Teachers in school districts across the country are preparing themselves for the end of the school year. This time always brings unique opportunities for celebration and reflection as we think about how to let our students know how much we care about them and how we have enjoyed teaching them and fostering their growth. We remember many things that we hoped we would do that didn’t come to fruition. We look at the faces of our kids and hope that they will remember their time with us as full of opportunities to learn and grow within the safety of a caring and supportive classroom environment. But in addition to all of the things we reflect on, we also start to think about how we can take what we have learned this year, and make next year even better. Because teachers, if nothing else, believe in the concept of continuous improvement based on increased knowledge and experience. How could we do this work otherwise?
One of the first things we can start thinking about as we plan for the upcoming academic year is the layout of the classroom. Schools are full of many different types of rooms that are used to meet with large and small groups of students, and that gives us a wide range of options as we consider how our space can be arranged for optimal learning. Questions that we can use to guide our thinking are, What tools and materials will students need for inquiry, collaboration, and independent application? How can space be used flexibly for larger group lessons? Students need options for grouping configurations and easy access to learning tools including digital ones. How can we plan the layout of the room so that this is not only possible, but encouraged?
Related to room configuration is access to learning tools. Learning tools include those resources and materials that students need to direct their own learning choices. Some examples may include paper choice templates, markers, tablets, magnetic letters, math manipulatives, calculators, dry erase boards, graph paper, computers, reference books, and chapter books. Built into student use of learning tools are the procedures and expectations that students will be taught to ensure proper use of materials.
One essential but daunting task at the end of the teaching and learning year is packing up the classroom library. As this is done, it’s worthwhile to reflect on how the library can become more responsive to student needs. Which titles were most popular and unpopular with students and why? Are there any student cultural considerations or interests that are missing from the library? How well did checkout and organization systems work? How can titles students don’t check out be replaced with more engaging ones? Where can high-interest low-readability texst be found?
A final consideration for looking forward to the next year while finishing the current one is the learning we will need to continue throughout the summer months. We often have good intentions regarding summer planning, but sometimes this is made more difficult simply due to the lack of the professional books we put in boxes and leave in our classrooms. First, are there any outdated or unused books you can donate or recycle? What books do you want to take home with you? Have you considered buying professional books on an e-reader to make them more accessible? Are there books that you know are great, but you want additional time to read in depth? Are there books you can use to plan units with colleagues? Do you have kids’ books in your library that the students love but which you haven’t had time to read? Are there any books your school will be focusing on as a staff next year? These can be placed in a boxed labeled, TAKE HOME!
The end of the academic year is a time of many complex and conflicting feelings. We may be seeing students and families leave our buildings that we have known since kindergarten. We may be saying good-bye to cherished colleagues and administrators and welcoming new ones. Some of us will change grades or position. But whatever the case is, thinking about what supported and encouraged student learning and what didn’t, as well as challenging ourselves to direct our attention towards how our rooms will reflect the ways we expect students to engage in learning will benefit us in the year ahead.
Mary & Alicia