Spending as much time as we do together, our classes can bond like families, and students can start to feel like our own kids. But when it comes time for them to move on to the next grade, the next school, or the next step in their lives, it can be hard to know the best way to stay in touch with students.
Phyllis Fagell, school counselor at the Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., and therapist with the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Maryland, understands how difficult it can be to move on from certain students or classes. "I know intellectually that my job is to connect with students, teach them, hopefully prepare them a bit for that next step, and then let them go," Fagell said. "Still, I'm always surprised by how big a void some kids leave."
While letting go can be hard, Fagell reminds teachers that feeling strong connections to students means they've done their job well, and that change is not necessarily bad. "Instead of viewing these transitions as losses, I think about how far the kids have come, the memories they've made, and the exciting places they're headed," she said.
While it can be difficult to say goodbye to students you've grown to love, finding healthy ways to stay in touch can help these bonds continue for years to come.
1. Keep in Touch Through Letters
It may seem old-fashioned, but letters can be a meaningful way to keep in touch with former students. Unlike e-mail, letters offer a tangible reminder of your class's unique bond. On the last day of school, you can give each student a self-addressed, stamped envelope (using the school's address), so they can send you letters or pictures of themselves over the summer.
Other teachers like to end the year by writing a letter to each student, and find closure in personally expressing their thoughts and well-wishes to each student.
2. Plan a Summer Service Project
Perhaps your class studied environmental issues or another social issue during the school year. Teachers can plan a summer service project to get the class back together and put their lessons into action. Classes could volunteer to clean up a park, plant flowers or pull weeds in a community garden, paint a mural, or host a car or pet wash.
Further reading: Community Service Projects for Kids
Depending on the age of your students, this can be a great way to reunite your class, reconnect with students and families, and offer a helpful service to your community.
3. Meet at a Summer Community Event
Many communities host summer events, such as county fairs, Fourth of July parades, or other community celebrations. If your community holds a summer celebration, make a plan to have a class reunion during the event. Pick a time and a place to meet during the event, and make sure to inform parents before school ends. Send parents or students a reminder through e-mail, social media, or an app such as Remind as the date approaches.
4. Send Students Off with a Class Video or Photo Album
Some teachers are diligent about taking pictures throughout the school year. My son's kindergarten teacher created a photo album for each of her students, and gave them out at the end of the school year. Some teachers write notes in each child's photo album, or create a photo album for themselves and have each child write a note in it. Students can also sign or write in each other's photo albums, much like a classroom yearbook. If you're feeling really creative, a class video can be an even more special memory to send your students off with.
5. Invite Former Students Back As Experts
Kids in transition years love to hear from students who have made the transition—and those kids love to be the new experts. For instance, as kindergarten students are preparing to end the school year, teachers can invite back their former students to talk to the class and answer questions about being a first-grader.
I once worked with an eighth-grade teacher who brought a group of her transitioning students to the high school every spring to meet with her former students. The former students gave the current students tours of the high school, and talked to them about what to expect and how to prepare for high school. Some current students even shadowed former students in a high school class.
Further reading: Creating Closure Before School Ends
It can be hard to part ways with your class at the end of the year. Rest assured that these feelings are normal, and use these ideas to make the transition just a little easier.