If your school year has gone anything like mine usually does, by May I am D.O.N.E. I’ve got countdowns on my white board until AP exams, EOCs, and summer break. I’ve got senioritis about as bad as my seniors do. I want to toss my laptop out my window like the graduating students are about to toss their caps and say GOOD RIDDANCE to another school year.
But if I have learned anything, it is that I can use these last few weeks to end the year strong and set myself up for success next school year. Instead of daydreaming about summer break with no alarms and being able to go to the bathroom whenever I want, I can use the time I have left in my classroom to serve future me.
And that is what I want to share with you today – 5 tips to end the year STRONG and do a few simple things that will serve future YOU, so that when you come back in August (or September, or goodness gracious July for my dear Georgia and Arizona friends) you can start the year RESTED and without the stress of all things “back to school”.
End the Year Strong Tip #1: Reflect on your PROCEDURES.
The most important thing to do first to end the year strong is to sit down and take some time to reflect while the school year is still FRESH in your memories. Make a list of what went really well in terms of how your class ran. What was smooth? What did students pick up easily? What procedures and systems did you teach at the beginning of the year that your students were still doing by the end of the year? We want to make sure we keep ALL of these things for next year.
Now make a list of what did NOT go well. Don’t hold back – list every single negative thing. What constantly gave you headaches? What behaviors most triggered your exasperation and frustration with students? What questions did you CONSTANTLY get asked over, and over, and over again? What whole class behavior issues seemed unmanageable? Where did conflict arise with individual students? List each of these things.
Then start brainstorming procedures to combat each of these issues. I REALLY believe that the majority of the issues we have as teachers could be prevented and/or resolved with well thought-out, clearly communicated, and consistently reinforced procedures. I think these 5 procedures are the most important to teach students at the beginning of the year.
But I teach WAY more procedures than just those 5. I have tweaked my list over the years based on my experiences and reflections, but I truly believe SO many classroom management and behavior issues can be prevented if we set ourselves up to be PROACTIVE rather than REACTIVE.
Don’t worry about having ALL of the solutions right now. Just make the list of the problem areas and start thinking through potential solutions. Ask your coworkers at lunch how they deal with XYZ. Reach out to your favorite teacher Instagrammer or Google some blog posts for help. I love learning from other teachers’ experiences (one of the reasons I LOVED the Facebook community that accompanied my Secondary Science Simplified™️ virtual professional development course last summer.)
End the Year Strong Tip #2: Audit your LESSON PLANS.
While you are still in reflection mode, take some time to audit your lesson plans. I love doing this most at the end of each unit while the lessons are REALLY fresh, but even doing it at the end of the year is helpful.
Again, start with the positive! What units went really well? What topics did students grasp quickly? What instructional resources really aided your students in their learning and understanding? Highlight these so you make sure to prioritize them next year in your lesson plans.
Now consider what units/topics/concepts/instructional resources did NOT go so well. Make a note if this is something you think just needs some tweaks (more clear instructions, more time made to do it well, would work better individually vs. in groups, etc.) or if it is unredeemable and needs to be completely replaced.
If it is just a few tweaks, MAKE THE CHANGES NOW so they are done for next year!! Leave yourself notes like *must have 3 days for this* so you remember when making your daily plans next year. You will LOVE old you when you see in a few months that you already did all of this!
Then make a VERY SPECIFIC LIST of what instructional resources you need to replace. For example, don’t just put “better evolution activities”. Be more specific like, “Need an activity that demonstrates natural selection so students can better visualize the process.” Again, you don’t HAVE to find all of these things now (but if you have the time, GO FOR IT!!) but the more specific you are, the easier it will be when you are teaching the same unit again next year.
I don’t know about you but I always found I had a decent amount of time at the end of the year while I was proctoring standardized tests, or monitoring my students working on final exam review to reflect and do these first two tips, so end the year strong and use your time wisely!!
End the Year Strong Tip #3: Reset your CLASSROOM.
Not only do we want to hit the reset button on your procedures and lesson plans for next year, we also want to hit the reset button on your physical learning space. This is a GREAT time to do this before leaving for the summer – especially if you are asked to remove everything from your walls so they can paint, or get everything off your floors so they can be waxed.
Don’t just shove everything in stacks in the storage closet and tell yourself you will get to it in August. Sort through it NOW!
Does the idea of going through your physical classroom space and organizing it feel incredibly overwhelming?! Luckily for you, it is one of my VERY FAVORITE THINGS. While I would LOVE to go all “The Home Edit” on your teaching space, I don’t have the capacity or resources to do that. But what I CAN do is give you access to my FREE classroom reset challenge.
