Closing off, not closing down

We are approaching the long vacation and I have been giving thought to the rhythm of the school year.   Especially in today’s ‘disrupted‘ world, there are probably few institutions that have the same annual cycle that schools have, and I see the luxury of predictable cycles as one to cherish, not to take for granted, and to plan for, and to make the most of.

For us, that means approaching the holiday knowing that the long break is a rite of passage for students and colleagues, and to plan for it carefully and intentionally.  Just as we start the year with orienting students to the year ahead (planning the activities, deadlines, trips, exams etc) so we need to close off the year with equal care and attention.  I have been in schools where the two options have been either  (i) watching ‘fun’ videos and eating lots of chocolate for the last few days (ii) full speed ahead until the last minute.  Neither of these is what we now want; the former is profoundly disrespectful to everyone’s time, and suggests a mistaken view of learning and ‘fun’.  The latter misses an important opportunity to improve student learning for the current year overall, and indeed the next year to come.

We have a three-part approach to helping students and colleagues closes the year in a meaningful way – one that consolidates the progress that has been made, and focusses us on the things in ourselves that have allowed us to make progress.  It’s based on research from a very wide range of sources, and can be used at any point, wherever learning is wanted  – and therefore applicable far mode widely than schools of course.  The steps, as listed here, may sound rather abstract and vague; when I case across them I was skeptical about them.  But having used them over the years in class to end units, with leavers to frame graduation thinking, and with colleagues, I now see the power of devoting time to this process.

The first step is to be aware of what has happened to us over the year.  The question is: Considering your aspirations for the year, your experiences elsewhere, and the events of this year, how would you describe the year?

The second step is to analyse what we have become aware of.  The questions are: What have you done that you have been most pleased with?  What capacities in yourself were most important in your successes?
 

The third step is to see how the analysis can lead to application. The question is: What might be some of the most valuable things that you most want to remember for next year?

We believe that education for our children should be engaging, demanding, challenging and at times uncomfortable. There’s no denying that this can mean that it is also very intense; likely far more so than when we parents were at school. So ending the year well, making space to enter the vacation having ‘parked’ a lot of thinking, is an important process.  It provides closure, and marks a re-entry point for next year.  The power of carefully scaffolded, focsussed conversations is hard to overestimate, because even a slight increase in self-awareness or self-efficacy yields a hundredfold return or more.

Happy Holidays! My next post will be in August.

About Nicholas Alchin

Nicholas Alchin (@nicholas_alchin) is Deputy Head and High School Principal at the United World College of SE Asia, East Campus. A sino-celtic Brit who drifted into working on building sites, drifted into the actuarial world, then chose education, he has lived and taught in values-based schools in UK, Switzerland, Kenya and Singapore. He has also held a number of roles with the IB and writes and speaks widely on educational matters. He enjoys travelling with wife Ellie, and kids Tom (11), Millie (14) and Ruth (17); also running, reading, writing, and baking bread.
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One Response to Closing off, not closing down

  1. Iain Fish says:

    I just saw your end of year blog in TIE – thanks for this. Very much along the lines of what we have been doing but the AAA acronym will help to bind it together next year! I still struggle with getting everyone on board with making the end of year meaningful but we are getting there. I think another important aspect to it is that if we do not make the end of year meaningful, then we are playing into the hands of the families who like to take their kids out early. So frustrating.

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