I can’t believe it’s already May! Wasn’t it just September? I blinked and nine months flew right by. Every time the end of another school year nears, there is a bittersweet feeling that starts to linger. I am always thrilled that the sweet sounds of summer are so close, but closing another chapter, saying goodbye to students and staff and all the hard work that comes with checking things off of the end of year to-do list can be tough. I am about to finish my fifth year in education, and my first as a reading specialist.

As the end of May approaches, I know stress and exhaustion will take over, so I wanted to share a few end-of-the-year tips and ideas that have helped me remember to take a breath and enjoy every moment. I hope you can find some useful advice in these tips, too!

9 Tips for Finishing the School Year Strong

1. Enjoy Time with Your Students

These are the tiny humans that you have made so many memories with, laughed with, (possibly) cried with and helped guide through an entire year of learning. Spend the last few weeks of school enjoying each other! I always loved letting my students take time to do things like reader’s theater, personality projects, dream and vision boards and all things STEAM. The last few weeks of school are some of my favorites because testing is over, the curriculum has slowed down a little, and it is time to cherish the moments with your class. Take pictures, have silly performances, go on nature walks and leave the school year reminding your students how much fun they had this year!

2. Take Care of Yourself

During one of the craziest times of the year, we often are running around doing 900 things – filling out paperwork, cleaning our rooms, turning in checklists and trying to keep our heads on straight. Sometimes, we forget to breathe! You have to take care of yourself during the end of the school year. I am notorious for getting sick at some point in May because it is go, go, go all the time. Don’t forget to take your Vitamin C, drink water and get plenty of sleep so that you can use your energy to make the last few weeks count with your students.

3. Letters, Letters, Letters!

One of my favorite things to do during the end of the year is to write letters. I spend time writing a letter to each of my students, and last year, we even started the tradition of having students write letters to each other. They loved opening their packets of letters on the last day of school and knowing they really had something special with their classmates. I always have my students write words of wisdom to next year’s class, too. Their letters opened with “Dear Future Student in Ms. Williams’ Class . . .” Each year on the first day of school, I put the letters on my new students’ desks for them to check out! Remember to write letters to any parents or community members who helped you during the year. Thank those room moms and PTA volunteers! Another fun idea is to share a P.O. Box or general address with students and encourage them to write you during the summer. It may be the last thing you think about on your summer vacation, but you can also write your kiddos to say hello! Write down a list of their addresses and make sure to bring it home with you over the summer.

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4. Leave a Lasting Impression

At the end of the year, we are the definition of burnt out, but we’ve got to give whatever energy we have left to making those weeks special. Brainstorm what kind of student treat or gift you can give to your kids. This definitely doesn’t have to be anything that breaks the bank. For several years, I created a Wordle with different shapes and words that described each student. On the last day of school, we all went around and wrote nice things on each other’s Wordles. I always loved how these turned out! Something as simple as this can help your students finish the year with lasting memories. If your budget allows, you can also give students a copy of a book that you all read together during the year. “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio was always a favorite to read aloud to my fifth graders. One year, I was able to get a project funded to give each student their own copy of “365 Days of Wonder.” I’ve had several students come back years later and tell me that they still love to look at the book, and that just makes it all worth it!

5. Make a Summer Bucket List

We all need a bucket list, and that includes your students and you! My biggest worry at the end of the year was that the three-month summer slide would happen for my kids. We spend so much time teaching our students and pouring into them during the year, so we have to make sure that we encourage them to continue learning until August. Make a bucket list for your students that includes things like reading, working on projects, doing fun research and completing puzzles and crosswords. Add in some field trips, nature walks, playwriting and art projects! Encourage your students to check things off their list and take pictures to show you when school starts. Your bucket list should look a little different. Think about fun books you’ve been wanting to read, TV shows you’ve heard all about but couldn’t find time to watch, places you want to visit, your favorite restaurants to frequent and, of course, rest!

6. Get Organized and Purge

This is one of the most important tips! Take this time to make your back to school copies, get new files and folders to organize materials, take home those professional development books you’ve been meaning to read and leave your classroom ready to go for a new year. I love to clean out files and copies that I know I’m not going to use next year. Move things around in your classroom if you need to, and let your students take home some of the well-loved books from your library that are falling apart. Donate any supplies you don’t want to that first-year teacher down the hall. Get rid of things that you know you don’t need anymore. Going into the new year organized means that you are starting off on the right foot. It’s also helpful if, like me, you happen to make a job switch in the middle of the summer. It was so much easier moving my things to my new school because I’d left everything ready to go! Don’t forget to take home things like your printer, highlighters, tape, etc. that you may need when getting some work done over the summer.

7. Set Goals for the Next Year

Take a few minutes and think about the highs and lows of this school year. What worked? What didn’t work? What did you spend too much time on? What lesson would you do differently? Write these things down and put them in a safe place so that you can look back on it next year and remember what you would change and keep the same. Also, set a few goals for yourself for next year. Do you want to try and leave earlier? Do you want to use more music in the classroom? Try more engaging lessons? Go to more professional development? Write these down, too, and hold yourself accountable to them!

8. Clean Everything

I know end-of-the-year checklists are different everywhere, but one item probably includes making sure to leave your room in good shape. While you have a few dozen minions at your service, give them a wet wipe and have them work it! It’s amazing how excited my students were to wipe down the classroom. Something so simple always makes them so happy – a win-win situation! Have your students clean out their desks and have a snowball fight with any papers they can get rid of. Stack all the used papers in the middle of the room and let them pretend that they are giant leaf piles. Make it fun! Your kids will love helping you sharpen pencils, test markers and toss tiny crayons. Do all the things that will make life easier in the fall!

9. Get Ready to Relax

Last but definitely not least, relax! It’s almost summer time, and if you’re like me, sitting still does not come easy to you. Make yourself a priority. Get ready to enjoy some hard-earned relaxation. Summer is a time to refuel and recharge so that we can be 100% ready for the new year. Plan a pedicure, schedule a massage, make a vacation countdown, go workout in the middle of the day and sleep in because you deserve it!

I hope these tips are helpful when you’re deep in the middle of this crazy time. Remember to take care of yourself, enjoy the time left with your students, and get ready for a wonderful summer and new year. You’ve got this!

Want Even More Tips for Teachers?

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This blog post was written by guest contributor Megan Williams of Ms. Williams Y’all. Megan is a reading specialist in Dallas, Texas. You can follow her on her blog or on Instagram @mswilliamsyall.