This resource will walk you through 5 tasks step-by-step to reset your classroom and end the year strong so that you can START the year strong next school year. I LOVE seeing the progress teachers make in their classrooms, so if you take the challenge, PLEASE tag me on Instagram so I can see your room’s transformation!!
End the Year Strong Tip #4: Catalog your RESOURCES.
While you are cleaning out that scary drawer in the back corner with a bunch of jars of unidentifiable objects as part of the classroom reset challenge, you may actually find some really useful equipment or resources. I’ll never forget going through my back storage closet and finding FIVE perfectly good hot plates (we had been sharing TWO across our ENTIRE DEPARTMENT all year long!!) So this is the perfect time to audit and catalogue your resources.
Make a spreadsheet* that lists all of the equipment, chemicals, and supplies you have as a department. Include quantities, expiration dates (if applicable) and LOCATIONS. This is especially helpful if you share supplies as a department, but said supplies are scattered and stored amongst several classrooms.
From there make a list of what needs to be replaced, restocked, and ordered before next school year. Make this a department-wide task! I love to use Google sheets so it is a live doc that everyone can access and add to. Having this is a GAME CHANGER for lab prep and lesson planning, because you ALWAYS know what is available for use.
It also helps when the science department does have money for supplies to know what is REALLY needed so that the funds are spent well.
Better yet, challenge your entire department to do the classroom reset challenge, and catalogue resources together! Order a pizza on one of your final teacher workdays at the end of the year to celebrate. It will serve ALL of you so well next school year, and you can finally say goodbye to the filing cabinet full of projector sheets from the teacher who retired 8 years ago.
*I have a pre-made spreadsheet that does ALL of these things and then some that I give to teachers who attend my free 1-hour PD workshop, 3 Secrets to Stress-Free Lab Days. I do this every June (and will do it again later in the year if I have enough interest!), so if it isn’t currently open, join the waitlist here for SSS and you will be notified when the webinar is happening next so you can attend!
End the Year Strong Tip #5: Set summer “rocks” and BOUNDARIES.
All of these tips are incredibly important to end the year strong, but this is my FAVORITE and most VALUABLE suggestion for setting yourself up for success next school year. Decide on your “rocks” for the summer and then SET BOUNDARIES that you actually keep!!
Here is what I mean by “rocks”. Have you ever heard of the metaphor of the rocks in a jar? It goes something like this. Consider you have a large glass jar or vase, and a table full of rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you pour the sand and pebbles in first, then the rocks will never fit in the jar. But if you start by putting the biggest rocks in FIRST, then the pebbles, and then pour the sand in last, it all fits in how it should.
Oftentimes we don’t decide what our “rocks” are, or the BIG things that matter MOST that should get our energy first. So we get stuck with a jar full of pebbles and sand that have filled our time and taken up our energy.
What I want for you is to decide on a few big rocks for the summer. Try to keep this number around 3. If you have too many, you will be overwhelmed. These are the 3 things that if you could accomplish this summer, then you will be in a GREAT place for next school year. Examples could be, (1) Recording video lectures for a biology course, (2) Setting up a class website, (3) Batching lesson plans for anatomy.
Would it be AWESOME to batch lesson plan for EVERY class you teach? Of course. But I also want you to not work all summer and to actually rest. Think about how good it would feel to even have ONE entire prep down and off your to-do list next year!! That’s a GREAT rock that is also a manageable size.
Then make a schedule for when you will work this summer, based on how long it will take you to accomplish your rocks. Maybe you want to set aside Tuesday and Thursday mornings every week all summer to chip away at your rocks. Maybe you want to not work at all and then block out two weeks to get childcare and work full days to knock it all out at once. Do what fits your personality, and your circumstances, best.
Now, this is the most important part – LET GO OF THE REST. Give yourself permission to not do ANYTHING ELSE school-related than THESE big rocks you’ve decided on. No guilt for taking off a month entirely, or for only thinking about school one day a week (if that’s the schedule you’ve decided upon.)
YOU DESERVE THIS BREAK. You NEED this time to recharge. Your STUDENTS need you to come back rested and revived for another year, not drained and guilt-ridden from spending your entire summer (1) working, or (2) feeling like you should have worked more.
And don’t forget, you aren’t getting paid. So if you feel like you should/could/need to do more, let me release you from that now! Focus on your big rocks, set boundaries to protect yourself from distracting pebbles and sand (Ex. PLEASE delete work email from your phone, hide your school keys, and shut down your computer if that’s what it takes to unplug!!) and then REST. You deserve it, teacher friend, and you need it.
If you can’t tell, I am SO PASSIONATE about helping other science teachers simplify their lives so they can enjoy teaching again and actually have a work/life balance. This is why I started the Secondary Science Simplified™️ course and podcast. If you are looking for more support in this area, check out both of those resources!