Ending the Day Right

Question:

Many teachers spend a lot of time creating good beginnings to the school day through carefully planned morning meetings. But what about the end of the day? In this newsletter’s Teacher to Teacher section, NEFC consulting teacher Carol Davis talks about using a closing meeting to bring the school day to a peaceful end. We asked several other teachers to share ideas for creating good endings to the school day. Here is what they said.

A: Ah, the end of the day. The kids know it and I know it. In 10 minutes they will be out the door and headed to various buses, cars and day care vans. Talk about transition! How can we avoid that rushed and hurried feeling and end the day in harmony?

First of all, I make sure that any packing up is done well before dismissal. I find that a good time to do this is right after we come in from afternoon recess. Typically after recess, children are getting drinks, hanging up coats, looking at books, or watching the gerbil. To these activities I add packing up. If there are any school newsletters, PTA flyers, library books, etc., that need to go home, this is the time for students to put them into their school bags. Only after this is done do we go on to the next part of our day. Dismissal will not be for another hour, but the packing up is finished!

Then, about 15 minutes before the end of the day, I provide a closing routine. I read a closing story, perhaps a story that we’ll do some work with the next day. But today we read it just for fun, just to relax together.

After the story, we spend a few minutes talking about our day. “Why was today a good day for you?” I ask. The children answer, “You read a funny story,” “My knee stopped bleeding,” or “I played in the housekeeping center.”

Finally, after the bustle of buttoning coats and gathering school bags and getting in line, we sing a song or do a nursery rhyme while standing in line. This helps us calm down once again. Then I walk the children to the bus to ensure that they have a safe walk, that no one goes tearing out of the building, bumping into other people. I wave to them once they are seated and go back to my classroom feeling peaceful instead of frenzied.

Katie Geiger teaches kindergarten at Summit Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A: A mad dash for the cubbies, backpacks hastily packed, and papers flying. Another stressful ending to an otherwise pleasant day. My students and I had worked hard to create a classroom that was calm and respectful. But at dismissal time the calm often gave way to chaos, and as we headed home, that frazzled feeling would be the only thing we would remember about the day. That’s when I knew we needed a change.

Enter the Kindness Tree.

To introduce it, I gathered the children on the rug. I asked them to think about one kind thing that they did for someone in the class that day or one kind thing that someone else did for them. In this way, we generated a list of kind acts. Next to each act we listed the names of the children involved. The acts of kindness ranged from lending someone a pencil to helping someone up when he or she fell down at recess.

Next, on a paper leaf, I wrote each name pair—the name of the child who did a kind act and the name of the child who was helped. We placed the leaves onto a giant tree, which I had cut out of poster board. I explained that acts of kindness would help our tree grow, and that they would help us grow together as a class. The children were excited about the Kindness Tree. They’d only been introduced to it that day, and already they were telling me what they were going to do tomorrow to show kindness to their classmates!

To keep the tree growing, the children and I placed some blank leaves in a basket by the art center. Whenever children were involved in an act of kindness, they would write their name and the name of the other person involved on a leaf. At the end of each day, after the gathering of papers and packing of backpacks, we all sat down in a circle on the rug. Each child who wrote on a leaf that day would share his or her act of kindness with the class. The child then placed the leaf on the tree.

Over the course of the year, our tree grew into a beautiful forest. The Kindness Tree gave us the opportunity to stop and reflect on our actions during the day. And it allowed us to end our days in a peaceful, positive manner!

Bonnie Kirkpatrick teaches second grade at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware.

A: I teach two humanities periods each day. I’ve found that it’s just as important to bring peaceful and reflective closure to each period as it is to bring the entire day of school to a peaceful close. To end my humanities classes, I have students do a brief self-evaluation.

I introduce the activity by asking the class early in the year to come up with a list of behaviors that they feel would promote positive learning. The class typically agrees on a list that includes things like “arriving on time,” “coming to class prepared,” “being a quiet and focused listener,” “working cooperatively in a group,” and “cleaning up.”

Then, the students do their self-evaluation every day using this list and a scoring system, which we call our Responsible Student Rubric. At the end of the period, each child rates himself or herself on a scale of 1 to 4. A score of 4 means the student showed the behaviors in the list all the time during the class period. A score of 3 means the student showed them most of the time. A score of 2 means the student showed some of the behaviors. And a score of 1 means the student showed few of them. Each child writes his or her score on a chart that is kept in the student’s binder.

As I shake each student’s hand, a ritual we use to end the class, each student also has the option to tell me his or her self-assigned score. I also keep my own score for each child every day. Every two weeks, students turn in their charts to me. If a child’s numbers disagree with mine consistently, I hold a social conference with the child to talk about what each of us has observed.

In addition to providing closure to our time together, the Responsible Student Rubric helps students develop self-discipline and nourishes academic excellence. And the written record of behavior assessments from both the child and me can provide valuable support for discussions during parent-teacher conferences.

Verlette Straub teaches fourth grade humanities at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Holland, Pennsylvania.

A: I have a vision for the end of the day in middle school that I have been sharing in workshops, institutes, and in my writing for the past several years. In this vision, the last class of the day would end 15 minutes before dismissal, and students would spend those last 15 minutes in a “last period” reflecting on the day and regrouping mentally.

Here’s how the end of the day looks now in middle schools across America: It’s nearing the end of last period. Sports and other after-school activities await the students, who are thinking of everything but the content of their class. But determined teachers push on, teaching to the last minute in their effort to make good use of the time.

Finally the bell rings, and students pour out of school buildings, their thoughts as scattered as the directions they’re traveling in to get to their various after-school activities. “Who will pitch in softball today?” “Gotta find Sarah before she gets on the bus.” “Wish I could get my braces off before Jules.” There is no time to collect the day, share successes and difficulties, and breathe deeply before the next big challenges of the afternoon.

Now imagine something quite different: 15 minutes before dismissal, students return to their homeroom and gather in the “Circle of Power and Respect” (CPR), the same circle they started the day in.

The teacher waits as the natural conversations of the day spill into the circle. When everyone settles down, she says, “Let’s start with a go ’round, and then you’ll pair up with your test-prep partner to go over some of the strategies you’ve been working on for the state test.”

Students take a moment to think back on their day. Then those who want to share a comment do so. One student tells about a funny incident in history class when students presented their skit on westward expansion using a balloon that exploded before expected. Another student asks if anyone could explain the algebra assignment to her when the group breaks. After five minutes the entire homeroom is paired and practicing test strategies in math. The student who needed help with algebra is huddled with the teacher.

With two minutes to dismissal, the teacher gets the attention of homeroom. “Make sure you have all your homework. I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow morning first thing. Have fun at the soccer game, especially you, Martin. Try to keep the goal empty.” Homeroom echoes with the cheer, “Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin . . .” The bell rings, and students leave last period with a sense of calm.

Chip Wood is a cofounder and current senior planner for Northeast Foundation for Children. One focus of his work is to bring The Responsive Classroom approach into middle schools.

Tags: Closing Circles, End of the day, Transitions

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