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Closing the Year [episode 11]


Click below to listen to closing the year:

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Morning Message: 

[0:58] What’s a permission slip you’ve given yourself at the end of the year?

We talk about giving yourself a permission slip, or a pass, to not complete something, not do something you’ve always done, or do something you’ve always wanted to do, in order to give you some freedom and fun! We both said we’re giving ourselves permission to just do the bare minimum and be proud of all that we’ve accomplished this year!

Our viewer responses included just doing something for fun (which we fully support!), not holding on to stuff and just starting fresh, and not doing testing bags – which I’ve done all of my teaching career. Whatever your permission slip is, we hope it provides you less stress!

We’d love to hear your responses to this question and future questions, so let us know over on Instagram!

Here’s an overview of episode 11:

Wrapping up at the end of the school year has always been a tradition and a way to say goodbye to our students and have some closure, for it’s something we’ve always done. However, in 2020, that opportunity was robbed from us, and closing out the end of the year has since never been taken for granted. So in today’s episode, we’re discussing how to meaningfully close out the end of the school year. 

Having a proper end to the year provides you and your students an opportunity to think about all you’ve accomplished, learned, had growth, and fun over the past school year. We’ve narrowed down 3 areas of closure that we want to pay attention to, which are reflection, transition, and celebration.

Within these three areas, each category consists of ways to create memories from the year as a class, provides ways to look ahead at what’s coming the following school year, and ways to measure their growth, thank those that have supported them throughout the year, and fun daily activities. Most ideas are low prep and involve student choice and engagement. 

Although most of these closure activities revolve around your students, it’s important to remember to do things that are meaningful to you as well! You were just as much part of making this school year a success for your students, so celebrate all you’ve accomplished as well! By thinking about those 3 areas of closure, you’re guaranteed to end the year on a positive note! 

In this episode on closing the year, we discuss:

  • The three areas of closure that you should pay attention to
  • A lot of fun, engaging, and memorable ways to reflect on student growth from the school year
  • Ways to help your students easily transition from one grade to the next
  • How you can celebrate the end of the year as a class
  • Why you should still find meaningful closure for you as well

This week’s teacher approved tip:

[20:06] Go easy on parents at the end of the year

As teachers we have a lot to do at the end of the year, but did you ever think that parents are in the same boat? With end of year parties, gifts, field events, etc., parents are involved in so many things! So we think they would appreciate not having more on their palate with any end of year activity you decide to do in your classroom.

We’re not saying don’t celebrate with your kids! Just try to celebrate and do activities that don’t require students to bring in anything (i.e. their parents!). Instead, try and provide all of the supplies or materials you’re wanting to use.

What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

[21:16] Heidi is giving extra credit to HiccAway Straw

[22:33] Emily is giving extra credit to Savvy Reading – use code EMILY at checkout


If you enjoyed this episode, you’ll love these too:

Read the transcript for episode 11, Closing the Year:

Hey, there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we will be discussing how to meaningfully close out your school year and sharing a teacher approved tip for helping out parents at the end of the year.

We start our episodes with a morning message, just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what’s a permission slip you’re giving yourself at the end of the year. Emily, what’s your permission slip? I’m giving myself a permission slip to just do the bare minimum, I support that fully. Sometimes I’m just an all or nothing kind of gal who wants to do everything perfectly. If I’m going to do it at all. But you know sometimes, it’s okay to just do B work instead of A+ work. So I’m just gonna do what needs to be done and nothing more.

That sounds like a very healthy plan. How about you? I am giving myself permission to be proud of what I’ve accomplished. So even if it hasn’t been as much or as perfectly as I want to. I think I have still gotten a lot done this year. So maybe I’ll even make a ta-da list and write down everything I have managed to do. And just ignore everything that is still on the to do list.

We have some responses from our community too; Nikki said she’s giving herself a permission slip to just do something just for fun. Oh, I love that. Karen said she’s giving herself a permission slip to not hold on to stuff. And to just start fresh. That’s always so freeing. And Beth said my permission slip was to not do testing bags. Every year, normally, I buy pencil bags and put names on them for testing days. I stuffed them with mints, tissues, pencils, etc. And she’s not doing that anymore. She also said she might issue one for no elaborate rewards for Field Day games. I loved that one. Oh, yeah, save yourself, you got to save that energy at the end of the year.

