No matter how welcoming and positive a classroom community you’ve established over the course of the year, students may struggle with the thought of the school year coming to an end. They may feel discomfort or stress about the unknowns of the year to come —from new teachers and classmates to new content or schedules, a new school, new friends, or even a post-school environment, if students are graduating from high school. Change is hard, especially for students who struggle socially and emotionally.
For some of our students, the thought of summer itself can be distressing in that summer may lack the structure, routines, and safety provided by school. Daily access to friends, food, and supportive, caring adults may not be available to some of our students over the summer months.
For all these reasons, students may act out and struggle to be present and learn during these last weeks of school. Being aware of student worries can help us be intentional about how we wrap up the school year, acknowledging that our students may have a lot on their minds.
- Revisit classroom norms on a regular basis throughout the school year. When you notice students struggle with your classroom norms, make time to explore what’s going on. What norms are hard to follow? Why? What’s getting in the way? Did anything change? How can we work together to maintain a positive classroom community?
- Try mindful awareness practice. Mindfulness works best when it’s been practiced throughout the year, so that it can function as an anchor and buffer when tough times arise. Research shows that a regular mindful practice can trigger hormones that relieve stress and anxiety, while improving our mood, self-awareness, mental concentration, and emotional self-regulation. A few minutes several times a week can make a world of difference, especially when stressful times arise.
Pave the Way for Transitions:
- Practice gratitude. Invite students to make cards or write thank you notes to some of the people who’ve made a difference in their school year. This practice is beneficial for those receiving the gratitude as well as for those giving it. Regular gratitude practice is known to rewire the brain, impacting our outlook and mood in positive ways.
- Look ahead. Engage your students in discussions around what next year may bring: the possibilities and hopes of a new grade, school or life as well as the concerns or fears that may bring. Consider sharing of yourself to set the stage.
- Acknowledge students’ feelings, no matter what they are. Feelings are real, we can’t undo them, but we can acknowledge them, and in naming them, we can tame them.
- Address obstacles. As students think ahead to the summer/next year, invite them to consider the obstacles they may face. Then problem solve together how they might face their struggles and, where possible, overcome their obstacles.
- Consider supports. Have students think about where they draw their strength from—external support systems as well as internal wells. Have them reflect on and possibly share out the times they overcame challenges or hardship. What supports did they draw on? What other supports do they have in their lives? How might they build a stronger system of support? Who might they reach out to? How?
- Help others. Ask students to write letters of support to the students moving into their grade. Encourage them to think back to the start of the school year. What would be useful tips and information for younger students moving into the grade?
Reconnect with community:
- Connect with students. Check in with your students, not just over academics but find out how they’re doing overall. Connections are the foundation of any learning community. For students who are struggling, a quick check in and acknowledgement of where they’re at can help. If you have time, follow up and invite them to talk later about what might be bothering them. You don’t have to be a therapist to provide the healing power of good listening and connection.
- Connect with colleagues. When we feel tired or overwhelmed ourselves, it’s easy to close our doors and retreat into our own classrooms, when the opposite might provide the recharge we need. Connecting to the community at large, or just with a colleague you trust, can help us get through the day or week. Maybe plan to have lunch together one day this week, or bring in an extra cup of coffee that you can share before school starts.
We, like our students, can benefit from strategies ranging from relaxation techniques and gratitude practice, to connecting with and helping others. By supporting each other, we can make a smoother transition into summer and the new year.