At the end of the day, my third-graders and I circle up on the carpet after we’ve packed up. We talk about our days, we reflect and we listen. Then I let them know I care and that I’m proud. At the end, we say our goodbyes and we look forward to connecting on the next school day.
Similar to a morning meeting, a closing circle is a classroom community gathering that takes place at the end of the school day. Recently, when our afternoon activity went over time and we scattered to clean up at the end up the day, I told the class that we would cancel our closing circle and reconvene in the morning. The whole class let out an exasperated “Awwwhhhhh!” At the time, I was sorry to cancel the meeting, but there just wasn’t time in our schedule. It was time to leave.
Later, reflecting on my decision, I realized that I was wrong. I should have taken time away from the activity that ran late. It could have been completed at a later time. The students, conversations and community should have been—and should always be—a priority. We have worked hard to establish a strong community and culture of care and respect in my classroom. When I canceled the closing circle, my students missed out on an opportunity to reflect and share their accomplishments and struggles with their classmates and me. I missed out on an opportunity to show students I care and tell them I’m proud. We as a community missed out on an opportunity to show we are listening, we empathize and we are there for each other.
For some students, a closing circle is the only time someone asks them how their day went. Many students leave school and go home to an empty house. Their proud moments or challenges from the day may never be shared. For some students, this small moment of being heard creates a lasting impact.
The following afternoon, we circled up early for an extended closing circle. After students finished sharing, I took extra time to let them know that I care. Our talk started as my standard goodbye, when I tell students to be safe, take care and have a good evening or weekend. Then, I did something different. I told them how much I look forward to coming to work every day. I told them that I miss them and think about them over the weekend. I told them that I’m proud and that they are all capable and deserving of a great education. And, finally, I thanked them for coming to school and let them know that I couldn’t wait to see them again on Monday. Then the bell rang, and without much other conversation, we all went our separate ways.
As I walked out to the dismissal area, one of my students ran back, calling, “Ms. B! Ms. B!” When I turned around to look, he hugged me tightly. He then stepped back and said, “I know that you care, Ms. B. Thank you.” And just like that, he turned around and ran off again. It was a small moment, but for that student, it was significant.
A closing circle may only be a short, 10-minute gathering, but its effects are long lasting and important. I hope to never miss one again.
Blanchard is a teacher at a public elementary school in Oregon.