Every year, during the final few weeks of the school term, grim articles about how to hang on until the last day of school without losing your sanity abound. Loads of stern advice about topics such as the importance of managing stress and the misery of standardized testing and unpleasant conferences about failing grades seem to dominate teacher forums. What if, instead of just hanging on, you took a different approach to the time you have left with your students? An approach that includes some joy and fun and learning and all the other good things that school can be and should be every day.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that your students (and you) have a positive ending to the school year is to involve them in some of the many decisions that regulate classrooms instead of just trying to impose your will on a crowd of students who are distracted by warm weather and the promise of summer vacation. Brief class meetings now and then will not take up too much instructional time and can make an enormous difference in your classroom climate. Sometimes just raising student awareness about a problem and asking for their help is enough to solve it.
The first few minutes of class after your students settle in and complete their warm up activities are an ideal time to hold a class meeting. Tell students that you are going to set a timer for a few minutes (the length of the meeting will vary according to the age and maturity of students as well as the topic under discussion) so that you can brainstorm together.
Have students move to form a circle so that you can see everyone and everyone can see you.
Establish quick ground rules for the meeting. The two most important ones are that students should listen courteously and respectfully and no one should talk unless they have permission to do so. Many teachers have found that giving students a token to serve as a “talking stick” sets a positive tone for a class meeting because it limits the number of students who want to speak to just the person with the token.
After you have students in place and ready for a meeting, begin by explaining that you want the end of the school year to be positive and productive for everyone and that you need their help for this. Ask them to generate some ideas that they may have to make the end of the year positive.
If you have specific concerns, especially discipline issues, ask students for advice on how everyone could work together to solve problems. Often, just making students aware of a problem and asking for their help will make it easier to manage issues successfully.
Here are some general questions that you could consider adapting to use for a class meeting with your students.
- When are you most distracted in class and how can we overcome this distraction?
- How would you like to change _____ (a procedure or routine—you should remain in control of rules and policies) to make things easier for all students to learn?
- What is one thing we could add to the school day to make it more enjoyable for everyone?
- How can everyone work together to make sure the end of the school year is a success?
- What can we do together to keep focused on instruction and learning instead of the distractions of warm weather and end-of-the-year silliness?
Keep the pace upbeat and focused. It is easy to allow a meeting to drag on too long. Keep it reasonably short and focused on one or two topics for the best chance of success.
At the end of the meeting, ask students to quickly reflect on the discussion. If they are old enough and if it is appropriate for your students, ask them to write their reflections on half sheets of paper and drop them into a basket or bin for you to review later.
With this pleasant, quick meeting, you show your students that you respect their ability to work together to generate solutions to shared problems. You have also moved toward the kind of ending for the school year that you want for your students and yourself. You don't have to waste a single class day in just holding on. Instead you can have the kind of classroom environment that you and your students want.