The end of the school year can be hectic, but consider this: The end of this year is really the beginning of next year. There are things that you can do and ways to wrap up that will make your return smooth and easy and set you on course for an even better year. Although you might be aching to get out of your classroom and onto vacation, summer school or professional development, see if you can squeeze in time for some of these activities.
Purge, Organize, and Clean
I know you know how liberating it can be to deeply clean your classroom and I also know how often we skip this part of the end of the year. Here are a few tips to help you make progress on this vital end of year activity.
- Recruit a few students to help for a couple hours after school or immediately after the school year ends. There's so much they can do to help (even little ones!) and many of them also enjoy the time with you. Put on music and make it fun. Teaching them to organize the classroom library or math manipulatives also gives them a feeling of ownership in their classroom. Offer them pizza and appreciations, and of course, make sure you have parent and administrator permission to do this!
- If your whole room feels overwhelming, just commit to purging and cleaning one section -- your desk area or the science corner or the closet where you've tossed random things all year. Throw, throw, throw. I'll admit this was always hard for me as a teacher (I was a hoarder in school) but just aim to get rid of stuff you haven't used in the last couple of years. And organize the rest of it.
- Set up systems for next year for stuff. Start thinking about where incoming papers can go, project materials can be stored, and books can be organized. Disorganization is really about a lack of systems -- planning for them and setting them up will put you way ahead of the game on this one!
My two favorite resources for organizing and cleaning are The Fly Lady, http://www.flylady.net/ who focuses on your home (endless useful ideas; you've got to check her out!) and The Together Teacher who focuses on the classroom. The Together Teacher's website has tons of resources and the book (same title, written by Maia Heyck-Merlin) is fantastic. Just sign up for her monthly newsletter to start with, peruse her site, and then get her book. And by the way, this book would be a brilliant gift for any new teacher! It's what I wish I'd had that first chaotic year.
Write Yourself A Letter of Appreciation
I've written before on this idea that we have to acknowledge our growth and learning in order to move forward. I'm going to suggest a new activity: Write yourself a letter recognizing all you've done this year and appreciating yourself. I know it feels hokey, but imagine that you are your biggest champion who has ever lived and you are outside of yourself seeing everything you've done this year. No one knows better than you what you've struggled with, persevered through, or offered to your students, school and world! List these things, describe them, imagine the impact they had on others. No one else will see this letter, you never have to write it again, so go wild with the praise -- heap it on!
Another thing to acknowledge in this area is how you dealt with challenges. For example, my letter to myself this year will contain the following:
I was really proud of you when you felt really hurt and disrespected and you didn't lash out in anger. I saw how unfairly you were treated and how people made all kinds of decisions about your work without even informing you -- and I noticed that you were calm, mindful, and wise. I know how much you did to stay aligned to your values and not respond to their provocation.
No one else knows about the difficult moments of my year better than I do! And no one knows how hard I worked to manage those challenging moments. Reflect on those times, name them, and appreciate yourself.
Now, you might consider tucking this away in a drawer in case of future crisis of the spirit. If it feels like there's enough in this letter that's authentic, and it didn't feel horribly uncomfortable to write, then you might just want to refer back to it next year if and when there are rough moments. This is how this activity can set you up for a great next year: it's like having an emergency inoculation on hand.
Connect With Others
The final suggestion I have for you for ending your school year is that you find ways to connect with others: colleagues, staff, students, and parents/guardians. End of year celebrations, assemblies, lunches and so on are a vital ritual in closing out the year -- students need them, staff needs them. We need to be with others during moments of transition and the end of the school year is one of them. Our social relationships are absolutely essential to our happiness, well-being, and resilience. Take some time to be social with the people you've spent your school year with. You'll bond in new ways and set yourself up for looking forward to seeing them again in August.
I hope you've all had a wonderful year and I'd love to hear any ideas you have for essential end of year activities particularly those that set us on a path for an even better next year. Please share in the comments section below.