The power of a teacher is truly known when we allow a child to be truly known
RESEARCH TELLS US:
The end of the school year. Yes, this is a time that evokes so many feelings for students and teachers alike. Summer vacation is knocking at everyone's front door, and this annual knock makes those last couple weeks of learning...well, a bit chaotic. And we may agree that when I say "learning," I use it loosely. But we do know that these students, who we've poured so much of our lives into, will leave our classroom for good. It's important that we maximize these last fleeting days with our students and design powerful opportunities for them to reflect on their growth, both as a person and as a learner. This reflection can lead to affirmation and self-worth, which is important especially as a school year comes to a close.
Boosting self-worth can have real impacts on thinking and learning. British Columbia professor, Jiaying Zhao, conducted a study that found "that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation [can] improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty." The end of the year presents a potentially memorable opportunity to design activities to help support and encourage students' self-worth. By this time of the year, each student should have the opportunity to let their talents be known and shine in the classroom. Specific feedback should be given to reinforce these authentic examples of achievement. Just be sure that our attempts to support and enhance student self-esteem is based on real achievement, as empty praise "...does not automatically translate into improved student behavior or academic achievement" (Sousa, 161).
Ending the year by providing intentional student affirmation can ensure a sense of closure for students. In fact, we should begin our school year by keeping in mind the specific goals we want students to accomplish by those final days. By that last day of school, I wanted to ensure that each of my students would be able to honestly and specifically identify areas of personal and academic growth. And it was my job to design a learning environment throughout the year that engaged students in activities where they could use their talents in ways that led to successful outcomes. Below are some of my favorite culminating school year activities that incorporate recognition, reflection, and reinforcement.
1. Circle of Compliments: Have the class sit in a circle while each student takes a turn sitting in the middle with their head down. Have 2-3 students and the teacher share a specific compliment to the student seated in the middle. Be ready, as usually tears will flow! Examples would be, "I noticed how you were always a thoughtful friend to everyone, even if you weren't having a great day."
2. Here's A Toast: Give each student a cup of juice. Then allow each student to be toasted by their peers with a specific compliment. "Here's a toast to (student's name) for always being an enthusiastic leader during team projects, cheers!"
3. Student Letters To Next Year's Class: Have students write a creative reflection on the year by sharing with next year's class about all of the fun, challenges, and activities they should expect. It can always be so insightful to have them share their advice as well!
4. Teacher Letter To The Class: Write, laminate, and give each student a final class letter where you summarize all the incredible feats of the school year and then share one specific memory for each student.
5. I Know That I'm (...) Because I Was Able (...): This student reflection activity allows children to recognize not just that they were successful, but more importantly, how they were successful during the past year. The "how" is powerful, as it allows the students to better visualize and remember these experiences.
6. I Know That You're (...) Because You Were Able (...): In a personalized teacher letter, we can encourage students by sharing not only their individual strengths, but also how those strengths looked like in class. Tying their talents back to classroom experiences can enhance the power of this exercise.
What are some of your favorite ways to affirm students at the end of the academic year? Leave your thoughts below.