About ten days before school ended, I remember announcing to my class that this was our last Monday together before summer break. To my surprise, I heard a few groans and more than a few: "I don't want school to end!". I had been used to this when I taught in a low-SES neighbourhood, where summers off often meant a complete break from a steady and predictably-safe environment. But hearing this from my mostly well-off kids, who had plans of world travelling, specialized summer camps and endless play dates? I didn't expect it!
So I took the time to explain that we had all worked hard this year, and that we all deserved a break to relax now! To enjoy the hot weather, the long sunny days, eat tons of ice cream and play with our friends outside! And of course, we will all see each other again before we know it.
This class discussion made me think about the importance of closure. After spending all our days together for the better part of a year, even I'm sad to leave my crew. We have all those inside jokes! We have shared so many good and bad times together! Saying goodbye can be hard, specially for those not returning to us next school year, so it's important we do it right. Here are a few traditions I have in place to ease the transition, and to give everyone a peace of closure for the end of the school year!
The Most Detailed Attendance
It's almost comical how anal I become about the June calendar. "Will anyone NOT be here tomorrow, or for the rest of the year? X, will you be here? Y, when are you guys heading down to the States? Z, last year you had to finish early last year- what about this year?" In spite of my daily inquisitions, one or two students always end up leaving without coming back, sans warnings to themselves, to me or to their friends. And every year, this simultaneously bugs me and saddens me.
I think it is SO important for students to know when they are leaving school, and for their friends (and teachers!) to get a chance to say goodbye! Kids need the closure of goodbye hugs. It's essential that the adults in charge (a collaboration between teachers and parents) respect our shared children, and respect the relationships they've cultivated over the year.
Celebrating Summer Birthdays
I've written about the importance of celebrating birthdays before, but here I go again! It's so important to celebrate student birthdays, even if they occur on weekends or during the summer. This shows students that are thought-of and cared for all the time, not just when it conveniently fits our calendar. Also, I've had students not want to make birthday drawings for other kids because they thought their July birthdays wouldn't get celebrated. That bad attitude turns around quickly when they hear that I do ALL birthdays!
I typically schedule summer birthdays throughout the month of June, ensuring everyone gets their own day. Their birthdays are written on our calendar, and a little note is sent home explaining to parents why their child will be talking about their birthday a month early!
End of Year Awards
For the last two years, I've started the tradition of End of Year Awards with my students. Each award is personalized for the student and everyone gets one!
We roll out a red carpet (red paper if we have it...this year, I painted a red carpet on craft paper), put on award music and a video of a disco ball on a loop and we begin our ceremony! We go over the rules first: everyone claps for everyone, and everyone has the right to go to the end of the carpet to do their dramatic catwalk! My teaching partner and I put on our TV show host voices, and dramatically call out the awards like this: "for doing the right thing even when no one is looking, Mr. Integrity goes to... *kids do a drumroll* Johnny!" and then we do a round of applause, and pause for pictures.
End of Year Breakfast
If we don't have too many classroom allergies, I love to host a good classroom breakfast as an end of year activity. Each student is assigned a piece of food or cutlery to bring in. I set up our class tables as one mega table, so that we can eat family style. I even like to do place settings, and I have the kids help me in setting the table.
When it comes time to eating, I tell the kids a story from my past. When I was the army, the higher-ups always served the troops first, and they ate last. This is because leaders show the example, and put others first, and (I always liked to imagine) as a sign of respect for the troops. I always add that it's a little thing I can do to show them some love for a great year together!
The Importance of Traditions
These are a few of our little classroom end of year traditions. They change over the years depending on the kids. They help in the planning of it all, and they are the reason any and all these events are successes- it's thanks to their enthusiasm and participation that anything we do goes well. These traditions are a way of showing one another how much we mean to each other, and, for the end of the year, it's a celebration of all we've accomplished. What are some of your must-dos for class celebrations?
I read somewhere that when you are choosing a career, you should find something you hate in the world and try to fix it. I think this reasoning is a big reason why I went into teaching. As a child, I was very smart but not very cool. Here I'll share a few of the most memorable scenarios of my elementary life:
As you may have guessed, the problem I've set out to try and fix is inclusion. I've had so many experiences (as I'm sure you have too) where I have felt left out or unimportant, that I would hate for more children to live through the same problem. I've also been on the other side, where I was included but someone else was not, and I felt so lucky like at least I'm safe this time.
