It’s time. It’s time for new backpacks, shiny folders, sharpened pencils, and cute little lunch boxes. It’s time to meet the teacher, make new friends, and learn the new rules. It’s time to get excited about your new classroom, find your desk, and start another school year.
There will be a lot of little (and big!) bodies laying sleepless in bed Sunday night, filled with both anxiety and excitement. There are so many unknowns when you haven’t met the crew you’ll be spending the next 10 months with. You’ll be spending about as much time with them than your own family, and you’re stuck with them- like it or not. It’s a big deal, really.
And as we go into this next school year, I have sat through staff meetings at two very different schools laying out our goals for the year. As usual, there’s more that teachers are expected to accomplish in same amount of time (who does the math here!?). There’s so much that I have heard many teachers considering dropping recess or definitely shortening it. Oh, and while you teachers are teaching for the new big test, we do expect you to make more gains and achievements than last year no matter who your new students are. ….(I better stop here because I do want to keep my job!….). It’s a lot of pressure for my hardworking co-workers!
As we go into this school year with the best intentions, I want to stop and think about the ultimate goal: to make students better than when they started and fill them with joy for learning. And, I do not always mean their achievement and academics. While tests and benchmarks are the focus, I do think we also have the opportunity to build their attitudes about themselves and life. We are shaping the way they view themselves. The words and actions of the captain of the ship are the most powerful and will leave a lasting mark on these little souls.
I was reminded of this the other night at an Open House. A little guy who’s repeating kindergarten saw me in the hall. We spent 6 weeks together in a really cohesive “friendship club”. What was unique about this little group was not only did they all end of up getting along wonderfully, it was the first gardening club I led. We’d start in the counseling room for a short lesson, reviewing our objectives and building new social skills for the day. Then, we’d spend the second half with the Ameri-corps Garden Coordinator outside working together as a team to accomplish a simple task like uncovering the plants. The boys would have to work together, using kind words, no matter what the weekly goal was and get positively reinforced for good social interactions and following directions. And, they did it well and loved it!
After the 6 weeks ended and I was starting another group with different grade level, the boys just couldn’t comprehend why we weren’t still meeting, as many times as I’d told them and even given them certificates to celebrate the group. Any time these boys saw me the second half of the year, they automatically started to line up at the door for the group. I had to coordinate a “reunion” at the end of the spring to reunite just one more time.
So, at Open House this past week, one of the group members saw me and his little eyes lit up. He softly said something I couldn’t understand at first. When I bent down to have him repeat, he said, “You were my favorite. Are we going to the garden again?”.
Now, do I really think I’m his favorite? Probably not (he had a sweet, wonderful teacher last year). But what struck me as the most touching it that he remembers. He has good memories of our time together because he succeeded in it; those times made him feel good about himself. One little thing, a few minutes out of the ordinary school day, made a big difference to him. It made him feel special, and happy. He was one of two kids that asked me about the garden at Open House. (Therapeutic gardening is working and definitely will do again this year!).
Whether you are a teacher (the most impactful), a counselor, a student, a parent, or a volunteer, take the time to do the little things. A kind mother at Bearden began picking up and bringing a classmate to school when she realized the student walked every day. Another mother runs out and buys a coat the day she finds out a student doesn’t have one. A student asks the new kid to play with them at recess. The teacher goes out of her way to ask how their night was last night when the student looks tired. The church volunteer comes every week to work with the new ESL refugee student who can’t speak English. These are a few of the small but impactful things I saw last year.
Little things= Big difference (the things these kids will remember!)
This school year, and every year, they may not remember all those math dittos and benchmarks (sorry but only some will- the realist in me speaking!). However, they will remember how you made them feel.
*The flowers above are grown from the seed packets we made in our assembly line in our ‘friendship club’ at school courtesy of Mr. Elias! They make me happy when I look at them. Like my little kindergarten friend, they are a reminder of a good memory and how good things grow with some patience and TLC!