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Making it to the Finish Line! [episode 8]

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Morning Message: 

[0:55] What is something you own a ridiculous amount of as a teacher?

As teachers, we accumulate a lot of stuff throughout the years, or we tend to buy the same thing every time we’re at Target! We both mentioned children’s book and plastic bins and drawers. 

Some of our listeners answered this question over on Instagram and we could relate to each one of these! This list includes post it notes, flare pens, folders, spiral notebooks, dice, paper clips, mini erasers, cardigans (the teacher uniform!), mugs, and personalized items.

We’d love to hear your responses, so let us know over on Instagram!

Here’s an overview of episode 8:

We can see it – the light at the end of the tunnel that is the end of another school year! Although we can see it, sometimes getting in the mindset and getting there can be the challenging part. On today’s episode, we’ve come up with some ways to help you make it to the finish line at the end of the school year. 

There is always so much going on at the end of the year, and it can be hard to remember it all. One of the things we suggest doing is make a brain dump list of all that you need to do in the next few weeks out on paper. Think about events, grading, packing, all the small things, and then all the big things. Having it all out on paper will help with our next tip of prioritizing your list.

Looking at your long to-do list can be overwhelming, so instead of looking at it as one list, break it up into three categories: what you need to do now, next, and what can wait until later. Breaking it up helps you manage and accomplish all of your tasks, without looking at it as a whole.

The end of the year can be a time when the novelty starts to fade. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to switch things up and tweak things that were previously working for you.

Use this time to try something new for next year, add in something you wish you could’ve taught, but didn’t have time for, or incorporate something you enjoy to help bring back some of the novelty from the beginning of the year. 

While it might be hard to think about, planning and thinking about next year can help rejuvenate you the last few weeks of school. The start of the school year brings a fresh slate, new expectations and routines, and an energized new you! So why not start thinking about it now? Spend some time figuring out what’s going well, things you want to keep, but also what’s going wrong and start brainstorming ideas to fix it. 

Making it to the finish line at the end of the year is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes strategy, planning, engaging activities, and a positive mental mindset. By incorporating the strategies provided in this episode, you’ll cross the finish line a winner!

In this episode on making it to the finish line, we discuss:

  • Strategies to determine what’s the most important on your to-do list
  • How to evaluate if things aren’t working anymore and then what you can do to change that going forward
  • Rethinking before you take down everything in your room, for it can be a visual signal to your students that it’s time to be done
  • How to plan for next year before getting stressed out about it

This week’s teacher approved tip:

[21:43] Give yourself a permission slip

We love this idea from Brene Brown, who says that you need to give yourself a “permission slip” every once in a while. This idea is giving you the permission to let go of something or to feel however you’re feeling about it.

Giving yourself a permission slip is especially relevant at the end of the school year when we feel like we’re expected to do so many things. But we’re here to tell you it’s okay to not thrive at the end of the year or it’s okay to let go of some of the things you thought you’d do. What’s most important is that you’re happy!

What we’re giving extra credit to this week:

[22:35] Emily is giving extra credit to Domino Masters on Fox

[23:26] Heidi is giving extra credit to anyone who has reviewed or rated our podcast


Read the transcript for episode 8, Making it to the Finish Line!:

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’ll be discussing how to make it to the finish line at the end of the school year, and sharing a teacher approved tip for end of year self care.

We’re starting our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do it morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is What is something you own a ridiculous amount of as a teacher?

What’s yours, Heidi?

Oh, books. I fully own a small children’s library. I mean, the library small amount the children are small, although the children are small. That’s all accurate. I’d say it’s a problem. It feels like it should be a problem. But can you really ever have too many books?

There are so many worse things to have a huge collection of. That’s what I tell myself every time I get a new series.

How about you, Emily?

Oh, for me, it’s for sure. plastic bins and drawers. I just, you can never have enough. Every time I see one. I’m like ooh. Especially if they come in fun colors or have drawers or something like that. I’m always collecting and amassing plastic bins and drawers

100% And then nothing ruin your day is like if you had on wheels, and the wheels would break.

The worst, just the worst. We also have some responses from listeners to share. So post it notes and flare pens, were on everybody’s lists. No surprise there at all. But let’s be honest, can you ever have too many of either one of those?

