As teachers, we diligently work to create and sustain a community of engaged learners who support one another. Within the walls of any academic institution and among the students, community is a premium and is often the conduit to creating a space that allows for critical thinking, authentic discussion, and productive failures.
A strong classroom community creates a space for academic risk and personal success. It’s why I spend not the first weeks but the first months of any school year focusing on building and nurturing community. So much so that at one point I began to wonder why I was bearing all of the responsibility and burden for the success or failure of the community. Why was this boulder never quite reaching the summit, and why was I, alone, Sisyphus?
It dawned on me that the strength of any community is the ability of its members to nourish, sustain, and build from within. It was time to flip the script. Enter Pod Days. At its core, Pod Days is a simple concept—students celebrate one another for no other reason than being a member of the classroom community.
Making Pod Days Work
Divide the class into groups of at least three—ideally, four to six. This is a pod. Each member of each pod then claims one day of the semester as that member’s Pod Day. No two members of any one pod may have the same day. Each pod then records its various days to a master document for which all students have editing privileges. I find the easiest is a Google Doc with a table.
Once the dates have been selected, it’s entirely the pod’s responsibility to let me know the day before a celebration is scheduled. As a teacher, I’m responsible for making this celebration time sacred and adjusting the curriculum accordingly. I try to stick with the two-by-two rule: no more than two celebrations per class and no celebration longer than two minutes.
On that specific day, the pod celebrates one of their own. The reason? Well, it’s their day, and being a member of the class community is worthy of celebration.
Celebrations, typically, take the form of standing and honoring the pod member. A celebration can include kind words and gifts; however, nothing may be bought from a store, and any gift must be homemade. An exception may be ingredients needed to bake a treat or to create an art project. A crux of Pod Days is that the celebration must be tailored to that specific pod member.
For example, one pod may bake cookies and frost them with a soccer ball design because their particular pod member is an avid soccer player. It’s easy for celebrations to become more about the gift and less about the person; however, the gift is not the point.
Getting to know each other is the aim here. I have each member of the pod create a Google Slide outlining some of the highlights of their unique personality. This provides a resource and reference to craft an authentically tailored celebration.
Over the years, some of the more interesting and creative Pod Day celebrations have included members choreographing a dance routine based around their pod member’s love of dance, designing an auto race video game for a pod member who loves cars, writing an original rap praising the awesome qualities of their pod member, and, one of my personal favorites, designing an interactive online road trip map complete with a playlist and a must-see sites list based on the interests of that particular pod member.
From Compulsory to Voluntary
During the first semester, Pod Days is an actual assignment with a fairly hefty participation value. The guidelines are simple and challenging yet achievable for students. Each pod member must come prepared with their celebration. It’s essential to make sure all students understand that this is a group assignment with a group grade. If one person does not meet the requirements and guidelines, it affects the entire pod.
While for the first few celebrations it’s the pressure of points and grades pushing the students, the fun and creativity of the celebration soon morphs into an intrinsic motivator. For the second semester, the class discusses and decides whether or not we continue Pod Days.
The catch is that, should we continue, it is no longer an assignment and no longer has point value. It’s completely because the class wishes to continue the tradition. In my experience, roughly 80 percent of the classes voted to continue.
The strength of any community comes from its ability to weave together the beautifully varied threads. With Pod Days, for at least one day, a student is seen not for a GPA, not for being shy, not for mental health or emotional challenges. Rather, the student is seen because that student is a member of the class. And that is enough.