The business of the school year came to a grinding halt as we watched the last bus pull away from the school and head into the neighborhood on the last day of school. Just moments before the building had been filled with laughing, clapping, and shouts of goodbye from happy students on a hurry to start their summer. Now all that was left were the teachers, the empty building, half packed boxes, and one last celebratory staff meeting standing between us and the start of our summer.
It's funny how a place can feel alive in one moment and in the next go back to being just a building. Just a place. That yearly shift in a school between being filled with the energy of students to being nothing but long empty hallways is such a reminder of why we teach. We may focus on data points, closing the gap, improving our lessons, writing school improvement plans, and increasing scores because they are our profit margins. We may consume data as though it is the only sustenance that will keep us alive. But all of what we may do, all of those vitally important professional tasks that drive us to provide better futures for students are meaningless if we forget about the little beings we are doing it for.
From preschool to fifth grade our students are everything. Each one is a different human being entering our building every morning for a new experience. Each one comes to us in search of a place to belong, a need to feel love, and a hope to learn. Each one watches us for signs that they are important within our rooms and school community.
On the second to last day of school we decided to create a slide show of our student successes. My special education team and our school counselor wanted to go beyond data points and celebrating a year's growth and look at the other successes each child made. So we started pulling students aside and asking them, "What did you learn this year?" "What are you proud of?"
Here are some of the responses:
"I learned to be a part of morning meeting."
"I learned to to be a good friend."
"I learned to use calm-down strategies."
"I'm a good problem solver."
"I can read with fluency."
"I learned I like math."
These were the students we struggled with, pulled our hair out over, held meeting after meeting to problem solve about, and lost sleep the entire month of September as we lay in bed wondering how we were going to help these little ones get through the year. And in June? These little ones could articulate their successes themselves. They did learn to be a part of morning meeting. They figured out (with our careful coaching) when to use calm down strategies and how to not hit their friends. They discovered aspects of the school day they liked. They found a place to belong. They learned they were loved.
The end of year data points don't capture their small successes. Their reading and math scores are captured within the whole school data. They made amazing gains on paper. But it is the story behind those gains we need to embrace. They are more than data points and are bigger than part of a gap that needs to be closed. They are little humans, but humans none the less. They are why we teach. Why we give up personal time on weekends to plan, why we work extra hours, why we are in this profession. Without them a school is just a building and we are just doing a job. With them we are a community of learners preparing for the future.