Does Learning Not Happen If We Have Nothing to Show for It?

“Pics or it didn’t happen.”

This phrase was common Internet parlance when I was an adolescent. It was usually used to challenge an implausible claim, indicating that the audience would only accept the claim if provided with photographic evidence.

I don’t know whether “pics or it didn’t happen” is still common, but on social media, pics are provided regardless of whether or not anyone challenges anyone else. We post photos of delicious homemade dinners, glamorous vacations, and exciting events. And much of what we post is… picture perfect.


Not my mother’s baked beans, though. Still not sure what happened here. This is what the kids would call a “fail.”

There feels like tremendous pressure — not just in my job, not just in my building, not just in my career, but in our culture — to be really good, really great, practically perfect. But not just to be perfect, but to have something to show for it, to prove how we’ve been spending our time. And this attitude permeates the classroom.

Does learning not happen if we have nothing to show for it?

Did learning happen if our test scores didn’t go up?

Did learning happen if we have nothing to display in the hall?

Did learning happen if we don’t have something to send home to parents?

Did learning happen if we couldn’t grade it on a rubric or put it in a portfolio?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have things to post on walls and fridges. We should, we absolutely should. It feels good to accomplish something tangible and to have something to show for our hard work.

I just want to be careful not to devalue the learning that happens in ways that are difficult to measure. The learning that takes place over spans of time longer than a single school year. The learning that is hard to see when you compare yourself with your peers instead of with your own previous level of proficiency. The learning that doesn’t come out when you bubble in answers on a page; the learning that comes out when you manage to move through and thrive in the world we all share.

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