Top 10 Last Day of School Dos and Don'ts

The last day of school is one of the most emotional times of year.  Of course you're eager to have several weeks off.  But you're going to miss your kids.  Not all of them, but at least a couple AmIright?

Here's How I Facilitate a Great Last Day

1.  Reminisce.  I'll admit, I didn't do this on the last day this year (but I did it over the course of the last week in a variety of ways) and it's my one regret.  Sometimes I collect these ahead of time to share on the last day.  This year it was a quick freewrite for students to write their favorite thing from June.  

2.  Reflect on what they've learned.  I do portfolios of students' work that they have a hand in assembling.  These portfolios are easy so assemble after hole punching (affiliate link)  I also print a few photos to stick on the front cover (I used to do more all over the inside, but nowadays we have classroom websites with "all the photos" so I am more selective and just choose a few).  These are usually completed the last week of school, but I like to make them leave them at school until the last day in case we have time to highlight parts of them. 

3.  Keep a small part of the routine.  A little normalcy on the most hectic day helps them feel safe.  Of course you're not going to teach math and science and reading and spelling.  But if you do morning meeting, you probably want to pick this routine to do on the last day.  We'd been practicing the "electricity greeting" for the past 5 days.  We all hold hands in a circle.  I initiate the "electric pulse" by giving a squeeze to the person's hand on my right, and click the stopwatch with my left.  Then I hold the person's hand on my left as the "pulse" travels around back to me.  The 23 of us made it to 12 seconds today! 

If you have calendar time, of course they want to see their countdown to the last day of school come to a conclusion.  We also sing for summer birthdays, so I wanted to include this in our last day.  We didn't do the WHOLE calendar routine, but enough of it to create a sense of a school day. 

4.  The opposite:  Make time for "loose" time if your students can handle it.  I had such a lovely, cooperative class this year.  So for morning work I had them autograph each other's portfolios.  They loved it, and they could handle walking around without being micromanaged in terms of how many people at one desk at a time.  Do what makes sense for your students, but try out "loose time" in a safe way. 

5.  Dismantle.  Not only does it help me to have help cleaning, packing, and taking down things around the room, it also helps provide some closure for kids.  It helps them see the process involved in permanently leaving a space to prepare it for new people.  I feel like learning to cope with letting go of a physical place is a life skill.  This year the kids helped hand out papers that were hanging up on the penultimate and final day of school.  They cleared out their desks and ripped off their nametags.  Some even helped me sort classroom supplies (others needed extra time shelving their library books.  One young darling said to me when I opened his desk and gave him a tired look before helping him, "I'm not good at cleaning."  Yeah...I noticed.  All.  Year.  I'm going to miss that one the most). 

6.  Awards.  I give a different award to every student (occasionally two will get the same award, but I try to differentiate my delivery of the award).  I explain, "I know what it feels like to see someone else get the award for great artist and think, but I wanted that award.  And guess what?  You're probably a great artist too!  It's just that I thought of this other award for you.  And my opinion is just one person's opinion of you.  In your life, other people will notice other great things about you and that's okay too."  Although I don't say so in my speech, I try to avoid awards with "best" because again, I might think Katie is the best artist who is also my best math student.  And Kevin might struggle with SO many things, but art is his strength so I give him the art award. 

Although I actually give out my awards a few days before the last day (with parents present) our school does a whole school assembly for awards on the last day.  It's a half hour long during a 3 hour half day, so it helps us with a little down time (I can stuff report card envelopes). 

7.  Celebrate.  We play music as a whole school and dance in the cafeteria after the awards.  Then we dance to music again 10 minutes before dismissal (and the class "moving on" to middle school parades through and high fives us). 

This year for the first time I served ice cream for breakfast.  It was unplanned, (I had it left over from an event that fell through) but they LOVED it. 

8.  Debrief with your colleagues after.  We have our staff party on the last day of school, which I love.  But if you don't, at least spend some time debriefing with a bunch or even just one.  We have a lot of "movement" this year in terms of retirements, layoffs and people being "bumped" to other schools in the district.  Not only did I want to spend time with those who I knew were leaving, I also learned about a couple that people kept secret until the last day!  And I heard a little more about probably newcomers for next year and who has their eye on which classrooms in the future.  It was a VERY informative party. 

9.  Give.  I give cards or gifts to support people at school as well as my students.  I don't know how many others do this, but I feel like showing your gratitude keeps things warm and collegial.  No one expects a lot, but small thank yous go a long way. 

For the kids, I gave them bubbles, which I do every year.  If I have time, I look for them at Target when they are 3 for a dollar.  If I'm short on time, I order them on Amazon (here's an affiliate link for some bubbles).  I like gifts that will amuse them but are still disposable enough (I am a bit of a recovering hoarder so I understand the struggle).  Sentimental kids/parents can keep the gift tags I personalize. 

10.  Thank them.  Often students will give you gifts on the last day, so have your note cards ready to write out thank you notes! 

3 Point Bonus: 

Here's What I Do NOT Do on the Last Day of School

1.  Take time to share what we're doing over the summer.  We have a very diverse population in terms of socio-economic status.  Some kids travel across the Atlantic and others run around their trailer parks.  It started to feel divisive to share our plans, and we have so many other things I prefer to do so I just don't bother with this.

2. Wash desks.  Washing can be messy if you're being thorough, and honestly I feel like time is better spent taking things down or packing things away because it makes a better visual impact that the space is finished with its purpose (educating the outgoing kids).  I feel like if I wash a desk I'd like to be around to enjoy it tomorrow so that sends a backwards message to them.  I wash them after the custodians do the floors and set them out for the next class. 

3.  Party.  I like to have parents in for a party a few days before the last day.  For the last day, I want the kids all to myself one last time.  So although I do celebrate in a small way on the last day, it's not an hour long party. 

What are your biggest Dos and Don't for the last day of school? 

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