Hit Pause! And Other Advice to Round Out the School Year

I was talking with my colleague recently about shifting a slightly large school policy, and as we were hashing out the specifics, I started to do a quick body scan: I felt tired; I was a bit ornery, and my brain was processing at a slower rate. The conclusion: it’s May, and I’m feeling it. I’m sure you’re feeling it, too.

I imagine at this point in the school year, many of us are trying to stay energized while running on fumes. Maybe you’re counting down weeks or days; perhaps you’re finalizing plans for end-of-year celebrations and meetings, and it’s taking twice as long as usual. Perhaps you’ve cleared your social calendar or have foregone exercise to get more rest. Now is a good time to listen to our bodies even more because they’re probably letting us know it’s time for a reset.

As we think about ending our school years, sometimes grace and gratitude go out the window. To put it mildly, people can be less nice, students act out, and seemingly harmless interactions can sometimes turn into unfortunate miscommunications.

And yet, if we take the right steps towards caring for ourselves and others, being honest about our needs, and attending to the time of year authentically, we can salvage these final weeks with intention. The following are five pieces of advice as you approach the end of the school year:

1.) Practice gratitude. Whether taking five minutes a day to list three things you’re thankful for, or taking time to handwrite someone a note, sharing gratitude allows us to soften our more salty responses and be more fully present.

2.) Change classroom routines. I was recently observing a teacher who acknowledged to his class that with four weeks left of school, it’s easy for their brains to turn off. Every four weeks he resets his class by presenting a lesson that invites a different routine and topic. At this point in the year, doing something a little out of the ordinary once a week will keep students engaged and excited about those short-term bursts of change.

3.) Say “Thank you,” and say, “I’m sorry.” This one comes at the courtesy of Bridgett Longust, the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Menlo School. As we were musing about shared experiences recently, she offered this advice about May. These succinct phrases are good reminders that gratitude matters and missteps happen.

4.) Hit pause on big decisions. For school leaders, we sometimes save our biggest decisions until this final month, seeking that one last consult, that one last group approval, in hopes that we can make some major changes in advance of the next year. If your big decision is in process, ask yourselves, “What’s most important right now? What is a good stopping point? What is enough, and what can we pick up next fall?” Rushing to big decisions serves no one at a time of year when we’re pulled in many directions.

5.) Treat these final weeks like a cool down. In any exercise regimen, it’s important for the body to wind down as much as it is to warm up, and that means taking things easily, stretching, slowing the breath and heart rate. Rather than treating this time of year like a sprint, treat it like a cooldown: shake out the limbs, slow down the speed, go easy on yourself and those around you. Your colleagues, your students–and most of all, you!–will be most grateful for it.

Lori Cohen: Lori Cohen is the Dean of Faculty at the Bay School of San Francisco. Prior to her current position, Lori taught Humanities, Literature, and Religion/Philosophy at Bay for many years. Lori also coordinates Teacher Development seminars, in-house professional development, for Bay faculty and has begun a Teaching Fellows program that will be entering its third year. This will be Lori’s fifth year as a co-facilitator/teacher leader in Teaching Foundations, a program that brings her joy and professional rejuvenation.