by Steve Reifman, Monthly Columnist
The last month of every school year is a bittersweet time. Of course, we are all looking forward to the start of summer vacation and the many activities we may have planned. At the same time, we begin to realize that in a matter of weeks we will no longer have the opportunity to work on a daily basis with the special group of kids assembled before us. Once this reality hits, I make it a point to focus on two important priorities.
What Are Your End of Year Priorities?
First, I set aside time to help the children reflect on the academic and behavioral progress they have made throughout the year, both individually and as a team. Whenever people are immersed in their daily work over a long period time, it can be difficult to recognize these improvements, and that’s why we need to shine a spotlight on this growth. Participating in this type of reflection builds confidence, increases self-esteem, and raises awareness of noteworthy achievements.
Sometimes, this reflection occurs privately when I meet one-on-one with students. During these individual meetings we will discuss specific work samples and character traits. I like showing kids a side-by-side comparison featuring work samples from the beginning of the year and from the spring. If we are focusing on neatness, for example, this type of comparison helps kids notice their growth in a way that my mere words cannot.
At other times it is great to have everyone seated in a circle so we can discuss this growth as a team. During these team conversations I ask for students to recognize their own academic and behavioral progress and that of their classmates. Kids’ faces light up when they hear others mention their names and acknowledge their noteworthy efforts. I will also participate in these talks, especially when I notice that some students may not be receiving compliments. In these cases I will be sure to offer many of my own.
In addition to looking back on the previous months to recognize progress, the end of the school year is also a great time to look ahead. Specifically, I focus my students’ attention on the following school year and the years after that. As I do this, I share one piece of information with them and pose one question.
First, I tell them that even though I will not technically be their teacher after this year, I will always be committed to their success. I will stay in touch with their parents, touch base with their new teachers, and probably know more about how they are doing in class than they think I know. I encourage them to come visit before or after school and let me know if they ever need help or need to talk.
I also pose this question: After our school year ends, what are you going to take with you from our time together?
By asking this question, I am trying to call attention to the habits that form the foundation of my teaching. In my classroom two sets of habits lie at the core of everything we do, our Habits of Mind (dispositions that help us become better thinkers) and Habits of Character (which focus on critical work habits, social skills, and attitudes). We discuss these habits throughout the year, and at the end of the year, I want to emphasize just how powerful these ways of thinking and acting can be in helping my students maximize their incredible potential.
As time allows, make an effort at the end of the school year to reflect on your students’ successes of the past and emphasize the habits that will help them achieve the successes of their future.
About the Author
Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time and Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For weekly Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit stevereifman.com. You can also follow Steve on Twitter.