Absolutely not. For Joy, it’s folders and spiral notebooks and for Hannah it’s paper clips and dice.

I really do have a strangely large collection of dice. No that you mentioned that just keep coming out with such fun variations. You gotta have them all, that’s true.

And Heather said mini erasers and those are so easy to accidentally amass a giant collection of; I blame target. They’re just so cute. Now but and you think all these different things you’re gonna use them for you may or may not. But you’ve got a big collection for if you think of something, and Tina said cardigans.

I wouldn’t know anything about that. Since I’m currently wearing one of my many cardigans it’s your teacher uniform. Absolutely. And Karla, Trista, and probably every other teacher on the planet has way too many mugs.

You know, you’re a teacher when you need a whole cabinet for your mug collection. Absolutely. And Nicole said personalized items which made us laugh because that is so true. Everyone thinks personalized items are such an awesome gift for teachers. And they are very thoughtful. But the problem is when you’ve been teaching for many years, and you suddenly just have a million personalized items that you feel like you can ever donate, because they have your name on them. So that’s a little bit tricky. And your collection just grows and grows. You get to dust it periodically. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this question over on Instagram, you can find us at @2ndstorywindow and that’s with a two.

So many of you are now in the final countdown of the school year, Hurrah! This is such a unique time of the year as a teacher because you’re wrapping up a lot of what you’ve spent the year doing. But you’re not done, you might still have weeks of school left. And the kicker here is that you’re probably also running on fumes at this point. You’ve made it through all the big holidays and their related craziness. You’ve taught pretty much all the new content now. And you’re in the middle of testing or maybe you’ve already finished. And now you’re just freaking tired. Not only that, but the kids are also so done. At this point in the school year, they’re getting stir crazy. Some are already mentally on summer vacation.

And then add to that sometimes depending on funding, we lose our planning time at the end of the year because there is no money to pay the specialty teachers. So end of year teacher tired is a very real thing. You know it? It’s so hard to keep showing up every day with energy and enthusiasm when you are so exhausted.

Totally. So how can we make it to the finish line in one piece. Heidi tell us.

I always think it’s helpful to start with a brain dump. And just write down all of the things that are on your plate for the next few weeks. So think about everything that’s on your mind right now. Think about your grade level end of year parents celebration that you always have. And then all of the little details that are involved with that. List out all of the assessments you still need to get for the end of the year, or for report cards, report cards, the worst. Are you doing a field trip in the last two weeks? Write down all the things you need to do do that like permission slips, volunteer organization, lunch details, bus plans, all that fun stuff. Whatever it is in your brain, just get it all on paper.

And at that point, you’re already going to feel so much better. Something about getting it out of your brain and onto paper is already a huge relief.

It really is. And then once you see what you have in front of you, the first step is to just decide what you can let go of, look at every single item on that list and decide if you truly need to do it. Some things might be easy to cross off your list. And some things are going to be trickier. If you need to free yourself from the things you think you have to do like publishing all of your students writing for the you’re into a book, or making a special gift for the end of the year. You might feel like just because you’ve given something to your students on the last day of school every year before now that you must do it again this year, but you really don’t have to.