So what are you going to give yourself a permission slip for? We’d love to hear about it over on Instagram, you can find us at @2ndstorywindow.

Teachers have always known how important it is to mark the closing of the school year in some way. But I think with 2020, when we were robbed of that chance, it really showed us how important it is to have meaningful closure. And we understood that in ways that maybe we hadn’t appreciated before. So this year, we want to make sure and plan time for that meaningful closure. As we started discussing what we want from our end of the school year, we hit on three areas of closure that we want to pay attention to. They are reflection, transition, and celebration.

So let’s start with reflection. I think most teachers naturally get reflective as we reach the end of the school year, it’s a perfect time to pause and look back at what the last 180 days has brought to your class. There are lots of ways to reflect on your students and all the ways you’ve grown together. A memory video is one popular way to reflect back on the year. And there are so many programs that make this really easy. And depending on what grade you teach, and how tech savvy your students are, they may even be able to be part of pulling that video together. And they will have much more pride over that video if they helped make it.

I was just doing something similar on my phone last night with your kids, Emily, I just opened up the photo album on my phone and it automatically designed a whole slideshow. So how awesome is that? Yeah, they loved it. But if you’re wanting to reflect on academic growth, you might want to try a year mapping, it can provide a powerful visual of all that your students have learned this year. So to make a year map, you’re gonna want to divide your class into small groups, and then give each group a piece of paper, a regular sheet of construction paper will work. But if you’re really going for like a big visual impact, you might want one of those 12 by 18 sheets of construction paper, you know the ones I’m talking about that are like student desk. And then you’re going to assign each group when part of your curriculum and depending on how many groups you have, you might want to give a whole content area like social studies, and this group has all of math, but you could dial into more specific areas like this group has fraction then this one’s going to do life cycles and this one does persuasive writing. Just think of all of that important stuff that has filled up your whole year. And then each of those groups is responsible for writing down everything they learned this year about that topic. If you have the time, you can have like the groups present to the class. Then the class can add their own ideas to whatever the group may be overlooked. But then once everything has been added, you can take all the papers from each group and you tape them together. And then you have this giant map of everything your classes learned this year, get a big, big wow, from seeing it all together like that, love that. It would really give a powerful visual of all the hard work that’s gone into the last 180 days.

But if a giant map isn’t your thing, your class might enjoy naming something they’ve learned for each letter of the alphabet. So you might need to do this as a whole class activity with younger grades. But older students could probably make their own lists. If you’re having students do this independently, I find it’s often helpful to start activities like this with some brainstorming. Depending on how much support your kids need, you might want to brainstorm ideas for each letter, or you could just brainstorm ideas for the really tricky letters like Q,X, Z, you know the letters that always dump you on the alphabet game, when you’re on a road trip.

But if 26 letters feels too daunting, you could try switching it to a top 10 list. This is easy to do as a class or the students can make their own again. You can do lists of the top 10 things they learned, top 10 books they read, or keep it fun with just the top 10 best memories from this year.

When I taught second grade, one thing I really liked to do was a looking back looking ahead timeline. So as a class, we would brainstorm again makes some of these things so much easier, we would brainstorm a list of memories from our year together. And we needed enough ideas so each student or each pair of students, if I was having work together, would have one activity that they could each take. And then I drew names to let each student choose a memory that they wanted to draw a picture of and write about. So you might want to have more memories listed, than you have students so that everyone has a choice in what they work on. And then no one is stuck with the one bummer idea that’s left, you know how it feels. Then once your kids have finished writing and illustrating their memory, I would gather them and arrange them in chronological order. And then I’d hang them in the hall like a giant timeline of our year. And it took a little bit of math, but I made sure that the width of the papers I gave my students fit the length of my wall, so it would all fit and I had a pretty long wall so it wasn’t too hard. And then above our timeline, I hang a sign that said, looking back at second grade. So we had this whole timeline of our whole year together, which was so fun to look back at. But then bonus back to school hack. I left this up all summer. And then I just switched out the header from looking back at second grade to looking ahead to second grade. And this meant I had something outside my room for back to school already to go. And it gave my new batch of second graders an idea of what they could look forward to. But the reason I really love this was that it meant so much to my former students to see that they still had a place in the story of my class. They would often stop by at the beginning of the next year and then talk about what memories were jogged by seeing our pictures. I love that. But I really only did it for a few years because as we’ve lamented, before, between the swamp coolers making everything so humid and all the adhesive falling off the walls. And then the industrial fans that would blow to drive the clean carpets, nothing stayed on those walls.

