I received a beautiful postcard in the mail the other day. I have been collecting picture postcards since I was in high school. I mentioned my collection to a friend a few weeks ago and she sent me one from her state. It had been awhile since I had even looked at my collection. I keep it in one of two beautiful photo albums on a bookshelf. I pulled them both out, not remembering which one contained the postcards. Flipping through each page, I smiled at the photos and messages from friends and family in nearby places such as San Antonio, Eureka Springs, and Santa Fe. States from all corners of the US are represented, too, with Florida, New York, Washington, and Nevada, and several states in between! Islands are represented in Alcatraz, Hawaii, and Okinawa. Japan, Mexico, Guatemala, Australia, Jerusalem, and the Ukraine round out my foreign postmarks. I enjoy my collection and the time and thought that was put into each message that was sent through the mail.
Turning to the other photo album, I was curious about the photos it contained. Since the world has gone digital, I have not been as intentional in taking and developing my photos as I used to be. These photos were taken more than a decade ago. My boys were still small and delighted in having their pictures taken. As I looked at the photographs, I was reminded just how much they had grown. My oldest just got married this summer, yet in these pictures he was playing with Hot Wheels, remote control trucks, and Legos. My youngest just graduated from high school this spring, yet in these pictures he is learning to roller skate, and letting big brother read picture books to him at night. I have pictures of them playing dress up with their dad in a children’s museum, as well as climbing into an Airforce fighter jet at an airplane museum. (My boys could tell you which kind of plane it was, I can’t!) One of my favorites is from a trip we took to Dinosaur Valley State Park. We walked up and down all kinds of trails with my oldest leading the way. His younger brother was struggling to keep up and follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Both of these albums are full of reminders. Reminders of trips taken and messages sent. Snapshots of milestone events and wonderful vacations. I know my boys have grown, but these photos remind me of how far they have come! Wouldn’t it be great to have these kinds of snapshots of our students throughout the school year? Not necessarily photographs, but some kind of evidence of what students’ strengths and interests are at a particular time during the year. When we are in the day to day with our students, we often lose sight of how much they are learning and growing unless we periodically stop to look back at where they were to begin with. How much could our students benefit from that kind of reflection? Such reminders might give us more cause to celebrate the small successes that our students have had that often get lost in focusing on our end of the year goals. That kind of reflection could also help guide us in our next steps as we make daily decisions that affect our students’ learning.
In the photo taken at Dinosaur Valley State Park I notice that my oldest never looked back while on the trail. At that point in his life, he was very bold in pushing forward in anything he wanted to do or explore. He was not concerned with going off course, or whether we were behind him, he simply wanted to see what was ahead. If he had stayed back with us, he might have seen many interesting things we could have pointed out to him on the way. What do students miss by not looking back and reflecting on their own learning? That is a journey that we need to take each of our students on. Giving them opportunities to stop and look back on what they did well, what didn’t work, and asking themselves what they could do differently next time. Looking back at things they have written or created over the school year would be one way to help them see their own growth and success. This could be just the motivation that some students need to be bold in pushing forward in their own learning.
Teachers and students alike can benefit from reflecting on their school year. I plan on being more intentional in taking more snapshots of student learning this year and using those snapshots to guide the decisions I make about my students. I also plan on creating opportunities for students to reflect on their own learning in order to help them see themselves as successful learners. Looking back at those photographs of my boys made me smile. Some of my #4OCFpln Voxer group have said that reflection is where real learning happens. I would say that it also is where we are reminded of our Joy.