Over the past year, I've been delighted to partner with Alfred G. Waters Middle School in Middletown, DE. We've worked on student motivation, teacher motivation, and early career teacher support. Recently, Dr. John Tanner (AGW's principal) wrote the following message to his faculty that ties in well to the end-of-year thread we've been pursuing on the blog of late. It's a really simple instructional shift — counting down to summer in a way that enhances (rather than undermines) student and teacher motivation and engagement.
Quick! First person with the answer wins! How many days do we have left until summer break?
Most of us have some type of countdown going on in our heads as we inch closer and closer to the finish line of the marathon that is a school year. This is human nature, marking the time or distance remaining until a goal is achieved or a milestone reached. There is much to be celebrated in what we and our students have accomplished this year. And there are tons of reasons to look forward to summer: longer, warmer days; time to connect with family and friends; a chance to unplug from the busyness of the work; and on and on… So by all means, let's be excited about June 10th and June 16th! I certainly am.
And let's also be purposeful about how we communicate our excitement.
In our office hours last week with Dave Stuart, he encouraged us to frame the countdown in a way that challenges our students (and ourselves) to make the most of the time remaining. To use this limited amount of time to pursue a big goal. To do something challenging. To make something new. To not just arrive at the finish line and mark the end of a school year but to cross it with a deep sense of pride and accomplishment.
We also want to be careful of how we communicate our excitement because not all of our students are looking forward to summer. For many of our students, some of their happiest, safest, and most structured time is right here with us. They will actually miss us. Let's be sensitive to ensure that we let them know that we'll miss them, too. Let's also think of ways to help our students set some goals for summer and plan for ways to connect with others, and involve themselves in meaningful, fun, and safe activities.
Our ask: If you're publicizing a countdown, please frame it in a way that connects to a goal to accomplish (beyond just finishing) and/or a feeling to have. Like “22 days left to give everything you've got as a ____ grader.” Or “3 weeks to go to hit that goal of learning as much ___(subject)___ as possible so you can hit high school/next year feeling super prepared.” Or “Only 4 Mondays left to get your mind and body ready for summer. Keep pushing.” Or “June 10th is coming. What's on your ____th grade bucket list for making this your most successful year ever? Only 22 days left to do it. Let's go!”
It's a countdown with a purpose. We still have more than 10% of the year remaining. Let's optimize it.