It’s good to remind yourself that the rules are mostly made up. So you can free yourself from the ones that don’t serve you anymore. Brene Brown, we’re big fans of Brene, Team Brene, she talks about giving yourself a permission slip to do something you have previously felt like you just couldn’t do. And I found this idea to be really freeing, and it’s something you’ll probably hear us talk about a lot here because teachers often need to be giving themselves permission slips. So sometimes giving myself a permission slip is all it takes to feel like I can finally let go of something that I’ve been holding on to. So like that last day of school gift we just mentioned, maybe this year, it’s time to not do that. And maybe that’s just for this year, maybe you just need to say for this year, I am giving myself a permission slip to not give my students gifts on the last day of school, because I don’t need to really do that. And it’s too much for me right now. And that’s okay. Give yourself the permission, and the freedom to just let it go and feel okay about it. And it’s okay to feel disappointed, if something you felt was meaningful, like making a class memory book needs to come off of your list. But it’s better to choose a little sadness by intentionally letting go than to feel guilt for not getting around to it. Or worse, to burn up the little energy you have left on the things that are good, but not vital. So as you are taking things off your list, make a note about how you feel. Are you relieved that you’re not having to deal with it? Or are you disappointed? If you’re relieved, see if that is something you can permanently remove from your list. And if you’re feeling disappointed, make a note so that you can revisit the idea at a less stressful time. And then see if there’s a way you can plan ahead for the end of next year. A good example of this is with our good friend Cassidy and Cassidy and I taught together for a lot of years. And on the last day of school, for the kids that were graduating sixth grade and going on to junior high, she had taught as second graders, she would always get them like a king size candy bar and then like a handwritten note for all of them about like how much he loved them and all the great things they were going on to, and every year on the last day of school is like, Oh, that’s such a good idea. I should have done that. And then for that next 364 days, I forgot that was a thing until the last year. So I was like, oh, I should have done that. If I had made a note of that. So I could make plans in way, way before way before this stressful time when you don’t have anything left in you, I can get the sixth grade class list from the Secretary in February. And I can buy the candy bars way in advance so that I’m not doing this the night before because who can do? Absolutely not. So if there’s something you’re taking off your list that you’re disappointed to see, go make a plan so that you can be ahead of the game next year. But of course, there are going to be some things on your list that you truly must do. Or maybe there are things on your list that you decide to keep because you actually love doing them. And they’re important to you. And that’s great too. Now you know which things truly mean the most to you. And you can do them justice by not being overwhelmed by the things that don’t actually matter as much.

It’s just a good clarifying exercise to really figure out what does matter to you and what doesn’t. So now it’s time to take the items left on your list and make your plans. And we like to divide those plans into three categories. So planning for now, planning for next and planning for later. So first, we’re going to plan for now just to start shorten your finish lines. If you have six weeks left of school, you cannot tackle that whole thing right now. You might not even be able to stomach thinking of the whole thing right now. So shorten the finish line, just focus on this week and what do you need to do this week? Or maybe just today if you’re really struggling and that’s all you can manag, just think about today. It’s like eating an elephant right? You do it one bite at a time. And right now you’re going to decide how big your bites are going to be. Decide what your mileposts for this time period are going to be. For planning right now you need to decide how you’re going to manage self care to get through this gauntlet at the end of the year. Don’t forget that like they tell you on an airplane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first; you won’t be able to do what needs to be done or thrive as a human being, if you don’t prioritize self care right now, you have to put that on your list. It’s important to prioritize self care all the time. But especially right now you have to make it a priority, and decide exactly what you’re going to do.

And this doesn’t necessarily look like bubble baths and massages, although it can if that’s what fills your bucket, right. But things like regular meals and rest and all the stuff that we would do for a toddler.

Right, so think exactly about what in your life specifically, in the immediate future you could do to make your life a little easier, or to give yourself an extra care. So can you plan for some really easy meals for yourself and your family this week, or maybe you could ask someone in your life to help take some of the burden off of you that you’re carrying. So that might look like if making dinner is generally your responsibility, maybe you ask another family member to take on some of that responsibility until the end of the school year or just for this week, or whatever you need. There is no shame in asking for help. And then you really need to prioritize rest. And this is hard to do. Because it’s sometimes if you feel like you have so much to do, you can’t even stand the thought of going and resting. But don’t let rest become the last thing on your to do list, you’ve got to make it the top priority. And you don’t have to earn that rest either, you are naturally just entitled as a human being to rest. So set a goal specific to that maybe set a goal to be in bed by a certain time every day during this season. Or give yourself permission to take a nap right after school, or to sit and read a book for a certain amount of time and make it something that is on your to do list. You need to do this every day.

