While sorting books and paper at the end of the school year, I overheard one of my 4th grade boys mutter under his breath, “I hate the last day of school. On the last day of school, we all know each other. On the first day of school, we just have to start all over, getting to know the teacher and each other.”
The last days of school are bittersweet for teachers and students alike. The prospect of a change in schedule and extra time to just breathe is alluring to young and old alike. However, in the midst of all the anticipation, this student’s comment caught me off guard. We had spent the last few weeks involved in end-of-year testing. The students first took PAARC and the standardized Colorado 4th Grade Social Studies Test. A week later students demonstrated their progress on STAR – another standardized reading and math test. Finally we measured students’ reading and math fluency using another standardized measurement. I was passing along reams of academic data to the next year’s teacher. Yet these numbers, while important, did not tell the full story of the individual they represented.
After gathering the class together, we sat on the floor and talked about ways we had learned about each other this year. Morning Meeting had been an integral part of our day. https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/product/morning-meeting-book/ Each morning we gathered together and took turns sharing significant events in our lives. As a class we celebrated the arrival of new siblings, the adoption of a puppy and soccer games won or lost. This time together was one way we learned more about each other.
Since we couldn’t share all we learned about one another with a new teacher, I posed the question, “What do you want next year’s teacher to know about you? How can we share that information with them?” The students quickly responded, “Let’s write our fifth grade teacher a letter!” One student grinned and said to me, “The topic is all about me and the format is a letter.” I have to admit, I was proud! Grabbing paper and pencil, the students went to work.
Reading their letters, I was so impressed with the students’ sincerity. They wanted their teacher to know about their strengths and dreams – not how many words they read per minute. Some student samples:
“I need my space organized. I get distracted by clutter.”
“I hate to read! I’ll do it when you ask me to, but I’d rather draw.”
“I’m very emotional. When I’m happy, I’m really happy. But when I’m angry I need calming down.”
“Moving is important to me. I can’t pay attention if I have to sit too long.”
As I read their letters, I was impressed by how well these 9 and 10 year olds expressed their feelings. I’m reflecting on how to better get to know my students from day one next year. We’d love to hear from you. How do you build your classroom community?