The end of the school year comes with many mixed emotions. The teachers, parents and students are all looking forward to the fun and relaxation that summer brings, but they also may be reflecting on the changes and events over the past school year. Each school year poses opportunities for success, change, failure and reflection.

For the last few years, I have asked my students to make survival guides, as a way to reflect on the routines and learning that helps our classroom be successful. Every student writes about their personal experiences.  In writing brief explanations and sometimes drawing pictures to entertain the reader, they are able to convey the importance of my expectations throughout the year. Their voices are always strong and genuine. But this year, the survival guide did not seem to be enough.

Students come to school with needs way beyond what’s taught in the curriculum. I have read multiple posts, blogs and articles, trying to find additional ways to support my class socially, emotionally and educationally. Through my readings and personal relationships with the students and parents, I have come to the realization that school is not just about state mandated curriculum.

School should be a safe place, a comfortable spot to read, and an opportunity to build friendships. School is a place where you can use fun pens, smelly markers and huge pieces of paper to create projects. School is a place where students spend more time together, than they do with their families during the week, playing, talking and eating.  School is where we become a family.

Since I have seen remarkable growth, along with endless challenges, I wanted my students to take time to reflect on their growth, without me telling them HOW they grew and changed. I wanted to give them a skill that they can take with them throughout their life’s journey. Their effort and growth is important, no matter where they are. Taking time to reflect is a skill that can help guide our decisions, our progress, and how we see ourselves.

I recently read an article from Edutopia that suggested a powerful way to end the school year through mapping. I loved the idea, however I wanted to turn it into a more personalized reflection for my students. I decided to create a document (click here to view it) that was divided into three sections: Social, Emotional and Educational. I started with a simple question at the top...How have you grown and changed? Then, I came up with approximately ten questions per section, to help guide their thoughts. I wanted students to deeply reflect on how they had built relationships, great work habits, and demonstrated a curiosity for learning.

I also wanted the students to think about how they had become more confident, overcome challenges, and helped others. Once they had completed the reflection piece, they were able to create their learning maps. I did not give explicit directions on how to create it their maps because I wanted them to run with their own imagination. As you can see, some took the most simple route, while others ran with the freedom.

This activity is something I will continue throughout my teaching career. It taps into the importance and awareness of social and emotional learning, while also giving the students an opportunity to express themselves in a non-standardized way. I have always felt that students should be given the opportunity to be creative, have a voice and to establish high expectations for their learning. After all, we only have them for a school year, and my goal is to give them experiences and skills that help them not just now, but in the years to come.

This guest post is by Sara Silber, a 5th grade teacher at Manassas Park Elementary. Follow her on Twitter @5Silber or email her at sesilber44@gmail.com. Interested in submitting a guest post to thousands of educators? Email your idea to brad@behaviorflip.com.

For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out our international bestseller, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Also, be sure to check out our revolutionary behavior management system, BehaviorFlip, that combines the best of restorative practices, PBIS, & MTSS to help build a culture of empathy, responsibility, & growth mindset!

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