So once you have a plan for meeting those urgent tasks for right now, think about what is next on the horizon. So at the end of the year, there’s always stuff coming up at school, right? We’ve got testing, we do field day, maybe like me, you’ll be losing your prep time, you’ve got field trips, maybe you’re doing some fun themed days, there are dance festivals, PTA, ice cream parties, and I know I have just scratched the surface of what goes on at the end of school year. But whatever it is, make sure that you are adding those important events to your calendar, because I’ve been caught off guard more than once. And then to really thrive at the end of the year. Think about what you enjoy as a teacher. As our 97 year old Grammy says a change is as good as a rest. Now that some of the curriculum pressure is off, can you change your plans to allow for more of what excites you as a teacher? Maybe you love science? So can you find a way to work in a nature walk? Or daily science experiments? Can you find a presenter to come and to talk about animals in the local habitat. Or maybe you want to find a really compelling read aloud that keeps those kids hooked and begging for more. Or maybe you are just so drained that you have forgotten why you love this job in the first place. And if that’s the case, maybe you want to try a few different changes to see what sparks that teacher joy again. And not only is change motivating for teachers, it’s motivating for kids too. So consider how you can change your schedule to accommodate the shorter attention spans the end of year brings. You know how the kids start to check out more and more as the last day of school approaches, you’ll find that maybe your math stations that earlier in the year were running like clockwork, are now running like someone jammed gum in the gears. And you might have to get creative to find ways to keep things moving at a quicker pace. Maybe you spend half your math lesson playing games, maybe you add in a daily art time. So let’s start by spending a couple of days really dialed into when your kids are struggling to focus or when they’re not remaining on task like they used to. And that will help you identify where you might need to make some tweaks or changes in your schedule. I know it may sound a little mean to tell exhausted teachers that they need to plan for something new. But we’re doing a favor because really you will be more exhausted if you have to spend all day managing behavior because the kids can’t focus on what you had planned in the first place.

That being said, as energizing as change can be, don’t discount the power of maintaining a routine. And if you listen to our episode about dlite days, those are our theme days. We talked about engagement as the balancing of routine and novelty. So if you’re adding novelty to part of your day or your week, you might find it helpful to stick with routine the rest of the time. It will help your students stay engaged without getting too overwhelmed by constant novelty, or on the other hand to board from predictable routine, it really is a balancing act. And it changes so much as the year fluctuates totally and keeps you on your toes as a teacher.

One part of the routine you might not think about is your room arrangement, we often have to pack things up at the end of the school year, maybe it’s just so your room can be cleaned over the summer, or maybe you have to move classrooms. When you are facing the misery of packing, it feels like such an accomplishment to get your walls cleared off. Believe me, I know, it’s a quick win without the effort of packing up covered, right. But I would recommend you leave the surfaces of your classroom intact as long as you can. Your students have been at home in your room for nine months. And suddenly everything looks different. It’s signaling to them that it’s time to be done, you’re giving them permission to check out. And also they might just feel so unsettled that home doesn’t feel like home anymore. So by all means, pack things up if you need to, especially if you’re moving rooms, but focus on packing your cupboards and drawers and file cabinets. If you can leave your bulletin boards and anchor charts and everything else on your walls until the very end.

Besides your own to do lists, you need to factor in any expectations that your school has at the end of the year. And school expectations can bring the double challenge of being both unpleasant and inescapable. I think we can all relate to that. Heidi, can you give us an example? Oh, I think we all are very familiar with grading. I hate grading I hate it so much. But none of my principals have you ever been willing to let me skip it. That’s so rude. So rude. But since I couldn’t escape it, I tried. I tried, I had to find a way to make it livable. And I know some people hate grading at home. And that’s fine if that’s your boundary. But if I have to do something miserable, I’d rather be comfortable doing it. So my grading strategy was to take my ridiculous stack of papers home, because I’ve been procrastinating this task. And then I would plan some yummy takeout for dinner and then grade while watching a favorite show. That’s how I made it a little more pleasant, usually go with North and South, the BBC version, if you know, you know, yes, it’s always my go to but I don’t know why cause it gets really depressing in there. So maybe I should go to the comedy. But whatever school expectations you are facing, find a way to make them more enjoyable. And if not enjoyable, at least tolerable since you don’t have a way out of them.

