Author: Dawn Mitchell
For many of you, this week is bittersweet as you enter your classroom, that you never expected to abruptly leave back in March, to pack up.
I know that you will have mixed emotions seeing empty desks and unrealized opportunities. Instead of preparing for end-of-year in person celebrations, you are considering how to plan a virtual event that is meaningful and thoughtful for your students.
While this is a difficult time for you, it will also be a difficult time for your students. They are naturally looking forward to summer time, but are also having mixed emotions about not being able to finish the school year as they anticipated. I’d like for you to consider ways to make this year’s “goodbye” a little easier for you and your students.
In a blog post from TeachHUB, "Teaching Strategies: Saying a Meaningful Goodbye", Jordan Catapano provides several suggestions that can help ensure that your goodbyes to students are poignant and positive. While his suggestions were written before the quarantine, they can definitely still be done with some modifications. Below you will find his strategies followed by my suggestions, in bold, for doing them digitally.
Teaching Strategies: Class Awards
Your students have worked hard this year – why not host a small awards ceremony? You can create categories and pass out a survey for students to write down which student in their opinion is most deserving. You can even leave a write-in category for students to create their own awards. Or instead of having your class vote on award winners, you can have students all create unique awards for one another. This way, everyone would receive a unique, personalized award, and everyone would have the chance to give one.
This can be done digitally through a Zoom conference or Google Hangout.
It never hurts to recognize that your last day of school is, in all likelihood, the last time this group of people will ever be assembled. Mark the occasion with a meaningful “Farewell Address” where you praise your students, give them advice, reminisce over the year, and think forward into the future. Students don’t always seem like they’re paying attention, but when a respected teacher gives meaningful advice, students appreciate and remember their words.
This can be done digitally through a Zoom conference, Google Hangout or through a whole class video or email.
In addition to giving words, give students a meaningful object to remember your time together. The object does not have to be anything fancy, but rather it gains importance based on the shared meaning your class assigns to it. You can have students take something that’s already a part of the classroom – like nametags or art projects – or give them something new, like a superhero cape, a book, or another small item that reminds them of your words and shared experiences.
This can be done digitally through a whole class video conference where you hold up the object and/or screen share a picture or graphic of the object.
Along the lines of the farewell address and memento, give an official “Toast” or series of toasts related to the successes and accomplishments throughout the year. Share the stage and ask students to give their own toast speech to commemorate their favorite elements of your time together.
This can be done digitally through a Zoom conference or Google Hangout. Your students can “toast” with water, soda, lemonade, etc.
Ask students to write letters to their future selves or take an object that had meaning to them this year and put it in a time capsule box. Ask students to share what they put in the capsule and why. Store the time capsule in a safe space and mark it with the year it is to be opened. Then (and you really have to remember to do this) when that time passes, reconnect with your students and open the capsule.
Students can bring their objects when they return their devices/school materials or this can be done digitally through images of the selected objects.
Pose for the camera! Tell students in advance that you’re going to take a picture as a class. On your last day, pose as a class and smile. You can print out a copy of the photo for everyone, or just share it digitally on your class website, social media account, or cloud-based storage sharing. Be sure to label everyone’s names. You can even treat this like a yearbook and have students sign the photo or write their own personal messages to everyone else on it.
This can be done by taking a Zoom screenshot or through students taking individual selfies and creating a collage.
Passing of the Torch
For every class that leaves, there’s a new class following right behind. Develop a “Passing of the Torch” tradition that involves your outgoing class sharing advice, a class gift, or even a literal torch that can be passed on for the next class to enjoy. This helps outgoing classes feel like they are leaving a piece of themselves behind, and it helps incoming classes to feel like they are entering part of a legacy that’s bigger than themselves.
This can easily be done digitally through a class Google Doc or through students writing a letter to next year’s class.
There are limitless possibilities for how you choose to end your school year. But whatever you do, don’t shortchange your students by ending on a fizzled-down note. Avoid just watching a movie, reviewing your class study guide, or playing a meaningless game. Instead, focus on how you can cram those last moments with one another in a way that adds value and meaning. This isn’t about making you or your students feel good; it is about commemorating a great year of learning together and ending in a way that respects the relationships and growth everyone has participated in.
South Carolina ASCD President