One of my 4th grade students shared a moment of reflection in a recent blog post. I can only imagine what my other students thought of these last few months of remote learning. We began our distance learning with a hefty group of twenty something students Zooming in and finished our last week of remote learning with a whittled down group of twelve.
Many teachers around the globe began remote learning close to the start of the pandemic with both live and recorded lessons, scheduled office hours, and many, many other diverse methods of distance learning. Valiant efforts for learning filled countless homes. But just as inequity once challenged our abilities to reach students in the classroom, those inequities were only amplified these past few months. This pandemic seemed to offer a whirlwind of problem solving opportunities, some of which included helping students and their families with basic needs, online access, and working to differentiate beyond the “At Home Learning” curriculum for students who were ready for more. Keeping up with it all was also a new experience.
Not all things were dark during this time. There were some good things. When I began to notice good things appear, it reminded me of Mr. Rogers and his words of hope, “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers… if you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.” I watched and continue to watch the helpers show up. I watched our classroom community grow to include families, older siblings stepping in to help younger siblings with learning, and families working together to help other families with basic needs. Food deliveries were made, books were donated, and as my communication with families grew, so did my connections with families.
Now our year is coming to a close and we are having to find new ways to end the year and say goodbye. With another change comes another opportunity for trauma. As co-author Kelsey Sorum reminded us in her last post, “Do the Most Good and the Least Harm,” it is important to remember that the health and welfare of every person comes first, even and especially as we bring the school year to a close.
How do we send our students off and say goodbye?
- Send them off knowing what is most important.
What is most important is to encourage students to continue to live as readers and writers. Digging into reading and writing are ways to bring comfort in times of difficulty, even into the unknown.
Send them off with encouragement to –
- read plentifully the books they enjoy.
- write in abundance the things they need and want to write about.
- find solace in poetry. Remind them to read it out loud, write it by finding the words to paint it into life, and share it.
One of my students begins the process of writing a poem, a poem in progress. It was an invitation I offered students. Poetry, like writing, is healing. According to The Body Keeps the Score by psychologist, researcher, and expert on traumatic stress, Bessel van der Kolk, “Writing experiments from around the world, with grade school students, nursing home residents, medical students, maximum-security prisoners, arthritis sufferers, new mothers, and rape victims, consistently show that writing about upsetting events improves physical and mental health.” (pg. 242-243)
- Encourage Peer to Peer Connections
In my last post, Widening the Classroom Community to Include Families, I share why keeping students connected is an important social emotional support for students. It is especially important as we end the year, say goodbye to students, and they transition into summer vacation. The end of a school year may cause students to become much more disconnected or isolated.
- It’s okay to say goodbye. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel joy, too.
I began my last Zoom session of the school year with captured words from a children’s book.
It wasn’t until nearing the end of this year that I realized the many ways we usually prepare students for the end of the year. In our elementary school, fourth graders move on to an intermediate school to attend 5th grade. They leave elementary school behind. We are accustomed to numerous mini farewells and celebrations that prepare students near the end of the school year. We fill our students with love and support and then send them off into summer vacation. This end of year routine brings closure to the years our 4th graders spent in elementary school. It is how we prepare students for change, and it is especially important for students with trauma.
This year was different and preparing students for this change may seem minuscule compared to the changes they are living each day, but it is still another significant change in the lives of our students. Finding ways to say goodbye to students at the end of our unusual school year is important.
Three ways to say goodbye to students at the end of this pandemic school year:
- Write each student a letter. Years ago, I worked with a teacher who wrote a letter to each of her students as an end of year goodbye. She made a point to notice the good in each of them and wrote to make sure they knew the gift they each carried. She wrote each letter by hand on white sheets of paper with an image of a gift in the center. As I think back about the time she dedicated to write each letter, I could only imagine how many lives she impacted. Each year, I found myself planning to try what always seems to fall onto next year’s plans. This year, I dedicated the time to write a letter to each of my students. I wrote to thirty-four students. The words of a teacher to a student can have great impact.
- Invite a special guest to your last Zoom meeting with students. For our last Zoom meeting with students, my teaching partner and I invited other teachers and staff that students have had no opportunity to see or speak to during these last few months. Giving students an opportunity to say goodbye to other members of our school family is important.
- Create a photo slideshow to share with students and families. Creating a slideshow for students and families is a simple and meaningful way to send students off. Below is a free Google Slides presentation link that can be used to create your own end of year photo slideshow. Just click on the link and it will prompt you to make a copy: Free Google Slide Template
There is much that remains unknown for what is to come, but we will find ways to move forward, to help one another, and persevere. We can begin by finding ways to bring closure to our unusual school year.
As we begin our search for the words to end our year, to say farewell or until we meet again, it brings me comfort to hear the voice of Fred Rogers. His words seem fitting for bringing some closure to the many experiences we have all lived these past months and the many we are sure to have in the future. These are a few of his final words from his 2002 Commencement Address to the graduates of Dartmouth College, Audio (1:06).
California native. Dual language 4th grade teacher. NWP/HTWP Teacher Consultant. Kidblog Ambassador. Writer.