It’s that time of year when teachers (and students!) start counting down to the last day of school. A couple of weeks back, I was facilitating an MTSS support team session when one of the participants shared with the group that there were exactly 43 days of school left. She had the remaining time left in the school year down to the hour and minute! While some schools may have longer, we’re all in that phase of the “final countdown.”
Whether 23 days or 43 days, it isn’t a lot when we consider everything that happens as we rush toward that long-awaited summer break.
How can an educator find precious balance at the end of a school year?
As it’s nearing the end of the school year the truth of the matter is that in all the chaos and excitement, there is pressure to get everything done. Complete our end-of-year checklist. Plan for field day. Prepare our students for final assessments. Oh, and don’t forget to prepare for that fabulous end-of-year party.
The list goes on. How can an educator find balance at such a time? When we battle between the “have to be done,” “want to be done,” and “maybe we will find time for this as well?”
As I pondered what nuggets of wisdom to impart to all my teacher friends, I realized I needed to keep it short, sweet, and relevant. After all, we are all incredibly busy right now.
But most of all, I needed to be encouraging. Educators face constant challenges, but teachers keep showing up for their students and delivering strong instruction every day.
In writing this piece, my wish for all my educator friends is that you find balance during this crazy time by
- finding moments of joy
- celebrating student progress
- being present with your students
- using data to drive reflection and planning for next year
Easier said than done, right? Let’s look deeper into these balancing steps.
There’s a song stuck in my head when I think of this time of the year. In “Joy,” Ben Rector sings,
“When the rain falls, when the sun shines
When the winds change in the hard times
I will stand firm, I'll be alright
'Cause I got joy in my life"
Of course, saying to have joy is much more difficult than actually having joy.
It is pouring down rain on field day, and you have to get creative with wrangling a class full of spirited, disappointed students.
Sound familiar? Doesn’t sound like a joyful situation!
To promote some “joy” be prepared for the possibility of interruptions beforehand. Have those indoor activities readily available! Then, if the sun is shining...wear plenty of sunscreen and soak it up!
Moments of joy are plentiful.
The end of the school year is a busy time, and busy times invite challenges and interruptions to even the most solid plans. So, when, not if, the winds change on those plans, it is important to remember one of the best strategies of teaching—be flexible.
What you planned so perfectly can and will inevitably change in an instant. Let the winds come! Decide that you will stand firm in the student expectations you have had all year, and you definitely will be alright. The best part? The last days of school are almost here and moments of joy are plentiful.
Don’t throw away all the procedures you have worked so hard to implement with your students. And don’t let your students forget those procedures and expectations (even if some of them may pretend to forget everything as those temperatures rise and summer days beckon. Students can maintain expectations and still enjoy the end-of-year activities!
Now more than ever, it’s helpful to have a behavior management plan in place for your classroom and school. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports help keep students engaged in learning, responsive to expectations, and positive as we prepare to transition onward.
Celebrate Progress Over Performance
A couple of months ago, I had a coaching session with a school district as we looked at their middle of the year data. In this session, a 1st-grade teacher described his discouragement at the number of students identified as needing Tier 3 support.
During that session, we accessed the Branching Minds Cohort Assessment Performance Report and looked at the data a bit more deeply. In this investigation, we found something amazing.
Even though the number of students in need of Tier 3 support remained the same, those students were in the upper percentile quadrant in growth! That is cause to celebrate both for the student and the teacher! Don’t believe me? Check out the data yourself below.
As educators, we sometimes have to choose between focusing on student performance or their progress. At the end of the school year, our default tends to take us automatically to performance. But don’t forget to celebrate student progress!
Tips to celebrate progress over performance
- Try to take some of your focus off grades, test scores, and numbers on a graph. Yes, these are important, but don’t let student progress take a back seat!
- CELEBRATE student PROGRESS! Kiddos need us to recognize hard work. And we need to recognize it ourselves. This growth directly reflects everything we have been working so hard towards this entire year!
- Performance is important, but progress is the fire that keeps us moving forward every day. Even the smallest steps bring us closer to our goals.
During the end of the school year, our minds are prone to drift as we move through the daily tasks we need to accomplish.
Being present means staying engaged in the here and now.
A 2016 study of 143 adults found evidence to suggest cultivating present-moment awareness could make it easier to cope not only with a single stressful event but also later stress on the same day as well as stressful events in the future.
There is no doubt that there are multiple stressful events each day during the end of the school year. But being present can help us find that much-needed balance as we embrace these final weeks with our students.
Here are a few tips taken from The Beginner’s Guide to Being Present:
- Observe with your 5 senses
- Focus on your breath
- Practice gratitude
- Use your break time mindfully
- Move mindfully between activities
- Check-in with yourself if you are feeling stuck (talk to a coworker)
Make the most of the end of the school year. Being present with your students allows you to be more optimistic and ready for the challenges ahead.
Reflect and Reimagine: What Is Your End-of-The-Year Data Telling You?
Whether you are a first-year educator or a veteran of 30 years, the final weeks of the school year are the perfect time to reflect on what you have achieved and identify where you have room for improvement. This is the time to think about the various changes you want to make for the next school year in classroom management, curriculum, and teaching strategies.
There is a saying that goes, “Start with the end in mind.” I would like to challenge you to flip that saying. Let's “End with the start in mind!”
Look at your end-of-year data and ask yourself some questions. Dive into a Tier Level Report and look for patterns or trends.
- What areas have my students struggled the most with?
- What specific learning standards have been a challenge?
- What does the data suggest about my core curriculum?
- Did students get the support they needed?
From these questions, reimagine what next year might look like. Think about your class as a whole, small groups of students, and individual students.
- What particular lessons were successful?
- What should I keep for next year?
- What should I change or adjust for next year?
- What data and information will help me start the next school year confident and prepared?
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but maybe you can end the year with some solid ideas. Acknowledge what you have accomplished, and get excited about where you want to go next year!
Remember…You’re Almost There
I promised at the beginning of this blog that it would be short, sweet, and relevant. The work of an educator is just plain hard.
It’s no easy task to find balance in what you are required to do to finish this school year, and who you want to be for your kiddos. Take a few minutes to find some joy, celebrate your kids, and be present even when everything in you is saying, “I have a million things to do,” then reflect on this year’s data and reimagine for next year. You are almost there! Summer is coming!
To help you along the way, here are some helpful resources to check out:
“The Beginner’s Guide to Being Present” Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — Written by Crystal Raypole on April 6, 2020
PHASES OF FIRST-YEAR TEACHING By Ellen Moir – California New Teacher Project, published by the California Department of Education (CDE), 1990