With that in mind, here are things I do in my teaching practice to make everyone feel valued and included.
At the beginning of the year, I make all the teams. I explain my reasoning to my students like so:
Some students will then bring up that when we do the Daily 5 component Read to Self it's not a good idea to be beside a friend, because they would distract you from your work!
Oh, I love birthdays! It's such a great opportunity to celebrate every child in the classroom! Here are some of my traditions:
Snack & Lunch times
I have an important rule for snack and lunchtime: no one can sit alone.
It's everyone's responsibility to ensure everyone has someone. This means if you see someone sitting alone, you have to either go over to them and sit with them, or invite them over to your table. easy peasy.
Once I explain why this is important, that sharing meal times is good for your brain, and helps you feel better, the kids just get it. This is one rule I have never needed to enforce. In fact, a few kids even transfer this rule to the playground, and go ask kids who are alone to join in on their games (which brings tears to my eyes, but I can't let them see it!).
Setting up play dates
When I've taught younger grades (grade 1 & 2), I sometimes 'takeover' their play time by setting up play dates. I am constantly surprised by the amount of kids who don't have play dates on weekends or week nights! So many of my students are surrounded by adults and screens...they miss out on great opportunities! With that in mind, I make up teams of 2, and remind them that I put a lot of effort into making these teams, so no complaining please!
We begin with a whole group discussion about what makes a great play date and what makes a good friend. Here are some of the answers we always come up with:
And I then send them with their partner to begin their play dates. If they are going particularly well, I stop it immediately- and tell them to exchange numbers to continue at home!
After 15 minutes, we pause, and do a whole group reflection. What am I doing to be a good friend? How could I make this play date better? These play date practices are a great opportunity for students to get to know one another, and practice communication skills, work their imagination and sense of humour and patience...I love it and so do the kids! I've had kids ask for more play dates instead of free play time.
As I am teaching a grade 2 & a grade 3 this year, I want to step up my play date game to hands-on team-building challenges. More on this when I get started!
How do you make sure everyone is included?
These are just a few of the ways I try to make all my students feel welcome in class and at school. It's so important for me to make sure my students feel safe and important- I don't think learning can take place without taking care of the basics first. How do you make sure everyone feels welcome in your class? I can't wait to see how others do it!
First, let’s acknowledge that burnout does not happen overnight. Rather, it is an exhausting process in which an individual is gradually drained of energy, progressively develops distant or cynical attitudes, and ceases to feel as if they are making a difference in their work. Wright (2003) would add that “it is a problem born out of good intentions because it happens when individuals try to reach unrealistic goals and end up depleting their energy and losing touch with themselves and others.” (as cited in Espeland, 2006). Teacher burnout is a serious and complex issue with no easy solution. However, there are a lot of things we can do help prevent it from happening, whether you are an at-risk teacher, or a school leader.
The best defense is a good offense; the old sports adage can also illustrate that the best intervention for burnout is indeed burnout prevention. By remaining vigilant and remaining attentive to the warning signs of burnout, it may be possible to alter an individual’s path before things get too complicated. Espeland (2006) cataloged a collection of strategies to help nurses find their way out of burnout. Having experienced burnout myself, I know that I would not have been receptive to these strategies by the time I needed a leave of absence. However, they may have been helpful at the beginning of my downward spiral. With that in mind, here are a few of the strategies suggested by Espeland (2006) (also known as things I would tell my younger self):
to err is human, to forgive, divine. Remember also that forgiveness does not mean approving of a harmful act: you forgive a person not the act.
Principals & School Leaders
In order to prevent job burnout among your staff members, many options are available. By even making the effort to take care of your employees’ mental health, you are taking a step in the right direction. Coates & Howe (2015) determined a few key aspects in the design and development of staff wellbeing initiatives. An integral component of any wellbeing initiative is to involve the staff members in the development process as much as possible, as their needs and issues are the objective.
Coates, D. D., & Howe, D. (2015). The design and development of staff well being initiatives: staff stressors, burnout and emotional exhaustion at children and young people’s mental health in Australia. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(6), 655-663.
Espeland, K. E. (2006). Overcoming burnout: how to revitalize your career.The journal of continuing education in nursing 37(4), 178-184.
Grandey, A., Foo, S. C., Groth, M., & Goodwin, R. E. (2012). Free to be you and me: a climate of authenticity alleviates burnout from emotional labor.Journal of occupational health psychology, 17(1), 1.
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