for sharing all of the amazing Identity Day Projects!
Thanks so much for the positive feedback! I have put out a survey and it seems like (no surprise) that it is something we want to do either every year or every couple of years. I love Kyle’s idea of making this a province wide idea – as long as they don’t make it part of the curriculum and start grading it! 🙂
Hey Chris. Great idea. I’ll propose it to my school as well.
In FSL, the word is to have students use French to talk about themselves. This has long been recognized as motivational.
As for the lack of criteria…. This goes against all the “teacher training” I’ve seen. Having said that, any outlines I give become the borders that limit students. I now simply ask for them to “surprise me.” More often than not, the surprise is a very pleasant one for both of us.
Reading your post and watching your video gave me goosebumps. I am doing Identity Day on Tuesday, May 17 with a different twist. I have partnered with three other 4th grade teachers in different states. I created an Edmodo group for us all to join and all of our students have been posting thoughts and questions to the group. We will be Skyping with the other classes on the day to share our passions. Can’t wait to see how this plays out.