The end of the school year is a great time to reflect on how far we’ve come. This is something we spend time on in the spring, during student led conference season, but it can often get lost in the hustle as the year comes to a close. During the last week, I like to spend some time asking my students think about the growth they’ve made and to really think about the people with whom we’ve just spent much of our year. As a class, we really do spend more time with each other than we do our own loved ones. We don’t always get along and often disagree or get downright frustrated with each other. We are human, after all.
But at the end of the day, we have become a family and this is when it starts to sink in that we won’t have any more days with each other. For some children, the stress of that can lead to some pretty difficult behavior and then there’s just that general feeling of enough, already ~ is it summer yet?! Having some fun is an important element for ending the year on a positive note and reminiscing about our time together reminds us of all of the highs we’ve shared so I have a couple of traditions I like to share with my students to help facilitate that.
On our last day, we set up the desks in a big rectangle, with all of us facing each other at the center and I give each student a sheet of white construction paper. I ask them to write their name in large letters in the center and perhaps include the school year and what grade they are in for this one last day. The placement and size of their name is important so that we can all recognize whose paper we’re writing on. Other than that, I don’t ask that they all detail their papers exactly the same way because I’m big on the idea of ‘it’s your paper so make it work for you’. I think students appreciate (and need!) that flexibility and often find that they come up with much better variations than what I thought up. Some of them like to get really creative, like in Ava’s example above, and others prefer to keep it simple.
Once all of the papers are set up, I share what we’ll be doing with them and my expectations during the activity. Papers will be passed to the left and with each new paper, students will have 30-45 seconds to write something positive about its owner and include their own name, like a signature. Ideas might include:
- a compliment
- a funny memory
- a thank you for something nice she did
- a wish for the future
- something about her that impressed you
I encourage them to write something specific for each person and not just a generic statement like “you’re cool!” Easier said than done for some children, especially given the time they have with each paper – but the overall message is this: even if you don’t always get along with this person, she has some great qualities that you can focus on and/or there has been something positive that happened with her during the year that you can mention. Some children will still write “you’re cool” but really, it’s okay as long as they’re not all doing it.
We take a couple of minutes to brainstorm ideas about what we might write and then dive in. I generally set a timer to help keep me on track and the kids know to pass to the left when they hear it sound. We start with 45 seconds but once they get in the groove and I notice them finishing up before the timer, I scale back to 30 seconds. Keep in mind that I have third graders so you may wish to adjust if you have a different age group.
My favorite part of it all is seeing their smiles as they excitedly read what their classmates have written, some reading the messages aloud or showing them to their neighbors. As times, they even approach each other and say, “I forgot all about that” or “Do you really think I’m smart?” It’s pretty great to watch.
This year, one of my boys came up to me and was very upset that some of the kids didn’t take the “be thoughtful” direction to heart. “I wrote really specific comments, Ms. Gannon and some of these are just not thoughtful at all!” I couldn’t help but smile and tried to explain that it’s not always easy for everyone to think of something to write that quickly but before I could finish, he stomped off. He came back to me a short time later, to tell me that he had asked them to “do better” and that he was very pleased with their revisions. He was beaming.
During the last 45 minutes of the day, we sit together in a circle of chairs (no tables this time) and continue the love. Referring back to the activity we did earlier, I remind them of all we’ve shared this year and ask them to say a thank you to a classmate or two. No pressure – you only have to share if you want to. And I ask that they not focus on me since they have lots of opportunities to do that throughout the year. I want this to be a time focused on them and the relationships they have built with each other. Things generally get started slowly but as they listen to one another, more and more hands go up. Sometimes there are tears. This year, we had LOTS of tears – very passionate thank yous for “asking to be my partner” or “helping me when I really needed a friend” or “talking to me when no one else would.” Really sweet stuff.
As an educator, I have much to teach these little people. Academics aside, there are so many other things I hope they will learn during our time together. These are proud moments for me because I can see how much they’ve come to rely on and trust in each other. All the fighting and bad feelings have passed (for the time being, anyway) as they share their genuine appreciation for each other. Just like in our own families ~ we may not always get along but we have each others’ backs. We will always have this experience in common, along with all the good memories that come with it. Today the low points are much less important and that helps us to walk away feeling good about the time we had together in Room 608.
How do you wrap up your school year? Do you have traditions that you like to share with your students?