I have been a Responsive Classroom® trainer since 2003. Back when I first started training, participants received the “Responsive Classroom Guidelines” (©96,97 by Northeast Foundation for Children – 8th printing April 2001). Since that time, the Responsive Classroom training has been revised and training materials changed. The Northeast Foundation for Children has also changed their name to The Center for Responsive Schools since the time of when we used the “Responsive Classroom Guidelines”.
Each year, I find myself thinking about a memorable article that was included in the old training materials called “Surviving the Late-Spring Jitters”. This article is out of print and no longer available online anywhere that I can find. I feel there were many helpful tips that teachers may find useful, especially now, as they put closer to their school year.
In the late spring many teachers will report to me that they are seeing more children beginning to test behavioral limits almost like they did the first few weeks of school. Teachers may feel a sense of frustration but the article encourages teachers,
“don’t despair and, most importantly, don’t give up! This is a phenomenon that occurs every year, in every classroom to some degree, without fail. It’s called “end-of-the-year-anxiety” or “the late-spring jitters.”
Responsive Classroom teachers start their year setting the stage for success during the first six weeks of school. They apply the Responsive Classroom practices to develop a positive community that is effectively managed and developmentally responsive to create engaging and collaborative learning experiences for their students. Children in these classroom communities feel a sense of relationship with their teacher and their classmates. It’s hard to think that the positive community that has been created throughout the school year is coming to an end. The article says, “In late spring, children realize that this is all going to end in a few short weeks and the ‘unknowns’ of the next year begins to loom very large in their thinking:
- Who will be my teacher and classmates next year?
- Will I be liked?
- Will I be with my friends?
- Will I have friends?
- Will I be up to the work of the Next Grade?
- Will school work and learning be as fun and as exciting as they have been this year?
- Will my teacher next year be nice?
- Will I be in another location or building in the school district? What will that be like?”
This can be even more challenging for the students who struggle with positive social and academic behaviors. The “unknowns” can be really scary.”
The article continues, “And for some children a threatening ‘unknown’ looms even sooner: SUMMER. For many children in today’s world, summer is not a relaxed time of playing outside for endless hours with friends, going camping or enjoying family vacation. For these children summer lacks the safety of the school environment, the access to friends, food and the opportunity to engage in ‘childhood summer activities.” Researchers of poverty such as Ruby Payne and Eric Jensen would agree that summer time for children of urban or rural poverty could be a time of great stress due to the “unknown” summer can bring.
The social-emotional worries of next year or summer can get in the way of learning and pro-social behaviors this time of year in the classroom. I always tell the teachers I work with to not take spring time behaviors personally, but try to be more empathetic to possible worries their students may be experiencing that could be causing some of the undesirable behaviors they are observing. I also remind teachers that children may also let their guard down on self-control due to feeling so comfortable with their community they have created. When we feel “at-home” with our classroom family, we sometimes may feel we can let go a bit. Much as we do with our own families. We most likely are more comfortable with our real families and let down our guard when we are with the people we are most comfortable with. I am sure we all act differently with our families compared to our “work” families. I assure teachers that when this happens with students, it’s a testament to their ability to develop a comfortable classroom community where mistakes are welcomed and seen as an opportunity for growth.
The “Surviving the Late-Spring Jitters” article offers ideas for teachers to proactively address the worries of the end of the year:
- “Engage in class discussions about the possibilities of next year in school and the natural fears and worries that children and teachers may have.” (Start these discussions after spring break and keep them ongoing until the end of the school year to learn that everyone, even the teacher, have these end-of-the-year worries. Allow students share strategies)
- “Be proactive about your children behaviors. Spend time in a collaborative review of class rules, routines, and general expected behaviors.” (Be thoughtful around recess, lunch, specials, fieldtrips, if speakers are coming, etc.) Remember to use interactive modeling, role-play and proactive reminding language as tools that make children actively engaged in developing concrete behaviors. It will also be important for the teacher to be firm, direct, caring and consistent with the follow through as they coach and guide their students.
- “Brainstorm about what made the children begin to feel comfortable this year or other years in their new grade, their new class or in their new school.” (I remember developing an academic choice at the end of the year where the children sent a message to the future students who would be taking their place in my classroom. It was a way for them to self-reflect on their school year and help others to come into the classroom in the fall and be excited for the goodness to come. The students would create my first bulletin board for the new school year. My students felt they were still going to be part of the classroom they would be leaving. This activity not only helped this year’s students, but also helped the students who would be coming into the classroom in the fall. Also, I would have the students’ message to the future bulletin board be developed in the spring and I would cover with newspaper for the summer to prevent fading and uncover in the fall. My classroom was decorated with student work displayed and welcoming to the new group.)
- “Create a class book for the classroom and share with the class moving up.
- Create video to share with others what to expect in the grade level.
- Class moving up can write questions for the present class to answer through books, video, plays, or personal letters.
- Each student in an older grade can be a buddy to the younger. They might write to one another, or do some type of activity during lunch or recess with them.
- Teachers of two consecutive grades can combine their classes in various ways to have the older children teach the younger some of the games, songs, or activities they might do at the beginning of the school year in the new grade.
- Teachers of the older grade might spend time in the classroom of the grade below. They might join their morning meeting or read a story.
- Children might make a book about their hopes and perhaps one about their fears and worries that can then be shared with the older grade teacher when they come to visit.
- Step-Up Day: Many schools have a day when children visit in the classroom of the teacher they will have next year. This is best if not done right at the end of the year when the anxieties are already present.
- In general, the more classes share about the work at their grade level with other grade levels and engage in collaborative activities across grade levels, the more comfortable children will be with moving to new teachers and new grade levels.” (NEFC, 2001)
The spring time jitters can present teachers with challenges, but the more we can be proactive with children’s social-emotional needs this time of year, the better. I remember taking the last few minutes at the end of these spring days to go outside and play a game to put closure on our year together and have some fun. When I run into my former students now (all grown up) it is usually this spring time fun they remember and recall. The times we as a class played STUD, Statues, Tag, or match the state capital on the playground map, and other favorites…it was a way to have some time at the end of the year to have fun with one another and celebrate our goodness of the 180 days we shared together a learning community.
OCM BOCES – Staff Development Specialist
Certified Responsive Classroom® Trainer by the Center for Responsive Schools (Developers of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning)