The last weeks of school are a tumultuous time of transition. Not all students look forward to summer vacation, and even ones who do are likely anxious about next year. For some students, next year brings a new school, not just new teachers, and this can be especially worrisome.
One of the ways we can help students feel safe and help them continue to be able to learn—is to be as consistent as possible. This year, this is perhaps more important than ever. After a year of never-ending transitions for some students, the more consistency we can bring to the day, the better!
Consistency with Routines
What are the routines that your students count on for school to feel “normal”? Do you start each class period a certain way? Do you begin each morning with a morning meeting? Are there certain routines you use for how students get your attention, share ideas in a group, turn in work, or take care of supplies? Do you have a consistent and predictable way you end the day or a class period?
Whatever these routines are—keep them up as much as possible in the last weeks of school. When my class was going on a field trip right at the beginning of the day, I would have everyone gather in a circle so we could at least start the day with a greeting—to reinforce that even though the day is different, we’re still in school. Consistent routines provide safe structures and can help students function with independence.
Consistency with Limits
It’s so easy at the end of the year to be loose with limits. Kids run (Are they really running or just speed-walking?) in the hall, and it’s tempting to let it slide. Students do sloppy work on assignments, and it’s tempting to shrug and sigh, figuring the year is almost finished anyway.
The problem with this is that limits create boundaries that help kids feel safe. Remember how important it was early in the year to set clear limits? This was what helped create a classroom environment where kids could take academic risks—where they felt safe enough to be open to learning. If you stop being consistent with limits, don’t be surprised if some students start to test limits again. When kids test limits, it’s often because they’re looking for limits—it’s boundaries that help them feel safe.
Consistency with Language
Keeping your language firm, clear, kind, and calm can go a long way to setting a safe and supportive tone in the last weeks of school. Here are a few tips to consider.
Be Direct: Mean What You Say and Say What You Mean
Avoid wishy-washy language that invites student interpretation and even limit testing. If a student asks if she can bring a laptop outside for recess and you don’t want her to, instead of saying, “I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea,” say, “Nope. Computers need to stay inside.” If a student is doing something he shouldn’t, instead of saying, “Jake, excuse me, no thank you!” try “Jake, put the meter stick down on the table.”
Use the Language of the Class Rules
One way to reduce power struggles while also being clear about expectations is to use the language of the rules. Instead of saying, “I need you to quiet down,” (which makes the expectation about following your personal demand) try “Remember our rule about being respectful. Keep your voice quiet so others can focus.” Check out the chart below for a few more examples.
Use Familiar Academic Structures
Hopefully, you’re planning some really fun and exciting academic work for the last weeks of school. If not, good luck having students who are eager and excited to come to school. While projects like independent research presentations, movie-making, simulations, and other awesome work can be fun, they can also feel unpredictable for students. Consider balancing new and exciting projects with some steady and familiar ones.
For example, you might have longer periods of independent reading or writing time. In younger grades, you might offer familiar open-ended choice time options or add in some extra read-aloud time. In order grades, you might review some key lessons and activities that you have already done—ones that are especially important for students as they prepare for semester-end assessments.
Finally, you might want to continue to offer students choices about their learning but reduce the number and complexity of choices they have. In this way, you can still tap into students’ needs for autonomy while also keeping things manageable for students.
One Final Thought: Have Realistic Expectations
Finally, let’s remember that the end of the year is hard. It’s hard on kids, and it’s hard on adults. Let’s give ourselves–and our students–permission to be tired and a bit off at times. Recognize that some kids are going to struggle more than others, and that’s okay. Accept that student behaviors might be more unpredictable this time of year, and that doesn’t make you a bad teacher, it just makes your students human. They won’t be able to follow the rules all of the time any more than you will always be able to drive the speed limit. So give yourself–and your students–a break, and remember to love them and enjoy them in these last weeks of school.