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4 ways to end the year on a positive note

A principal shares the sensible and silly ways she keeps teachers (and students) focused.

5 min read




Across the country, teachers and students are counting down to the end of the school year. At the same time, they have plenty of teaching and learning left to do — not to mention assessments to conquer. Here are four ways I make sure that every school year has an upbeat ending.

1) Ask every teacher three key questions. To close out the school year on a positive note, my assistant principals and I take the time to meet with our teachers face-to-face and talk to them about their year. It’s always hard to make time during the busiest month of the year, but we carve out 25 to 30 minutes per teacher to sit down and ask them:

  • What has been the highlight of your year?
  • What’s something that you wish could have gone better for you?
  • What’s something that you’d like to change for next year?

We create a safe environment for teachers to speak openly. Their ideas may benefit the whole school: a teacher may tell me that they love what they’re doing, but they’ve really been thinking about a different grade. Then it becomes a partnership to help them get where they want to go.

2) Help teachers (and students) stay focused. In May, kids lose their minds. They really do. All they want to do is go and play, so I ask my teachers, “How can you think about teaching differently so that you can keep the energy and the motivation? Because if you don’t, you’re going to be beating your head against the wall.” For example, I like to challenge my teachers to find ways to move certain lessons outside. 

To keep their kids’ minds on what they’re learning, teachers need to keep their energy up. We help them do that with fun activities like the “hidden in plain sight” egg hunt. We give teachers clues and send them running around the building looking for eggs that are hiding in plain sight. For every egg they find, they get a little prize. Playful breaks like that keep them excited about being at work.

3) Make room for family and food. Our students are not the only ones graduating in May, so I tell my teachers, “If you have a son or a daughter that’s graduating high school this year, your family comes first. So absolutely you can take off the last day of school for graduation.”

The other thing is food, food, food. If we’re having a faculty meeting and we need to talk about, say, testing protocols from the state, bringing in ice cream sundaes or chips and salsa makes it much less daunting. We recently celebrated both National Grilled Cheese Day and National Animal Cracker Day with treats for our teachers. There’s just something about having food around a table that makes everybody a little more comfortable.

4) Invite the whole school to celebrate the year. On the last day of school, I do a PowerPoint for the staff that’s a picture gallery of the whole year, so we can remember together how wonderful it was. We also create different activities for kids to do, like taking group pictures and signing yearbooks.

Every year the whole school chooses a mindset for the year, and before we leave for the summer, the staff always comes together to wrap up how that mindset has affected us and changed us. We use that final gathering as a time of reflection, a time to rejoice about a very successful year and an opportunity to celebrate teachers who are leaving. I think that having a group mentality that we’re going to end this year on a successful note really makes all the difference. Our mindset for this year was “We are connected,” and over the year I’ve truly seen that together, we are better.

Before my teachers leave for the summer, I always tell them, “Now you get to go home for the summer and reboot.” Educators are probably one of the only professions where we get to redefine ourselves every single year. Over the summer, we have the luxury of asking ourselves, “Since everything is possible, what do you want to change? And what will that look like?” We can redefine ourselves for the next year. We’re so fortunate, because we literally take everything off the walls and put everything in boxes. Then we come back in August and put it back up. We get to be whoever we want to be when we come back.

Tracey Smith is the principal at Brookwood Elementary School in Forsyth County, Georgia, where they use the 7 Mindsets portal to choose their mindset of the year. Follow her on Twitter: @tbsmith01.


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