So now that you have a plan for what’s in your immediate future, and then what’s on the horizon, maybe you can turn your attention to planning for what is coming later. And I always found it really energizing at the end of the year to start looking ahead to the fall. Because at the end of the year, I am burned out and annoyed and how things are but I can look ahead to the fall. It has a clean slate and a fresh start and all the fun things, right? So the key to being able to plan for later is to think about what you know, at this point about what next year looks like. Are you staying at the same school? Are you staying in the same grade? Are you staying in the same classroom, maybe you don’t even know what the changes are, but lean into what you do know and what you can plan for right now. So maybe you do know you’re switching grades. So try and find a time to observe a class in that new grade. And if you know that you’re staying in the same grade or classroom or at the same school, try and think about what’s working well? Did you have a smooth running morning routine? Did parents thank you for being good at communicating? Did you have a stellar grade level concert, make a list of everything that’s worked well and this you can kind of think of as your ta-da list instead of your to-do list. And you need that little win at this point. And then from that list, make a note of everything you want to make sure to repeat next year. Do you want to repeat your vocabulary activities? Write it down. Do you want to keep your small group math rotations? Write it down. And after that you can turn your attention to what’s not working the way you want. And I always think that of the two lists. This one’s the easier one to me unfortunately accurate. And the top two things on my list every year, were Writer’s Workshop and science. If those are your jam, kudos to you. But every year it was such a struggle for me to make those subjects run well. And besides curriculum when you’re thinking about what needs tweaking, think about the routines and your management and pinpoint any problem areas. And then comes the part that I love the most: fixing things always gave me such a boost of energy. So start by identifying the source of the friction. Do you need more effective procedures? Do you need to reconfigure your daily schedule? Do you need a complete overhaul of something? Figure out what it is that you need to make things better and then start looking for mentors in that area. And it doesn’t have to be an actual in person mentor although it can me if you know a teacher who is skilled and then area that you’re struggling with, but you can look for teacher mentors who share on their blogs or on social media, you can look for teacher podcasts and for books about the topic, maybe you can find courses or workshops to attend. Luckily, teachers are typically eager to help other teachers become even better teachers.

Oh, that is so true. Teachers are so nice, we are. Sometimes at the end of the year, I’d really find a lot of energy by thinking about what I’m excited to try implementing next year, and what thing I want to learn about. So for me, reading a new teacher development book at the end of the year, could be really energizing. That might not be true for you. So just be clear about that. If that sounds stressful, ignore this tip completely. But if that sounds like it could excite you, think about it right now, not when you’re overwhelmed, getting ready to go back to school, or when you’re checked out for the summer, then you have time to think about it over the summer and start to think about how you want to implement the ideas. So that’s one way that you can start thinking about long term and getting excited.

So in summary, to make it through the end of the school year, number one, start with a brain dump and get it all out of your head all of those to do lists, get them out on paper. Number two, cross off what you can let go of Number three, decide what’s most urgent and make a plan for right now. Number four, look at what’s upcoming and make a plan for what’s coming next in just a little while. And then lastly, number five, think long term and make a plan for later on.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week, we’ll leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is give yourself a permission slip.

As we mentioned earlier, sometimes you need to give yourself a permission slip to let go of something or to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Give yourself permission to feel that. We want to challenge you to give yourself a permission slip to not thrive at the end of the school year, if that’s how you’re feeling. Sometimes you just have to make it through and that is okay. If that is where you are right now, we just want to challenge you to give yourself a permission slip to just survive. And if you don’t feel like you can give yourself the permission slip we’re giving it to you, for you. You have a permission slip to just make it to the end of the year this year. And that is enough for now.

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

I’m giving extra credit to Domino Masters on Fox. So this is a reality competition show where teams of domino enthusiast compete to create the most amazing domino builds. And it is such a fun family friendly show. Although I will give the caveat that I ended up having to explain What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas to my eight year old. Oh no, when we watched the Vegas themed episode, of course, I give an eight year old appropriate explanation of that. But overall, it’s very family friendly. And it’s just something you can get excited about together and watching them test out these builds and have their challenges and how they solve them. It’s just really fun. And it’s hard for us to find a family show that we all love. And this is one of those. And if you have any S.T.E.M. lovers at your house, I bet this will be a favorite for you too. That sounds like a lot of fun off to check that out.

And what are you giving extra credit to Heidi? I just want to give extra credit to anyone who has reviewed or rated our podcast. It has felt very scary to take this new step and so it’s it’s really meant a lot to see the five star ratings and the reviews. We appreciate it a lot. And if you want extra credit, you can still leave us a review or rating. And we’ll apply your credit. Yes, you get the gold star too.

That’s it for today’s episode. Make a plan to get through the end of the school year. And don’t forget today’s teacher proof tip to give yourself a permission slip.

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.