Putting Closure On a Year That Never Really Closed
May 24, 2020
By Mrs. Chumi Levitansky, Educational Director, Chinuch.org
By Mrs. Chumi Levitansky, Educational Director, Chinuch.org
The concept of closure is a fascinating one. There is a reason why books or article have a closing paragraph or chapter. There is a purpose why camps and schools spend a tremendous amount of time and money ensuring that their well-rounded programs will include banquets, graduations, siyumim, and closing activities at the end of the season or school year. It best to get a good understanding of what closure accomplishes and its importance so we can effectively plan a “closing” with our students from a distance.
What is closure?
The definition of closure is the ability to take a step back and reflect on the culmination of a significant event. Imagine someone working on a 1000-piece puzzle. He sits for hours examining individual pieces and fitting them in specific areas. When he finishes, he takes a step back, getting tremendous satisfaction from the completion of the scene. Imagine him, having put in the last piece, leaving without looking. He would not get to experience the pleasure resulting from his efforts. It’s interesting to notice what happens when closure is omitted or doesn’t occur. Recently, I spoke with a neighbor who, when she was in seminary in Israel, was brought home early for Pesach as result of the Arab uprising. After Pesach, her parents were nervous to allow her to return, and she was one of two girls who did not finish the year. She expressed that she completely understood her parents’ position at the time and was comfortable with their decision. Yet fifteen years later, it still bothers her that she never officially packed up, left, or said her goodbyes. Each time she speaks with seminary girls who have just returned, she is revisited by the feeling of, “I never finished my seminary experience.” In our role as teachers, we take the time to end each year with closing activities and rituals. These lessons and activities are not just time fillers for the last weeks of school, and are not just part of the school culture. They are opportunities, for both our students and ourselves, to reflect, analyze and examine our learning and growth experiences for the
past school year. We examine our mental puzzle, reflecting on events, academic and emotional growth, experiences, friendships and memories. It’s interesting to identify how some personalities go with the flow and seem have less of a need for closure or reflection. School ended abruptly, they collected some of their items, and left for what they assumed was going to be a temporary adventure. They easily adapted to Zoom or conference call classes, and for those students, school simply continued in a different forum. From the hundreds of parents and teachers we have been in contact with, however, we observed that most students have found the experience unsettling and anxiety-provoking. There are students who might still be worried or anxious about an item they left in their desk, or a book they still owe to the school library. They might be concerned about being displaced in the class hierarchy or about their social standing in general. Often it’s the more structured, less-flexible child that will have a bigger need for us to pull it together; they need reassurance that decisions are being made in a thought-out and intentional manner by the adults in their lives, rather than having control ripped from their hands.
Ideas of how we can create closure from a distance:
- Celebrate Accomplishments:
For every subject we teach, specifically if it’s a sefer in Navi, a tekufa in history, or a group of parshiyos, we should schedule a session for a detailed review, identifying all the important learning that occurred over the year. This should not just be done in preparation for a final or test, but as celebration of the successful culmination of a unit. A session such as this provides a feeling of attainment and satisfaction, especially when we specifically verbalize to the students that “a year ago we knew almost nothing about ________. Look how much we now know! Let’s appreciate how much we remember and will take with us into our next experiences.” The same can be done with younger children. Imagine sharing this sentiment with the class: “Think back to before you entered our class, and you didn’t know how to read any Rashi letters. Now you are Rashi experts! You are able to not only read words, but read sentences written completely in Rashi letters! What a great accomplishment!”
- A Warm, Detailed Closure Letter:
Write a group letter to your students reflecting on your school year. You can identify the personal impact and great moments you experienced as their teacher. You can write about your impressions from before the year started, and share how much you have come to love and connect with your students.
o Class performance or play that you want to remind them about?
o Class or school Chanukah celebration
o Any class jokes or funny moments that might make your letter feel personal
o Any family or personal milestones in students’ lives
o Mention students’ names, but make sure to mention all. Everyone looks for
their name in a letter. Through this letter, you want to remind them of how they have grown, and highlight their efforts in how they grew as a group. How did they increase their capacity for patience with each other, cooperation, creativity, generosity, respect, perseverance? Our job is to help them to identify their strengths, both as a group and as individuals, and teach them that these strengths are tools that will help them grow stronger in other areas. A group letter that has a personal touch is extremely powerful. Add a handwritten line or two to each student, and your effort will be rewarded hundredfold, as each student will feel that you are communicating directly to her. You can direct her attention to a specific part of the letter: “You were such a strong part for the sholom I mentioned – your influence really made it happen!” Do you have a picture with that student that you can include as a keepsake? A class picture, or a group photo of a trip or activity, helps as a reminder the good feelings you are reinforcing.
