Ending the School Year with SEL
May 26, 2023
The azaleas are in bloom right now; they will last for two more weeks. They’re wonderful flowers: big and bright and strong. But their blossoming is intensely brief — a short burst of color for three weeks in May. And then, the flowers are gone.
I point this out because the school year is winding down. For most teachers, this brings a feeling of great relief. Teaching is hard, and a respite is well-earned. But for most of you, I hope, there is at least a whisper of the sense that the azaleas are about to fade — that the one and only time you ever got to live this school year is about to close. That is a sentimental thing to say, of course. But sentimental things are often both true and important, and so we should say them. I hope your school year was, in its own ways, so beautiful that you will miss it.
And I hope your students miss it, too. Our society fears sadness, but sadness is often simply the sensation of wonders slipping past. Since things are always slipping past, let’s hope that they’re good enough to spark a little wistfulness. I encourage you to embrace that nostalgic sadness with your students; it shows them that you value them and care about your time together. Here’s a great little strategy you can use to end your school year with creativity, empathy, and poignancy.
One of a Kind
Print every student’s name on a sheet of paper with writing space included next to each name. Then, challenge students to come up with one nice thing to say for everyone in the class. When everyone is finished, cut out the slips and give each student a special envelope containing all the nice things that others have said about them.
This is a great activity that encourages your students to think kindly, and that provides them with some great compliments to end their year. Consider leveling it up with two simple twists: first, only let each student use a compliment once. That means that each student is getting kind words that are meant just for them. No one else is getting that compliment from that person.
Second, challenge students to create compliments that are both sincere and unique — something they think no one in the class will think of. This prevents the one student who everyone knows is a great baseball player from getting 25 identical slips that all say, “You’re really great at baseball.” It challenges students to think creatively, and it increases the diversity of the responses that you’ll see. I once even had students write one for themselves.
I did this for years with second graders, and they really got into the challenge. Sometimes it was hard, but it was straightforward to help them persevere by using empathy; I just had to remind students that other kids were thinking just as hard to try to come up with really great compliments for THEM, and that they were doing something that others would really appreciate. Do the activity yourself, and feel free to include your own name on the list. Students benefit from thinking of compliments for their teachers.
Read through the sheets to make sure that none are subtly mean or might not be received well. Then, on the last day of school, when students are all cleaned up and ready to go, give each student their envelope. You could even make it a little ceremony and read your own compliments out loud. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the uniqueness of each student in your class and reflect on the community that spent this crazy year together.
And in the meantime, as much as you are able, please enjoy the last few weeks of school, while your azaleas are still in bloom.