Why host a whole-school exhibition?

Providing an arena for powerful family feedback

sharing STEAM projects with familiesSchool exhibitions take work. They take work to organize, schedule, promote and pull off, and they can feel overwhelming from the teacher side. But they also provide a very specific opportunity for students to stand proudly next to the results of all their hard work and say, “Yes. I did this.”

And that can be the best time and place for families to hear the pride in their student’s voice.


What happens when the whole school exhibits work on one night?

We harness the power of student voices in the building.

An important outcome of inviting parents and community members into the school building, is that they can sense the agency of its students. I can think of many times that I’ve been my children’s school to see their work; after all, sharing student work is a necessary part of building community and support for our schools.

In fact, for two hours on a snow-laden Thursday night at Manchester Elementary Middle School in southern Vermont, I couldn’t hear a thing above the din of student voices.

When students know from the inception of a project that they will be sharing it with an authentic audience, they feel excited and driven. Inviting a real audience into school to witness student work brings a sense of purpose to the students. After all, it’s exhilarating to talk about your thinking, your successes and challenges with real humans; most kids are used to just sharing with the teacher. Bringing an audience into school can create motivation within students to shine and do their best. It allows kids to feel important and that people care about their work.


Let’s not forget the added bonus of a school exhibition night – parents are in the building listening to their children talk about their work. Hopefully, those parents and community members are “getting all the feels” over seeing proud students and accomplished work. Most times, that’s some necessary positive PR for schools. For instance, some seventh graders at MEMS designed and built homemade wind turbines.

That’s right, wind turbines.

After many weeks of research, design, iteration, and consultation with wind energy experts, these students are displaying their working (mostly) wind turbines that are generating energy.

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Speaking of pride, did anyone see the looks on the parents’ faces?

They look pretty pleased and satisfied. In this room of wind turbines, parents view their children with awe and wonder. The looks on their faces say: Wait, you did this?

Yes, Dad. I did this.

This may be the most critical outcome of a school exhibition night: this moment of connection between parent and child.

I’d like to argue that the collection of those single moments of bonding are worth all of the effort. Because pulling together an exhibition night is work for a school and its teachers. It’s work and tons of effort. But let’s remember why we do it: to give our students an opportunity to shine with pride, to show student agency to our community, and to give families a precious minute of connection in this hurried world.

That’s why we host school exhibition nights.

What feedback have you gotten from families about school exhibitions?

Rachel Mark

Rachel Mark joins the Tarrant Institute as a Professional Development Coordinator in the southern part of Vermont. Prior to working with TIIE, Rachel was a middle school literacy and social studies teacher at Tarrant partner school Manchester Elementary-Middle. As a teacher, Rachel loved exploring new content and new methods with inquisitive young adolescents. She thinks middle schools are the most dynamic learning centers in the state. Rachel is passionate about supporting teachers and helping them overcome obstacles; it’s her mission to break down the barriers that teachers face in implementing change. She is interested in student reflection and portfolio based assessment, inquiry and project-based learning When she's not reading, researching and supporting teachers, Rachel loves to play. She balances her life shuttling three busy kids around by getting sweaty and zen - yoga, exercise, and being outdoors are how she recharges her metaphorical batteries.

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