You’d have to hang it back up multiple times. I really did and it was just too much work at a time where it was stressful. And looking back now I definitely could have tweaked it. And maybe I could have hung it in my classroom where there was less fans. Or I could have maybe tweaked it to a bulletin boards. I could have used like pins put it up I could have done things but I wonder if you could laminate it like the whole long renovate and then it’d be way easier to take down and put back that is gonna do that lightbulb. Yeah, that is brilliant. But end of year Heidi, not such a rational thinker. So, but I still think this activity offers a lot of benefits if you can find a way to make it work. If you try the laminating trick, let us know if it works, we’re very curious.

Another way to reflect is to distribute a student survey. This can be really helpful in finding out what worked, what didn’t work in your class from your students point of view. This might make you feel a little vulnerable. But it can also give you important feedback you might not be aware of otherwise. When you create the survey make sure to include a space for students to share their best memories from the year. And then you can compile those and share them with your class. There are lots of word cloud generators that turn words into a collage that you could print or project so your whole class has a chance to relive the years highlights.

If your students have been working towards goals this year, you definitely want to take some time to reflect on how far they’ve come. You could make this quick by just giving them a few minutes to think about their progress, but they’ll get more out of it if you offer a chance for them to journal or draw about how far they’ve come and what they think they should do next. Even if you haven’t had your students formally set goals, you can use the students work to reflect on growth. And if you save work samples from the beginning of the year, gather similar samples from the end of the year. And then students can compare their samples and really celebrate how far they’ve come. I didn’t do this in a formal way. But I used our morning work for a quick moment of reflection at the end of the year, because we had our morning work bound in a book, they had the whole year’s growth right in their hands. When we were getting close to the end of the year, I would ask the kids how difficult the day’s morning work page had been for them to finish. And like I tried to make a joke of it, guys, that page was so hard, how did you manage to finish it, and then they love to show off, right? They’re so quick to assure me, nothing is too hard for them. And then I’d have them flip to the beginning of their book. And we would talk about how simple those pages look, even though they were a challenge back in September. And then I would remind them of a moment that they have all forgotten, but I remembered because it really did happen every year. On the first day of school, when I was introducing their morning work, the kids would start to flip through the pages. And I’d start to hear little comments about how hard it looked. And they might feel a little overwhelmed. And I assure them like I promised by the time we get there, this will be easy. And they didn’t think they could do it. They didn’t believe me. But now as I proudly pointed out to them, they’re able to zoom through without a second thought. It was just a quick moment of reflection. But I think it helped them get an idea of how far they’ve grown in a year. There’s really so many ways to reflect on your year together. And these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg.

Besides setting aside time for reflection, it’s also important at the end of the year to mark the transition that’s coming. You might want to arrange a time for your students to take a peek into the next grades classroom so they have an idea where they’re going to be next year. You could even turn this into a whole school event and have each grade level visit the next grade level up. And maybe you’ll want to turn it into an afternoon activity where the soon to be students rotate through all the teachers on that grade level for a brief activity or story. And that will give them an idea of what they can expect in the fall.

One favorite end of your transition activity is having your current students write letters to the students who will have their desk next year. They always love doing this and it’s a fun experience for next year students to read as well. You can also have your students design a welcome banner that you can display for your class in the fall. Or it can be really fun to have your students make a brochure of everything you need to know about fourth grade or top 10 tips for third grade.

Even though you’re wrapping up your teaching the end of the year is a great time to have students set goals for what they want to achieve next. We have a freebie that you can use to help kids organize their ideas. And we’ll link to that in the show notes. These pages give students an opportunity to reflect on what they’re already good at now, and then set a goal for what they want to improve in next year, you might want to send these home or you could save these papers to hand to their next year’s teacher. Or if you’re looking for a time filler project, you could include these goal sheets in an end of your time capsule. Time Capsules are always a fun way to reflect on the present moment. You can have them save the capsules to open in the fall, or make it a real stretch and not open till they graduate.

