Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ten Tips for Finishing the School Year Strong
by Mike Nitzel, Principal
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School
Rock Island-Milan (IL) School District

The end of the school year brings with it many emotions--excitement at the prospect of summer vacation, perhaps tinged with a bit of sadness that another school year has come to an end.  Some of us have just finished our last school year after a long and distinguished career; others, like me, are one year closer to retirement.  Some of us are looking forward to new challenges in new positions next year, while others among us are looking forward to new challenges in current positions.  Some of us may be in the unfortunate position of having to look for work next year.  Whatever our status as this year winds down to a close, and whatever our position, we should all be united in our effort to finish this year strong.  Here are some tips for doing that. 

1) Plan Meaningful Activities for Students--Every day, every hour and every minute we have with our students is precious.  Use your time in meaningful ways.  When you're tempted to throw in a movie or heaven forbid give them a word search--ugh!--find something for the kids to close read and write about instead. 

2) Maintain Your Agreements With Your Students--I prefer the word agreements rather than rules.  But whatever you call them, don't let them go out the window as the end of the school year approaches.  Maintain the standards of conduct for your community through the very last minute of the school year.  If your agreements were important the first week, they're important on the last day.

3) Maintain Accountability--This is related to #2.  If students or staff do not maintain the agreements you have made, hold them accountable.  Like your agreements, if accountability is important during the first week, it's important on the last day. 

4) Maintain Rituals and Routines--We all find comfort in rituals and routines.  Our rituals and routines define what's important and what we expect.  For example, though we only have five days left in our school year, I am still publishing my Daily Update complete with a teaching tip/resource of the day.  Abandoning rituals and routines in the last days of the school year diminishes their previous importance and the importance that they will need to have next school year.  It also sends a message that the school year is already over, which it isn't.

5) Keep Your Classroom As It Is--Wait until the kids are gone to tear down your classroom.  Nothing says, "We're done!" like empty bulletin boards.  I've seen teachers begin to tear their classrooms down two weeks before the end of the school year.  This is a terrible message to send. 

6) Maintain Professional Dress--Unless you're going on a field trip, it's field day or it's incredibly hot and you have permission to wear them, keep the shorts and t-shirts at home in the closet.  Again, dressing down as the year comes to a close sends a message to your kids that vacation has already started.  What you do is more important than what you say.  Your dress sends a message.  Make sure it's the right one.

7) Stress the Importance of Attendance--Kids belong in school when school is in session.  Be explicit about this and let them know that their attendance is your expectation. Of course, it will help if you plan meaningful learning activities. 

8) Stay Away From Countdowns--Counting down the number of days until the end of the school year reinforces the notion that school is something the kids should want to get away from.  Don't we want them to feel exactly the opposite?

9) Come to School Yourself--It's tempting to take those unused sick days or unused personal days towards the end of the year, especially if you find yourself in a "use them or lose them" situation.  Lose them.  You're a professional and your presence is critical to the success of your kids.  If you're gone, why should the kids show up?  What's left must not be all that important, right? 

10) Maintain Your Enthusiasm--Be excited about learning, every minute of every day.  It can be tough at the end of the year.  You're tired.  You've been working hard.  You should be tired.  But your kids deserve your best every day--first day, last day and everyone in between--and your best requires your enthusiasm. 

These are just a few things that I thought of as I was thinking about the end of the school year.  As a school principal, my school year never truly ends; the minute the last student and the last teacher leave the school, our school secretary, the custodians and I are busy preparing for the first day of the next year and I don't get the same vacation that others get. It might, therefore, be a little easier for me to preach on this a bit.  But whether you are an administrator, teacher, secretary, paraprofessional or custodian, our students deserve our very best every precious minute we have with them.  Let's all agree to give it to them. 

I would be interested in any comments you might have.  As always, thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to read this.  I truly appreciate it. 

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