Jun 07, 2013 Making the Most of Transitions: Celebrating the End of the School Year and New Beginnings
Here in New England schools are wrapping up for the year. Over the past few weeks I have been working with a number of local schools to facilitate transition activities such as “step up day” and graduation celebrations. Teachers and advisory group leaders often ask me for reflective activities to tie their lessons together. This is an exciting time and a great opportunity for making the most of end of the school year transitions by creating connections to enhance future learning. A powerful reflection activity for reviewing lessons learned, celebrating success, and focusing on goals for the future will facilitate learning and growth and carry it forward to future lessons.
One of my favorite reflective activities for this purpose is the “Postcard to Your Future Self”. I like this activity because it encourages learners to reflect on their strengths, celebrate their accomplishments, clarify their goals, and gives them a tangible reminder of their learning for the future. In my June 2011 post I described using this activity in the classroom to wrap up the school year.
Amanda Dixon, an 8th grade Language Arts teacher and I were brainstorming an activity to “tie it all together” during my last visit to her classroom. We decided to have students send a postcard to their future selves.
At the beginning of the school year we used my Pick-A- Postcard collection as a reflection prompt for students to identify a personal strength and write about it using figurative language. They shared the postcard and some of their writing to the class to reinforce and explore the use of figurative language as part of a poetry unit.
During my last day in her classroom we decided to pull the cards out again and invite students to pick the postcard that represented their personal strengths. We asked them to think about an important social or life lesson they learned during the past school year that will be important to remind themselves of in September when they reach high school.
We asked students to write a note addressed to themselves that included this lesson and a commitment for the future. After students finished writing we met with them individually to talk about the lessons learned and personal commitment as an exit interview for the year. We promised to send the cards in early September at the start of their 9th grade year.
Student’s notes to themselves ranged in topics from handing work in on time, learning to control anger, not waiting until the last minute, asking for help when needed, to not rush through work, to trust their instincts, and to be more understanding of differences in their peers.
The two questions we asked students to answer:
What is an important lesson you learned in middle school that you don’t want to forget, and that you think will help you in the future?
What is one commitment you are willing to make to your 9th grade self?
Here are some examples of our student’s lessons and commitments:
“This year I have learned not to take in everything at once. I should take things one step at a time”.
“My commitment to myself is to be myself and not change for others”.
“The commitment I have made is to work harder towards school because I don’t really work hard for school right now. In high school it is going to be even more important to try.”
“My commitment is to be a better listener. This is important because when I get overwhelmed I start talking more than listening which can annoy others- it makes for a stressful day.”
“This year I’ve learned that being popular, and just being yourself are two different things. My hope for next year is to try my hardest and to just be friendly”.
At Twin Valley Middle School we now make this a yearly goodbye ritual for the 8th grade class. Earlier this month we used the postcards with the Trade and Share Activity during Social Studies class to celebrate the strengths of their peers (see post). Next week in Language Arts we will end with this activity and an exit interview with each student.
I now often use this as a closing activity in my workshops with adults. At the end of a workshop or course I ask participants to write down at least one thing they learned from the workshop activities, or through a conversation with a peer that they don’t want to forget. I then ask them to write a commitment to themselves around changing, improving, or trying something new in their practice as an educator. Many workshop and training attendees later report to me that the card arrived on “just the right day” to remind them of a personal strength, lesson, or goal.