- A Class Time Capsule:
A class Time Capsule, in which memories and relevant reminders of the present are preserved for the future, can capture the imaginations of many children, as it’s hard for them to imagine anything further ahead than dinnertime. To contemplate where we will be in ten years, or what this world will look like in twenty years, is fascinating to all people, especially children. The capsule can include:
o Pictures from the year
o A class wish list o A favorite memory
o Things that will be funny to look back at
o What is considered an invention of 2020?
o What are class favorite songs?
o What are memories about this school year that you think you will never forget?
o What is considered a treat?
o What is considered “the” new game or toy?
Once all this is collected and put together, the teacher can tell the class that she is going to save it for a day that they can all bury it together in the school yard or another suitable location. It needs to be in a secure container that won’t decompose with time. The class can decide how long they want to wait before unburying and opening. Some might vote to wait until graduating 12th grade, or perhaps at the 10th class reunion.
- “Dear Future __th Grader:”
Help students enter the transition by encouraging them to write letters to next year’s students about what they can look forward to. Provide a suggested framework of what to include, explaining that you will put one of their letters on each new student’s desk. Examples of guided questions:
o What were your concerns or worries before school started?
o What can you say that will make next year’s students feel calmer and more secure on their first day of school?
o What was your favorite project?
o What was your favorite part of the day?
o Describe how you and your classmates spent their recess time. o How were siyumim or birthdays celebrated in your class?
o What would you have wanted to know from last year’s students that you now
have the opportunity to share with next year students? You can model this in a sample letter that you can keep for future classes. Share with them how excited next year’s class will be to get these letters. Ask them to imagine how they would feel getting these letter.
- Year Review Timeline:
A clear way of pulling the year together can be by creating a timeline of class events. Imagine a timeline that begins in Elul and continues through Sivan. Distribute a printed timneline, or have the students create one with blank paper taped together. Together with the students, identify and mark special events and memories, as well as where they place.
o Class play
o Chanukah Project
o Started learning Navi
o Class trip to Statue of Liberty
o Visit to Nursing Home
o School-wide events or chagigas
o G.O. Activities
You can invite each child to include one personal event:
o Chani Gold’s sister’s wedding
o Aviva Feinberg became an aunt
o Tiri Goldstein moved to a new house
Understanding our Accomplishments
It is so satisfying to be able to identify and verbalize our accomplishments and success. We need to create opportunities to enable this to happen. Training our students to do this is not flaunting their success or empowering them to become haughty. Giving them this time and opportunity is part of the Chinuch that we stop and take account of where we are and how far we have come in our accomplishments. A few years ago we took our family on a trip across the country. We toured Arizona, saw the most spectacular views, and the children were treated to one exciting activity after the other. After we returned a few weeks later, a relative asked my 7-year old daughter, “What was one of the most exciting activities you did this summer?” She responded, “This summer I learned how to ride a bike.” To her that was the most exciting activity of the summer. What an incredible lesson! When one feels feels accomplished and successful at something for which they worked hard, the “good feel” they take with them eclipses the experiences that were handed to them with no effort on their part.
Imagine the “good feel”with which we can send off our students if we can help them accumulate a list of accomplishments. We just need to jumpstart the thought process and enable them to do it. It can be academic accomplishments, interpersonal accomplishments, or are there personal accomplishments that you can help the students identify and create.
o What sefarim or Parshiyos did we learn?
o What skills did we acquire and become proficient in?
o What understanding do we now have that we didn’t before this school’s year?
o What information do we know that was new for our grade level?
o What became clear to us in our learning that we never had before?
Imagine the power of a list of accomplishments. This is a skill that if we can teach our students to do could become a habit of how they view themselves and their strengths. We need to celebrate our success and feel a sense of satisfaction when we set goals and reach them.