We’re in the back stretch of the school year and as I visit campuses, people often apologize because everything is a little ragged. Students are not engaged, teachers are counting days and administrators are trying to keep a lid on it all.
What is sad is that things could be smoother is we didn’t create systems that reinforce the idea that the last month of school isn’t that important. Also, in Texas, once the state accountability test is over, many teachers act as if everything left to teach is less important. Here are some ideas to address the May problem:
1. Start next year’s curriculum the day after the state accountability test. Continue to use short-term, common assessments to ensure that the material is being mastered. This allows a campus to better use all 180 days of instruction, instead of esentially using 160 days or less.
2. Quit exempting students from finals. This practice ensures that students who are exempt slow down and creates a doom cycle for those who are not. Create the expectation that everyone finishes the year at a full sprint. I did this as a principal.
3. Mandate that if a student takes an AP course, then he or she has to take the AP test. If you don’t do this, teachers will cherry pick who sits for the exam and many students will take the course for the extra grade point, with no intention of putting in the extra effort. Dr. Mike Laird was the first to bring this practice to my attention.
4. Implement capstone projects. We know that the evidence of interdisciplinary connections in content areas is almost non-existent. Change that reality and add some real world relevance by using May as a time to let students (or better yet, teams of students) create projects that demonstrate their ability to tackle and solve real world problems. This was an E. Don Brown practice.
5. Unleash the love units. Teachers complain that they don’t have time to teach what they think is important. May is a great time to inject some fresh passion into the content and classroom instruction.
6. Quit saying “goodbye,” say “hello,” instead. May is when teachers are winding down their classroom, anticipating the end of the year. Instead, have teachers spend a couple days each week, teaching the kids that they will teach next year. This will ease transition issues during the next year and create the idea that the new school year has already started. Plus, it will let the receiving teacher highlight what is important in the next class. This is a Lesa Cain practice.
7. Quit doing end of the year countdowns (15 days until the end of school). Instead do start of the year countdowns (95 days until the start of the next school year). It’s a silly but powerful practice.
These are just a few ideas. I hope you, the reader, will send some in more to share with everyone else. Just understand that in order to make May instructionally meaningful for greater number of students, you are going to have to change the system.
Think. Work. Achieve.