Party Planning? Ugh.

Party planning. At those two words I can feel the stress begin to creep into my neck, the sweat starts rolling, I can feel the anxiety begin. This has always been the most dreaded part of being an elementary teacher for me. Until last year.


I am extremely lucky to work with some crazy smart, thoughtful people. Last year, one of these wonderful colleagues told me he and his class plan parties using the key concepts. This has been a complete game changer. It not only gives the students agency and a feeling of ownership, it helps them gain a deeper understanding of how we use the key concepts throughout our life (plus the added bonus of taking the dreaded party planning out of my hands).


For example, our recent Valentine’s Day party was planned by students using the key concepts. They asked to work in small groups and think through the concepts before they shared out whole group. They thought of the different perspectives of the people involved (“students, families, school”),  function (what and where things were going to happen), and my personal favorite causation (“so we can show our love for one another”), among others. After much discussion, they decided that reflection and change should be done after the party. There was some disagreement here because, “Reflection should be happening all the time, though!”, and “Change will be going on during the party, not just before and after!”. But, the majority won out in the end to wait.


My responsibility was to send a note to families with an invitation to join us and to let them know the responsibility their student had signed up for. I was also responsible for writing each student’s name on a paper and to provide heart-shaped post-its so their peers could write compliments to each other. This, I could handle!


The students that signed up for music brought a karaoke machine with lights and fun music. Three students planned challenges to do during dance breaks. Cookie decorating was done by some as they watched their peers floss, Fortnite, and do the worm. Families chatted, ate, and a few learned the newest dance craze. Clean-up was a breeze because it was understood that “It’s part of responsibility!”.


Needless to say, this year party planning doesn’t cause me anxiety like before. I know that my 9-11 year-olds have it under control. They have genuine ownership in their party and are developing so many skills as they plan collaboratively. I encourage you to try this approach (even if you don’t break out in a sweat at the idea of a party!).

Key Concepts


Student Agency?

This year in the interest of student agency, I opened my room to my students. They have access to all the cabinets and supplies. We have alternative and free-choice seating. Students make their own schedules. We honor and support student-led action. Students build criteria for their learning and even for their play. We hold class meetings (ala Sudbury) every day to share problems and get solutions from peers.  

But even as I think of the wonderful things students are doing and the amazing conversations we have had, I know that it is nowhere near enough. The furniture, cabinets and supplies are in the places I chose them to be, and I can always take the right away (and have) if they aren’t respecting the space. Their schedules follow my timeline and they must work on things I have chosen (“but they can pick the order they do things!”). They build criteria for summative assessments my colleagues and I have created. We hold class meetings and they frequently look to me to call on them so they can share their thoughts.

Is this student agency? Or a version of it? How do I balance the requirements of my district and the interests of my students? How do I convince administrators, colleagues, and parents that we should give students the chance to follow their interests and have true agency? How do I support learners in their journey without taking their choice away? Most importantly, do I have the courage to do what I think is right and rebel against this system?

What are ways you have tried to honor student voice and conquer the doubt this journey creates?