One last way that we like helping students transition to a new grade level is sending them home with some summer bridge activities. We like to keep it super simple by using a style that similar to the morning work we used all year. So each day is a mixed spiral review of math and ELA topics that we already covered during the school year. It seems far more likely that at least some of the practice will get done during the summer, if it’s really straightforward. So just do one page every day. And we will link to our summer review packet from the show notes as well.

Of course, we don’t want to end the school year without a little celebration. To celebrate your students growth, it’s fun to have students each write about an accomplishment for the year, then you can post these around the room or in the hall to create a walk of fame. And students will love walking around to read about everyone’s achievements. Or maybe you want the recognition of formal awards. If you listen to our podcast from a few weeks ago, you know we have strong opinions, shall we say, about traditional End of Year Awards. But we’re big fans of having students choose their own growth mindset style awards that are based on what they personally want to celebrate. Maybe someone in your class feels their biggest accomplishment was being kind. Maybe someone feels they worked really hard on achieving a goal. And maybe someone wants to invent their own award because they feel their accomplishments are too impressive to be confined to a single category. We break this whole process down for you in episode nine. And you can also get a freebie with everything you need to give out your own growth celebrating awards. You might also want to consider spotlighting a student of the day, let everyone share a good memory or compliment, just make sure you start this with plenty of time to get through the whole class, plus maybe a few buffer days to account for absences and interruptions. And just making sure that everybody gets a turn. Or you could do something all at once instead of over multiple days. For older students, you can give them each a stack of cards, and have them write a classmates name on each card, and share a compliment or happy memory. If you don’t want to manage hundreds of note cards, you could put each student’s names on the top of a paper and have the class rotate through writing positive messages on each paper. Just make sure you review all the pages before the kids get a chance to see them. You don’t want to risk hurt feelings because someone left a mean message especially at the end of the year, we don’t want to end on that note. You could give each student their paper or note cards or if you still have some energy left, you could compile them into a word cloud or put them into Google slides for a virtual yearbook.

Of course, we also want to celebrate our support staff at the end of the year. As a class, you can brainstorm a list of all the people who made the school your special, your lists might include custodial staff, office workers, specialty teachers, bus drivers, playground supervisors, lunch workers, all of those people that make school possible. Then you can put your students in groups of two or three and have them choose a person to thank and make a small poster or card for them. And if you’re really on top of it, you can have a small gift to give as well. This means a lot to the kids because they’re getting to choose who they want to thank and how to thank them.

Another way I like to work in celebration, because they love reading to my class is to pull out the picture books that we have read during the year. And then try and reread one or two favorites every day. So it’s fun to like, get all the books out and put them on like the chalkboard tray and let kids pick what we want to reread for the day, it’s just a fun way to look back at the year in a low key low prep way. But a more high prep way to end the year is to plan some kind of fun daily activity. You might put links in a paper chain, and every day you tear one off and do the activity, you could blow up some balloons with an activity inside and then pop the balloon each day. There’s lots of ways to incorporate a bit of fun in your last days as a class.

And then once you have reached those last moments of the year, you might set aside time for a toast. You can get some Sprite and fancy glasses from the dollar store and gather everyone in a circle and have them each share a goal for next year or share something good about the year that’s just ending. And then after everyone has shared you raise your glasses, if you have a class chair, you can give your class chair and everyone takes a drink. In my class, I always ended Fridays with an end of the week closing circle. And that would be really easy to adapt for the end of the year. So with a closing circle, everyone gathers obviously in a circle, and then they share what they’re proudest of stuff from the year. And then I give them a few minutes to think of a wish for next year. They don’t need very long, and they can think of something they want to do or something good they want to happen. And once everyone has thought their wish, they just whisper into their hands and keep it kept tight. And then we say our class cheer or if we don’t have a class cheer that year, we just count to three. And then we release our wishes we let them go. Or they float to the ceiling. And then in the fall when they come to their new classes, their wishes will be there waiting for them and I’m not crying you’re crying. You don’t cry on the last day of school you are made of stronger stuff than me. I’m gonna I’m gonna be honest, there’s a couple classes I did not cry. But mostly genuine tears.

