I want to share some thoughts about closing out your school year virtually, for those whose schools aren’t reopening this spring.
I’ll give you some virtual end-of-year activities to create closure for the year even when you can’t be face-to-face with your students.
And, we’ll briefly cover the classroom closeout process. If you’re being given a few hours to get back in your room and prepare it for the summer shutdown, I have some ideas to help with that also.
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Preparing for a classroom closeout
I want to emphasize here that it’s okay for these end-of-year activities and cleaning out your classroom this year to feel like a more emotional experience than normal.
There’s always a bittersweet quality to the end of the year, and not being able to experience it face-to-face with your students and say goodbye to them is likely to magnify the sadness. Even if you’ve enjoyed being at home or were having such a rough year that not being at school felt like a relief, this is still not how you pictured things ending. This isn’t the closure any of us wanted.
It’s very likely that you WILL feel sadness or grief or have a strong emotional reaction of some sort when you re-enter your room for the first time since the pandemic. Same for when you’re saying goodbye to your kids virtually. Mentally prepare for that, and allow yourself some time to process those feelings. Don’t allow this to catch you off guard so you spend the whole time pushing back unexpected tears. Show up to the task knowing it’s going to be difficult and psyching yourself up so you’re prepared to push through.
One thing that can help is getting a game plan together BEFORE you go into your classroom for the final time this school year. When you have a checklist, you’re less likely to get caught up in just feeling sad, or waste time staring at the room deciding what to do. The list will make the task feel less overwhelming.
So, spend 15 minutes or so making a list of what you need and want to get done, and then when you get in your room, all you have to do is execute the plan.
I have an editable checklist that can help you think through the tasks that need to be done. It also includes a 5-step system for closing out your classroom in just a few hours. Delete the stuff that doesn’t apply, and add your own tasks as needed.
I created it for members of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club but I’m making it available for everyone.
Ideas for wrapping up the school year virtually for students
Build in choice and be mindful of how students are impacted by the pandemic
Mrs. Baskin said on Twitter: “I gave my HS English students lots of choice. They could write a letter to my future students about how to succeed, create a top 10 list of memories from the school year, or describe their reading journey this year. They also had options for creating the project.”
I want to start with that because of her wonderful point about student choice. Have you seen that short essay floating around on social media about how we are NOT all in the same boat right now? We’re all weathering the same storm, but we’re in very different boats. Some kids are in luxury yachts and some are barely hanging on to a deflated raft.
So when it comes to end-of-year activities, there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all idea, and give the trauma that we’ve experienced, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of how certain assignments might make kids feel.
Some students will love doing a sentimental reflection on what life has been like during the pandemic, while others will find it upsetting and depressing.
Some kids will enjoy an upbeat celebration, while others might find it tone-deaf and not be in a mood to celebrate anything at all right now, particularly if people they care about are sick or dying.
Be especially mindful of that if your students have any connections to cities, states, or countries that have had high outbreaks. I can tell you that in my area, all of us personally know many folks who have gotten extremely sick and we all know at least a handful of people who have died from this. I don’t know any families here who have been completely untouched. It might not be that grim where you’re at, but if students have family or friends in New York or another hotspot, there may be sadness or anxiety they’re feeling that you’re not aware of, so I just wanted to mention that in case the vibe in your area is really casual and light-hearted at the moment. It’s not that way for all of us and a little extra compassion can go a long way for your students.
Optional school-wide activities
The more choices you can give them about how to process the end of the school year and close it out, the better. A teacher named Anita said, “We are doing school-wide optional activities — each will have a couple of live options and self-directed options: Virtual field trip day, read-aloud day, virtual field day, and virtual school assembly with a flip grid to leave messages.” I think that’s fantastic, particularly the mix of online and offline stuff. Some kids love to see and interact with their friends virtually, others hate it — and this gives choice.
Video talent shows
Many folks mentioned Zoom and Flipgrid talent shows. I think this could be awesome but should be optional: Many kids may not want to show their homes, bodies, etc. on video, or present their talent to their peers where they could be made fun of or told they’re not very good. So this is one where I think it’s important to know your kids well and make sure you’re presenting the idea in a way that allows kids to participate in a level they’re comfortable with, with clear norms about how to respond appropriately and supportively to one another’s submissions.
Childer’s Class said on Twitter, “We are creating a choice board of “time-capsule” like activities for students to record what they are experiencing right now, and reflecting on the year as a whole.” I thought that was really cool, too, again allowing for kids to process in their own way and have choice about how much reflection they want to do.
Photo memory books and keepsake videos
If you have photos of the kids, creating a slideshow could be really great. Maybe some from earlier in the year when you were in the classroom, and have kids submit their own for inclusion. Set it to music, save as a keepsake video.
You could also have the kids make the keepsake photo collection or video themselves. Devon said, “For 5th grade, we are allowing parents to drive through our bus loop from 3-6 PM to pick up end-of-year gifts, yearbooks (which we are giving to them), and say good-byes. We will have balloons set up and cars decorated for them. I’m also doing a digital memory book using Google Slides as their only assignment for the last week of school. I’m going to provide access to the pictures from throughout the year that they can add to their personal memory books.
Sharing survey questions
Emily said “Virtual teacher here (all the time), and my team gives the students a survey with several reflection questions on it. We create a video with their responses, making sure each student has at least one quote (but we don’t reveal who said what). The kids really like it!”
On Facebook, April Shanafelt mentioned toasting to the end of the year together and linked to a fantastic post by Dave Stuart about how to do that.
Jake Miller on Twitter said, “I’m going to write every kid a thank you note and mail it to them. At secondary, it’s a hefty challenge, but since they’re in 8th grade and moving to high school, they deserve it.”
Sarah said, “I’m finishing up with an end of year bingo to review what we’ve learned and keep students as motivated as we can doing distance learning at the end of the year. I’m giving gift certificates to the local businesses that support us during normal times — things like a cookie or ice cream, a mini pizza, a gift bag.”
Kirstin said, “I got the idea from a friend to ask Family Feud style questions of the students about their time in junior high (they are going to high school next year) and play the game via Google Meet. I’m going to ask the parents questions for that final round and surprise the students with that, so they have to guess the top answers their class’ parents said.”
Class party via Zoom
Jan shared this: “I think we’re going to have a Zoom party with treats, cool virtual backgrounds (maybe with a common theme?) and play some games. At the end, everyone can say one thing they’re grateful for.”
Laurie said, “I’m going to do a Zoom meeting to give away individual awards to each student and then maybe read them an end of year picture book like “I Wish You More” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I’m also sending a book to each of them, their award, and a name key chain (made from shrinky dink paper) in their bags with all their personal belongings from school.
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So, that’s a wrap on Season 11 of Truth for Teachers! We’ll resume the normal Sunday episode again in August, and in the meantime, I’ll check in periodically with you here with mini-episodes, announcements, and bonus episodes over the summer.
I’ll be honest and say I have no idea what next school year is going to look like, or what I’m going to be sharing on the podcast then. I have a feeling that the plans for reopening schools will be wildly different from one school district to another.
One thing I know for sure is that I am committed to doing the hard work of finding the emerging best practices and workarounds for you next year. I can already tell there’s going to be a lot of mixed messages and impossible-sounding expectations, and I will be here creating podcast episodes to help you find a sustainable way to teach.
Your mental, emotional, and physical health are more important now than ever, and I’m not giving up on my quest to help teachers stay in balance and show up as the best version of themselves each day. The full year 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Program is going to be adjusted for whatever challenges are coming, and that’s starting this summer, so you’ll have that as a support if you’d like, too.
None of us have all the answers, but we’re smarter together. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.