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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Finishing the School Year Strong

To say that the end of the school year can get a little hectic would be an understatement for sure. Often as teachers we can go into survival mode, counting down the days until summer and hanging on for dear life, hoping the kids won't literally bounce off the classroom walls and that you'll at least show up in the right place at the right time for all the end of year concerts and events. Although there's certainly a point when we all have to give ourselves some grace, relax our expectations of perfection, and try to embrace the chaos, today I want to offer some possible strategies to help us all finish the school year strong. Instead of crawling across the finish line on our hands and knees, hopefully these will help us all feel like we've won the race!

1. Lesson plan with the end in mind

Now is the time to take stock of where each grade level is in covering the content you intended to complete this year. Which concepts or skills have you not touched? Which did you cover but intend to review because the students didn't quite grasp it yet? If you're feeling like you're way behind and have too much left to cover, it's time to go into triage mode: which concepts and skills are most critical to the students' ongoing musical development? Which are less important or could be set aside until next year?

If you find you're exactly where you need to be, good for you! Here are some review games that are perfect for the end of the year, and here are some units that work well for me in the last few months of school that will continue to reinforce musical growth while keeping students engaged.

Once you've got your list of skills/concepts you need to address, make a realistic outline for how you're going to cover them before the end of the school year. You'll want to take into account all the class time you'll miss because of end-of-year events, concert prep you need to do, and any last-minute things that might come up as well. Think carefully about skills and concepts you could cover together- you could easily work on dotted half notes and pentatonic solfege by finding a song that has both!

Now that you have a plan for when to teach what, you just need the how. What is the most active, engaging way you can teach each skill/concept? Here are some of my go-to ways for keeping things interesting all the way until the last day of school (click on the links to read more):

2. Avoid countdowns

I've written an entire post already on this topic so I won't get into too much detail here, but once you've mapped out the rest of the year's lessons, it's time to get your brain out of countdown mode. All that does is turn your attention to vacation and away from the present, and that's not good for anyone! The more you focus on counting down the days, the more likely you are to slip into filling time, which causes students to disengage and cause behavior problems, which makes you even more anxious to just get it over with (and the cycle continues...)! Step away from the calendars and paper chains. Don't get sucked into the countdown trap. Focus on all the fun, meaningful work you still have left to do!

3. Take some shortcuts at home

Whether it's spring weather-friendly crockpot meals, hiring a cleaning service, ordering takeout, or just keeping your social calendar lighter and opting for some quality time on the couch instead, acknowledging the chaos and cutting yourself some slack is important. Here are some more stress reducers that help keep me sane when life gets especially hectic.

4. Continue to invest in your students

One of the biggest advantages we have as "specials teachers" is teaching our students over the course of multiple years! Remind yourself and your students that this isn't the end. Homeroom teachers will by necessity be working on bringing closure to their relationships in many ways. We can be a source of stability for students by staying connected to our students and continuing to remind students that we are not going anywhere! Here are some tips for fostering relationships with students as a specialist with hundreds of students.

And if you are leaving for one reason or another, don't let that be a reason to pull away and disengage from your students! Acknowledge the transition that is coming, but take the opportunity to enjoy the remaining time you have together.

5. Get your act together

No excuses! I don't care whether you're a "type B personality" or think you're scatterbrained or a "go-with-the-flow" type. Now is not the time to leave all of the logistics of juggling end of year events to chance. Write down every event on a calendar as soon as you hear about it (don't have a good calendar? Print out the next few months from this free download). Figure out what, if any, teaching time it is going to take away from. Adjust your end of year lesson plans accordingly. For all the events and performances you're leading yourself, plan out all of the logistics as far in advance as possible. Here's a post on organized concert prep for more details on things to consider.

Most of us will also have general end-of-year tasks that need to be taken care of, whether it's end of year reflections, cleaning up our classrooms, turning in paperwork, or other building and district related tasks to close up shop. Make a list somewhere and plan out the time to complete them! You don't want to be stressed out about turning in a form or taking down a bulletin board when you'd rather be focusing on saying goodbye to your students and having fun making music!

Let's make this the school year that we go into our summer vacation feeling like we "left it all on the field" instead of just getting by.

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