Monday, June 25, 2018

Farewell Rituals - Required or Not?

I double checked my previous blog posts in June to see if I had covered this theme before. I touched on a similar topic in 2015 but I hope this is new enough of a take to make it worth a read.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. Some of our staff members will not be at our school in the fall. There's been quite a lot of debate about how, what, and when to tell the students about these departures. This is a highly personal decision and not always an easy one to make. It is also challenging if some information is revealed in one class but not another - we learn how quickly news and rumors can spread in a building, even among our youngest learners! Students might need closure and opportunities to acknowledge people who are leaving. On the other hand students might also become emotionally distraught or even more dis-regulated at a typically chaotic time of the year if they know that some adults are leaving. 

Just this past week, we've had two "appreciation events" and two "farewell events". How does the idea of "endings" impact the occasions? 

Volunteer Tea (Tuesday, June 19) and Library Helper Celebration (Friday, June 22)

Our annual volunteer tea celebrates the work of our unpaid helpers - the parents, grandparents, older siblings, retired community members and friends who offer their time, talents and treasure to make our school a success. I place new books for the school library on display with the names of the volunteers inside as book plates and the adults always enjoy searching for their names and even reading the book. (The first year we did this at my current school, parents thought the books were presents and tried to take them home!)

The Library Helper Celebration is a chance for me to honour the students who try to keep the library shelves tidy and show up for their scheduled shifts, week after week, to toil. This year, Kerri Commisso saved my hide by helping me cook a massive pot of spaghetti for the students' lunch - I would have burnt it otherwise. We also continued the tradition of a spirited game of Sticker Tag in the kindergarten playground.

Eating pasta in the library

This is what we look like after tag

Thank you 2017-18 Library Helpers!
Grade 8 Graduation (Wednesday June 20) and SK Graduation (Thursday June 21)

The ceremony for our Grade 8s thankfully went quite smoothly, considering that a very important person was unable to attend. Despite this "hole", our students conducted themselves with grace and dignity at the ceremony (and with preteen glee and [within-limits] gross humour at the dinner afterwards).

Me reading the names of the graduates for their diplomas
Equity note: I'm grateful to be asked to have a speaking role in both ceremonies, because it forces me to do something I should actually do at the beginning of every year - check to see how to properly pronounce the last names of our students.

The Senior Kindergarten Graduation was also a joyful event. There was a tiny technical delay but the families were happy to be there and remember a milestone in their child's academic career - the move to Grade 1.

So what's the difference? The farewells are a bit more bittersweet, because it indicates that an era is ending. This happens less with the SK grad, where most of the students will return to the school, and more with the Grade 8 grad, because all involved students will be in secondary schools in the fall. Some volunteers and library helpers may not be returning next year (some are going to Extended French programs at other schools, or moving), but because this is the exception rather than the norm and impacts a smaller number of people, these events are not somber.

Let me play the Devil's Advocate for a moment - why should we avoid tears or sadness? Wasn't this the theme of Inside Out, the movie I cosplayed last week - that life can't be all sunshine and happiness? What better way is there to process these complex emotions than with caring adults and others in similar circumstances (i.e. fellow students who will no longer have Teacher X around)?

If that's the case, then I need to devote this last part of my blog to someone who's leaving our school. She's told some of the students so I'm hoping it's okay if I share it here. Blogging about people who mean a lot to me and telling them (and the world) exactly how special and impactful they are is part of my own sort of farewell ritual.

I searched my school photos for a decent picture of her, but failed to find one. I suspect it's because a) she doesn't like being the center of attention, and b) she's so busy at school that she doesn't have time to pose for photos! I "borrowed" this photo from her Facebook feed. Who am I talking about? It's our SNA, Stephanie Paterson.

Stephanie's been at our school for just one year, but in that year, she has made such a huge difference, not just to the students that she's assigned to help but to everyone. Students always come first for Stephanie, even when it means that her own physical and social needs are put aside. Here's just one example - last Friday, we were short two supply teachers. The specialist teachers stepped in for coverage but Stephanie was worried that our HSP students, who were promised a celebration that day, would lose out. She volunteered to co-supervise the class so that the HSP class would not be cancelled. This same day, one of our challenging students had a couple of meltdowns and Stephanie came to the rescue again by tending to his needs. (I'm not sure how she was able to do both but somehow she did - if she's created a cloning machine or something revolutionary, I hope she shares the secret with me!) Our supply principal had to send her to the bathroom because she had no break at all for the entire day.

I'm always relieved and delighted when Stephanie is with a class that I have in the library. I know that she can find a way to soothe stressed children when I'm at my wit's end for trying to find the right strategy. She is willing to play almost any role in a lesson if it can help the students - even acting as a scribe for our radio group producers. She is constantly thinking ahead to what she can put in place to deal with student mental health and well-being. We had grand plans to transform our guided reading book room into an oasis - I never got around to weeding those old novel sets but she used her own money and time to carve out a small space where students might calm down without interference. She's given me key rings with laminated strategy options for students to try, and I knew that her actions made a difference when I saw one of our students ("R") independently using a pacing strategy in class when he felt he was losing focus.

Stephanie has so much to offer, but she also is an eager learner. She wanted to do a presentation for a class about how bystanders can deal with another student's meltdowns, so with a bit of help, she learned how to build a presentation with our IWB (interactive white board). She was keen to lead school initiatives on autism and kindness, and took the time to consider different points of view. She went from having an inactive Twitter account it to posting helpful links, RTing, and sharing regularly. (She's @Stephmack10 on Twitter.) She models kind, caring, communication. She tweeted this last Friday, but to be honest, it applies to her just as much as it does to those she was referring to.

She shares her discoveries and learning freely and without judgement. She has her own challenges, which she makes no secrets of, but instead of crutches or excuses, uses these health or family challenges to become a better person.
Stephanie, thank you so much for being part of our school. I've learned so much from you and our school will not be the same without you. I say this, not to trigger tears, but to make sure that you realize that you matter and you truly make a difference in student and teacher lives. Thanks (and farewell).

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