Educators spend the school year establishing and then nurturing classroom environments in which students feel a genuine sense of belonging. The exceptional challenges of this particular year introduced greater opportunities to create learning environments in which students felt comfortable expressing their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in nonconventional spaces and circumstances. The important ways you cultivated belonging, significance, and fun in the face of these unique obstacles, along with the results of those efforts, deserve to be celebrated. As this year comes to a close, keep the momentum going by ending the year in a way that continues to allow students to feel heard and seen in a meaningful way.
Here are a few ways to achieve this:
- Maintain traditions and routines that nurture the community. End-of-the-year assessments and testing can disrupt a classroom’s schedule, so familiar structures that promote community and provide a safe space for students to share their thoughts are essential. Continue using practices such as Morning Meetings, closing circles, or Responsive Advisory Meetings to provide a consistent structure and time for students to connect with one another and be seen and heard.
- Celebrate successes and growth. Without a doubt, this year has created many challenges that teachers and students have learned to navigate and overcome. Take time to point out all these successes. Consider creating portfolios of successes with students or set aside time for students to share their successes daily using open-ended questions and prompts such as:
- What is something you can do now, that you were not able to do at the start of the school year?
- What is a new skill or new learning that you have gained?
- What is a new talent or skill you are proud of?
- Name an area of learning in which you have grown this year.
- What is one thing you feel you do well?
- Name some of your accomplishments this year.
- What is a challenge you had this year and how did you overcome it?
- Name some things you learned to do this year.
- Make time for reflection Creating opportunities for reflection is another powerful way to allow students to share their thoughts, opinions, feelings, and ideas. Provide students with multiple topics and ways to reflect. Consider using well-established interactive learning structures like Turn and Talk or spicing up familiar structures like Taking Sides to give students multiple ways to reflect.
- Keep things joyful. This year, the normal challenges of ending a school year have been exacerbated by obstacles such as teaching and learning with masks on and the technical difficulties that come with virtual learning. At this point, students are likely feeling fatigue, stress, weariness, and exhaustion. Remember the importance of joy and laughter in a learning community. Continue to incorporate brain breaks and energizers throughout the day to offer chances for everyone to laugh, play, and have fun with one another.
The closing of the school year, when energy is running low, can feel rushed and stressful. With the added layer of complications brought on by a virtual or socially distanced environment, closing this year likely feels overwhelming and exhausting. It can be difficult to continue to put in the work it takes to maintain the positive learning community that was established at the start of the school year. But, as the year comes to an end, it is important to continue to reinforce the sense of community and belonging so that students can leave this school year feeling significant, proud of their accomplishments, and hopeful about the school year to come.
Written by Jane Cofie