Tips for Finishing the Year Strong: Advice and Lessons Learned from AMLE’s Leadership Institute Faculty

We’re in the home stretch – the end of the school year is in sight. There’s no sugar coating it, this has been another challenging year. While we hope that next year brings more of the calm and routine that our young adolescents crave, in the meantime how we can use the remaining days of this year to finish strong and set ourselves up for success in the year to come? We sat down with five of AMLE’s Leadership Institute faculty for their advice and lessons learned.

Supporting Student Wellbeing

“It’s no secret that kids are having more trouble self-regulating,” says Phyllis Fagell, author and school counselor, adding that there are some easy-to-implement tactics we can use to support them. When students make mistakes, for example, “give them a plausible reason for making that mistake before offering them constructive criticism or imposing a consequence. You might say, ‘I’m guessing you did that because you thought it was funny, and I can understand that…’ They’ll be more open to behavioral correction if you start from a place of understanding.”

Similarly, students – and even your colleagues – may need a little encouragement asking for help when they need it. Phyllis recommends giving kids face-saving, dignified ways to ask for help. “Maybe they place a specific, pre-designated object on their desk when they want their teacher to know that they need a break or help understanding an assignment,” she recommends. She also recalls a piece of advice she received this year from Jae Lee, a principal at a neighboring school, when she recently interviewed him for an episode of the Middle School Walk & Talk podcast. “He grew up in South Korea, where kids turned down help unless an adult offered it three times. If a teacher offered to help you three times, THEN you knew it was okay to accept their assistance. That’s consistent with what students have told me about the difficulty they have asking for (and receiving) help. Along those lines, offer help three times, whether you’re extending support to a student or a member of your staff.”

Veteran teacher Cheryl Mizerney added that incorporating movement into class is essential as the year winds down: “Go outside whenever possible and bring on the fun!”

Tips for Administrators

Our administrator faculty’s advice aligned along a common theme: celebrating the positives from this past year and the resilience of your staff and students. “This year has been one challenge after another, one fire after another,” acknowledges Cedrick Gray, Director of Education for Shelby County Government, “But, for those who have paid attention, it’s also been one miracle after another, one moment of grace after another. This summer, after the last bus rolls off the lot, take time to reflect on those positive moments. Once you have made a list of them, create a way to celebrate them and share with staff and students when they return in the fall. This way of coming back to school sets a tone of resilience and perseverance. It will have a remarkable effect on your school community.”

Ann McCarty-Perez, author and former principal, echoes that putting your people first can help you recenter as the school year winds down. She counsels, “Don’t let the administravia take away from precious moments with teachers and students. The end of the year is so busy with paperwork that it can keep us from enjoying the best resources in our schools: the people. Put off what you can in order to enjoy those last few weeks.” Phyllis adds that a simple way to make your staff and students feel seen and valued is to pass along any-and-all compliments, “whether they’re from a peer, a colleague, a parent or someone in central office. Be as specific as possible. Everyone feels vulnerable these days, even the most competent student or teacher, and everyone does better when they feel seen and valued.”

Adding to the importance of people, principal and author Dru Tomlin reminds us not to forget your team when putting this year in review: “Your people are essential when reflecting on this past year.” He recommends taking time to “genuinely assess what to stop, start and strengthen for next year–and invite multiple voices into that conversation.” At the same time, don’t forget to remember your “why” as you plan for next year. While you absolutely need to plan out time for self-care and rest, “always be thinking about how something creates a great middle school experience for students, staff and families.”

Finally, Katie Powell, AMLE Director for Middle Level Programs and Chair of the Institute, had gratitude to share for educators after working with schools from around the world throughout this past year. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, counselors, teacher leaders, and district administrators from across the country and beyond,” she said, “The vast majority of these meetings have been interrupted by students stealing urinal cakes (thanks, Devious Licks Challenge), teachers–in tears–needing a moment of the principal’s time, community protests against masks (or for them), contact tracing notifications, and student behaviors ranging from the absurd to the alarming. Each principal or leader I’ve met with has apologized for these interruptions, but I tell them there’s no need–this is all part of the job. To each leader, I simply say, ‘Thank you.’ This has not been an easy year to carry. Thank you for all you do for your colleagues, your students, and your communities.

AMLE assembles a world-class faculty of diverse expert practitioners for its Institute for Middle Level Leadership.  Join them in tackling the challenges of middle school leadership this summer in San Diego or Orlando.


  1. This article gave some wonderful insight into the world of teaching and classrooms across the nation right now that are struggling to “finish the year off strong”. In my placement, we are currently seeing that students are anxiously awaiting the end of the year and for their summer to begin. However, this means a more structured approach is needed within classrooms and conversations are still being had with students and their well-being. It is nice to have the reminder that students do not have the capacity to “self-regulate” yet, and reminders and expectations still have to be set in place for them to finish the year strongly and with our support. It is not over yet, and we still must support our students till the end. I will say that the encouragement from the administration when it comes to the teachers’ workload and their sanity. Good luck all you got this!

  2. I have seen that motivation takes a decline in students at the end of the year, and it can be hard to reach them. The past few years have been tough on everyone, and you shared great ideas to keep the mojo going in the classroom. When I was in school I loved being able to go outside, it made me want to do my work! I never thought of silent cues for students to show students that they are burning out and need a break. I think that is a great idea, so us educators can modify what we are doing as needed. “Students don’t know how to self regulate yet” was a powerful quote to me because sometimes I wonder where the outbursts come from. Students send us signs that we are oblivious too, until it may become an outburst. This article was very encouraging in remaining a positivie demeanor at the end of the year!

  3. I thought that this article had such a positive attitude about how to conclude the school year for the students and staff despite all the stress. Support is the most important thing to consider. The end of the school year is always stressful, and I appreciate the author emphasizing the importance of having patience not just for your students but yourself. While it is important to finish the year strong and everyone is very tired, it is still important to bring your best into work every day and understand that there are going to be hard days but to also look for that social support among your school staff to help you and your students make it through.

  4. I really appreciated the comment about going outside and getting the kids moving. This is something that is great year-round but especially towards the end of the year when students start feeling antsy. In a high school setting, so many of the students have checked out a month before school lets out and getting them even a little sunlight or change of scenery can help to give them a mental break that they need to focus.

  5. I really like how this article addresses the importance of maintaining relationships with students in what can be a difficult time. I know post-spring break that students can become antsy and ready for summer, but it’s still important to take a deep breath, and do your best to carry on. I also like how this article talked about feesible strategies us teachers can use to stay strong and hold our ground, and how those things require discipline– but a discipline that is worth it.