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Special Teacher Edition: How to Say Goodbye

June 1, 2020


Hello Friends – I know so many of you are beginning to wrap up the school year. If you haven’t read the last special edition blog post for all of you, you can find it here. I hope you found it inspiring and a way to create motivation and determination to make it to the end of this unprecedented school year. You are not alone in this process.
Today, I want to talk about an important topic: How to say goodbye. Goodbyes are never easy. At their best, they are a well-crafted ceremony, an embrace, thoughtful words or a ritual of closing. Goodbyes can be bittersweet. Sometimes they symbolize moving on, moving ahead, an accomplishment or the completion of an era.
This year, for almost all of you, goodbye was sudden. It was unplanned and unintentional. There were students one day and classrooms full of busy chatter, hallways buzzing with projects, posters, and rambunctious students. And then there was nothing. There were graduations planned and ceremonies to be held. You were amidst bright eyes beginning to sound out words, teens making critical connections and middle schoolers discovering themselves. And then you were not. You were in the middle of teaching about The Renaissance, helping 3rd graders multiply, teaching kindergarteners about time and money, or teaching seniors about civil rights. And then the world said, “Pause.”
While you’ve shifted valiantly to online learning and distance education, it’s not been the same. You’ve reached out to struggling students, driven in parades to awaiting faces and made countless calls and emails to parents. You’ve shown up on Google meets and tried to help the young people make connections. You’ve done online videos reading to preschoolers and had marathon telephone sessions to be sure every student feels a sense of connection. All the while, you’ve worried about academic gaps, hungry students and children at home who lack support. You’ve helped those that can show up and encouraged students to “hang in there.” You’ve put aside lesson plans to focus on mental health. You’ve invited in siblings and dogs and reached out to distracted, overwhelmed students.
I see you.
And now, it’s time to say goodbye. A mentor of mine once talked to me about goodbyes and offered this sage advice: “Don’t just end. End well.” What he meant was that even though goodbyes are often overwhelming and emotion-filled, sudden and unrequested, it is important to go through this process. It’s important to model this process.
Sit In It
This is the hardest part. The part we want to avoid. But we must simply sit in the emotional pain of saying goodbye to an unplanned ending. Clean out classrooms, but allow yourself to sit in the middle of the room and miss your students. Sit on the rug where little bodies wriggle and allow yourself to cry. Perch on the desk where teens ponder and learn and allow yourself to miss them. Flip through the books, the posters, the artwork. Run your hands over name tags, close the books for your library, slide the lesson plan aside and just be. Show up for you so that you can say goodbye with your people. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings that you never wanted to feel and an experience you did not sign up to understand.
Find a ritual
Rituals allow healing. Find a ritual that has meaning for you or your students and share the ritual with them. Choose one, simple ritual for your students which will allow them to experience closure. It’s important for them to experience a healthy goodbye, and you can help by modeling.
Here are some ideas:

  • Share a poem with students to remember you, make it into a book mark.

  • Create a virtual yearbook.

  • Creating an album of class photos to post online.

  • Email a Spotify list of favorite songs you listened to this spring.

  • Send home rules for game to play for the summer.

  • Start a post card letter-writing system for summer.

  • Send a post card to students a month after school ends.

  • Post silly goodbye photos on a Flipgrid ( and encourage students to add theirs.

  • Have students send you gifs about “how we feel about school ending”.

  • Record a funny song, rap, or message for students.

If you have other ideas for closing rituals and saying goodbye, I’d LOVE it if you leave a comment below and share it with me – I’ll send out a list to everyone.
Here’s a poem I’d like to share with you by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I hope it helps you slow down, take time to process and say goodbye to your students.
With compassion and respect,
Dr. Amy

In Blackwater Woods – by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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