And as you’re planning out these reflection, transition and celebration activities, don’t forget that teachers need closure too. Make sure you include whatever you need to feel like you’re ending the year in a meaningful way. For me, that meant I wanted each student to know how much I love them. Writing each student a letter is an obvious way to achieve that goal. But sometimes I was too tired to do that at the end of the year. So I did better sending them postcards during the summer. That’s not as long as a letter, but I hope that receiving it in the summer when I didn’t have any obligation as their teacher anymore would help show how much I really did care about them. And I got a postcard over Christmas break for my first grade teacher that is still saved in my memory book somewhere. And every time I see it, I’m struck by the love there that she took the time to write that postcard during her break. That’s so sweet. Mrs. Clark.

Plan whatever you need so that you can feel like you’re ending the year, even if it’s been a nightmare every year on a positive note. Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas for meaningful closure for your class and yourself. And we hope you’ll give some of these activities a try.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is go easy on parents at the end of the year. Emily, do you want to share more about this one?

Well, as a parent, I understand this more than I ever did before I had kids. When you’re looking at social media, it’s easy to get sucked into big ideas for the end of the year as a teacher, but parents will be just ever so grateful if your plans don’t have to become their plans. A lot of parents are already involved with a lot of end of your school activities. And they will appreciate not having more things that they need to remember. So if you want to do an art day, maybe don’t require that each student bring in a shirt that can be painted that day, try to find a way to celebrate reading that doesn’t require each student to bring in a book to swap. Not only will parents appreciate not having to remember one more thing, but you will also be less stressed if you can control all the supplies needed for an activity instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that everyone remembers to bring what you need. This time of year is crazy for teachers, but it is definitely crazy for parents too so let’s just go easy on each other.

To wrap up the show we’re sharing what we are giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to?

Emily, I’m giving extra credit to you. You got me something called the hicc away straw. It’s true, called hicc H-I-C-C like hiccup, and I had my doubts. I had my doubts that this could actually work. But a couple days ago, I had hiccups. And they’re like the painful kind where you’re like, yeah, oh, I’d forgotten how bad this could be. And so I got it out. And then I’m giving you double extra credit because you’re supposed to put it in like a shallow glass, you can’t have too much water in there, and so I opened my cupboard to get a cup. There’s a coupe glass that you gave me for Christmas. Oh, wow. It’s perfect size. It’s got it can hold a lot of water, but it’s very shallow. So that worked perfectly. I did have to watch like a YouTube video to figure out how to like coordinate because you have to breathe really quickly. You have to suck, you’re trying to do like continuous swallows because that’s what stops the hiccups. So it’s a straw, but it’s got like a very tiny hole. And so you’re really working hard to suck. So it changes the pressure and whatever is causing hiccups not assigned. Look it up on YouTube. They were on Shark Tank, they probably explain it better than we do. But I will say since we’ve had it, it is carried every case of the hiccups at my house. It’s awesome. So thank you for making sure I was covered to you. Welcome.

What about you, Emily, what’s your extra credit this week? Well, I’m giving extra credit to Savvy Reading. So this is an online reading class that’s for elementary age students. They log in for 25 minutes a day, Monday through Thursday. And they work with a reading coach and up to three other students no more than four students in each group. And the small group setting is so engaging and effective. My son did it last summer and he really loved it. My youngest has been doing it this whole school year. And I’ve just been so impressed with her progress. The classes are also really engaging and I appreciate having this like built in daily practice, where they’re covering phonemic, awareness, reading comprehension, and all these other important reading skills without that having to fall to me to facilitate. So let’s think yeah, so whatever I get to is great. And we do lots of just actual reading together. But I don’t have to worry about all these other things because I know she’s getting good practice in it every day. And we actually have a coupon code you can use you can save $25 per month of classes with the code Emily e m i l y at checkout, and we’ll have a link to check out Savvy Reading in our show notes.

That’s it for today’s episode. Plan time for reflection, transition and celebration as you close out this school year. And don’t forget today’s teacher approved tip to go easy on parents at the end of the year.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever before.