Making the Last Days of School Meaningful

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Busy. Busy. Busy.

That one word has permeated my vocabulary since I took over as interim principal a few months ago at Emerson Elementary School.  I’m not just talking about myself.  With state and district testing, about a million end of the year activities as well as normal teaching responsibilities I’ve watched my staff and students move at a frenetic pace making sure that all of the things are done. 

This upcoming Friday is our last day of school making this the last week I will spend with this wonderful group.  Planning out our all school assembly for the last day of school has gotten me thinking about the activities I used to plan with my students at the end of the year as well as reflecting on what I would do now with these last precious moments if I were still in the classroom.

Questions

A good reflection always starts with a great question.  I believe the purpose of school is to grow curious learners and build on their unique talents as well as help them to discover new ones.  I want kids to leave my classroom knowing how much I appreciate their uniqueness and believe in them.  With that in mind, the following questions made me think a little deeper about what I would plan for the last week.

  1.  What do I most want students to remember from this year?  or What was most meaningful from our learning?
  2. How can I continue to shine a spotlight on the talents of my students so they leave my classroom confident in their abilities and native genius?
  3. How do I continue to spark the curiosity of learning in students in my classroom beyond this year?  

Ideas

As a teacher of 10+ years prior to becoming an instructional coach and now administrator I have ended the school year in a variety of ways with my students.  In thinking about previous activities I had done with students as well as new ones I might try, here are some thoughts on how I might end the year now that fit with the questions I just posed.

Celebrate Learning Fair.  Have students think about how they have grown this year.  They can think about academic as well as personally.  I might have students include a quote that they create or choose from someone else.  I honestly wouldn’t give them too many parameters and create what is most meaningful for them.  On the day of the fair students would set up their area and other kids would come and talk to one another about their memories and growth for the year.  I would invite families to come in as well and share in our celebration.

Personal Memory Book.   Similar to the learning fair students think about how they have grown and what they want to remember most.  This can be an actual paper book or digital.  Like the Celebrate Learning Fair I wouldn’t want to give kids too many parameters, but would let them create what was most meaningful to them.  They could choose to focus on the personal aspects or academic or both.  If students wanted to share, I would give them time to meet in small groups or partnerships to share their ideas.  

Students as Teachers.  One of my good friends used to end the year with kids creating lessons about something they were passionate about.  I loved this idea and actually think it’s important to do throughout the year.  It allows students to see that we have just as much to learn from them as they have from us and also shines a spotlight on their talents.  The students would sign-up for a time that they would teach the class a 45 minute to an hour lesson to the class.  The things they taught varied from all sorts of things from cooking to sports to art to math tricks to photography.  

Academy Awards of Books.  When I was in the classroom I would have students create book trailer recommendations for books that they loved.  We then compiled these in a doc with links in our classroom.  With this activity I might have kids think about their favorite book they read that they would recommend to friends for the summer and come up with a category they would nominate it for.  They would then create some way of pitching the book to their class with an award given to the book at the end.  This would expose kids to new titles as well as encourage them to keep reading over the summer.

Summer Bucket List.  Bucket lists are currently very popular and I know many of my friends have their kids create these for summertime fun activities.  Why not do the same thing, but in the classroom?  It could include things they are curious about, but also ways they want to recharge over the summer.  When they come back in the fall they could come back and share all they have accomplished with you.  It would be a great way to touch base when school starts again.

Wall of Curiosity.  What are your students still curious about?  Create a question board using Padlet or another technology and tell students they can continue to add content to their questions or their classmates as the summer progresses.

Classroom Awards.  I did this every year when I was in the classroom on the last day of school.  I used to think about what was unique about each student and create an award for that student based on that unique quality.  It was so much fun seeing their eyes light up on the last day knowing that their uniqueness was cherished and appreciated.  If I was in the classroom now I think I would also ask for ideas from their classmates so they could also contribute.

Individual Conferences with Kids.  This is a great way to continue to build relationships with students as well as help them to see their unique talents and abilities.  While the rest of the class is working schedule 15-minute conferences with each student to talk about the year with them.  Name their strengths, ask them for their thoughts and create a plan for their dreams.  Keep track of what they said and touch base with them on it next year.  

Conclusions

With so many activities at the end of the year it would be impossible to do all of these things.  I would encourage you to think about what do you want students to look back and remember and what impact do you most want to have moving forward?  For me, it’s no longer about the knowledge I’m imparting, but the relationships I’m building that I want to last. 

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