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Engaging Every Student

May 23, 2018

Simple Ways to Honor the Year

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Pear Deck Team

Illustration of a young student progressing into a graduate with learning benchmarks along the way

As summer vacation draws us in like a verdant oasis, it’s a challenge to enjoy the last phase of the school year journey. But it’s a challenge we should take on! If we run too fast into those carefree days, we can inadvertently undermine the great accomplishments of the year.

Before all the pizza parties and ice cream socials, take some time to reflect and help students honor all they have learned. The end of the school year is a fantastic opportunity to plan a “rites of passage” moment.

A rite of passage is a time when we acknowledge a person’s growth and the challenges they’ve faced. It’s a time for the community to say, “you’re ready for the next thing.” An obvious rite of passage in a person’s K-12 career is the high school graduation. “You’re ready to be an adult,” we say, though sometimes I think these ceremonies fall short of that intended meaning.

But there are other opportunities for smaller passage rites. Even second graders or sophomores, though they aren’t moving to a new school or completing their degree, need space to reflect on and honor their year. When we give weight to end-of-year ceremonies we also give meaning to the year itself. It wasn’t just a hard slog for no reason; it was an important year full of adventures, challenges, and growth.

These are just a few ideas about how to take pause, honor the year, and help some of the key learnings sink in and take root. You can easily do one of these ceremonies in a single class period.

Circle Time

It’s amazing what can happen when you invite students’ emotions into the room. Gather students together in a circle and ask them their biggest challenges from the year. Ask them the most important thing they’ll take with them.

Tips for Getting the Most out of this Activity:

  1. Set ground rules. For example, pick out a nice stone. Only the student holding the stone can speak. Talk to students about vulnerability. This circle is a space where it’s safe to share emotions without fear of ridicule. This is a listening circle. Listen thoughtfully to one another.
  2. Give a moment of silence between each student. This gives everyone a chance to settle their minds. It also allows the next speaker to gather his or her thoughts.

Fire Circle

Of course making a campfire can be difficult in a school setting, but if you have a way, I highly recommend it.

  1. Ask students to reflect on what they want to “give away” from the year. What’s something you don’t need from this year — maybe an emotion, a bad habit, or memory that doesn’t bring joy to your life. What can you let go of?
  2. Ask them to write the thought down on a small piece of paper.
  3. Have everyone gather in a circle around the fire. One at a time they can crumple up the paper and throw it in. You can give them the option to call out what they are throwing in or to keep it private. Prompt them to think about the moment they throw in the paper as them letting go of this negative weight. It’s gone. Done.
  4. You can then ask them to do the same thing for something they want to keep.
    Write this down but instead of throwing it in the fire, have students fold up carefully, and put it in their pockets.
  5. Finally, follow steps 1–3 again, but ask them to consider something they hope for next year. This time they’ll throw the paper in the fire again, but the focus is not on burning it up. Instead, ask them to think about sending this hope out into the world as a wish.

Silent Reflection or Guided Meditation

  1. Ask students to get comfortable and close their eyes.
  2. Walk them through the year — describe the different major milestones of the year and the projects they accomplished. Ask them to reflect at each point (“think about the project you did on water quality,” etc).
  3. After you complete the full year, ask students to gather in a circle and share their experience. For example, “What did you think of that exercise?” or “share something you had forgotten about, and something you are proud of.”
  4. Give students time to reflect on the things they remember. Have them write down the different things on separate pieces of paper, or maybe draw pictures of the things they want to remember and are proud of. Alternatively, let students take a quiet walk around the grounds and find items in nature that represent what they are proud of.
  5. After they have drawn, written, or collected items, give them a square piece of cloth. They can place their drawings or items in the cloth and wrap it up in a bundle to take home.

As our students move from year to year of compulsory schooling, it’s real easy for them to feel completely removed from the benefits of 12 years of formal education. Since they start so young and never have a choice, it can feel just like something they are forced to do with no real purpose or joy. We can help them step back, become aware of their educational journey, and find a comforting agency in the process.

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Pear Deck Team

Helping teachers deliver powerful learning moments

Pear Deck

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