How Will You End Your Year?

I’ve never been fully satisfied with the various ways I’ve ended my school year. Too many times, after an amazing year of incredible experiences and powerful relationships, it just seems…anti-climactic. I hate it. It has always bothered me. The bell rings, they walk out, and many times I’ve felt that I missed an opportunity to do something with real impact. I think about how carefully I’ve crafted the last moment in my speaking programs and I know all of that effort has been worth it when I see the reaction. I want your last moment with your students to be powerful, too.

I wanted to share an awesome example of how one amazing teacher and great friend of mine, John Berray, has solved the problem in his class. John has graciously given me permission to tweak and re-post a blog he wrote about the lesson a couple of years ago. John is an incredible math teacher at West Hills High School here in San Diego and, more importantly, a teacher who has embraced the mighty purpose of educators being life-changers. He is a popular workshop presenter, winner of numerous awards, and was honored as one of the 2015 San Diego County Teachers of the Year. Connect with John on Twitter at @JohnBerray53781713_s and you can find his blog right here. Thanks, John!

Bottle of Dreams

Every once in a while I create an experience for my students that is cool and its impact even surprises me. My “Farewell Address” is one such activity. Several years back, I decided to define an end-of-the-year moment of closure with each class. I wanted a time to celebrate our year together, to reminisce, and to toast the wide-open futures of each student in the room.  I wanted more than the perfunctory collecting of books, doling out of grades, and ticking down of the clock that seems to define intervals of learning.

Here’s how it works.

I advertise my farewell address as a “do not miss” moment. I commandeer the last part of class. I bring in bottles of water, one for each student. I tell each student to grab a bottle and crack the lid but not to open it.  Many guess that a toast is coming…and they’re right!

I embellish the farewell address with thoughts and advice and conclude it with challenges and requests. I recognize there’s a good probability this might be the last time we ever speak, so it needs to be meaningful. The moment is bittersweet.  Each year I make small tweaks to how I do it, what I say, and what I request. Some years even make me tear up. Last year was one of them.

The students are aware that the toast is really only a sip of bottled water, but for some, I transform their vision of it from just being ordinary water into being a “Bottle of Dreams.” Most think it’s funny, but buy into it anyway. They can look at the water for what it is, or they can visualize it being whatever they want it to be. It’s about belief. It’s about the power of their minds to pretend for the sake of silliness that it’s a potent non-alcoholic elixir that marks not just the end of the school year, but also new beginnings. The moment is simultaneously deep and light-hearted. I ask them to keep it as a reminder of the farewell address.

During this year’s graduation procession, as students were leaving the field, I had several of them tell me that they still had their bottle of dreams. Students saved an empty water bottle for years because of the meaning we attached to it! How cool is that?  My farewell address has become one of my classroom traditions and has allowed me to find a way to end my year-long relationship with my students in a powerful and meaningful way.


Thanks for sharing, John!!

So…what do you think? How will you end your school year in a way that is worthy of the significance of the moment? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or shoot us a tweet to @burgessdave and @JohnBerray. Throw in the hashtag #tlap so the whole community can see it!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

21 thoughts on “How Will You End Your Year?

  1. This is such an awesome idea. I love it. I’ve often felt that same way – not wanting to let go – yet. I may steal this & make it my own. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I teach teacher preparation (early childhood and integrated arts) at the collegiate level and like to have a moment of reflection and looking forward to close my class each quarter. In the past I have told how each of the students are like marbles – each making an impact on every marble they touch, etc. and then giving them a marble as a reminder.

    However, recently I’ve been reading Dave and Shelly Burgess’ book, P is for Pirate to them and then give them a “gold” pirate coin and telling them that they are bringing the treasure of learning to their students in powerful ways. I’ve also given other classes a red scarf as a superhero cape (C is for Cape from the back section of the book) and a flying origami crane as they are now ready to fly and begin their teaching career (O is for Origami from the back section of the book). There are often tears and hugs as they leave.

  3. I think this is a great idea that even third graders could understand at the end of a year of #tlap #llap #growthmindset #habitsofmind! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love this idea as well! I might add the “pop” of a ” Champagne bottle”: my students are begging me to do our “Pop Top” mini lab again-Alka seltzer and water in a sealed film canister….Maybe we’ll reverse the order for drama-toast, sip and then POP!!

  5. My last day is usually just trying to keep them “under control.” I love the toast and with the bottle of dreams. As I pondered how to make this my own, I think I’ll have the students write a letter to themselves about their goals and dreams. A month into summer I’ll mail it to them. I had to do this after STUCO camp way back in high school. When the letter arrived I had forgotten about it, and the challenges I had made for myself.

  6. I love this!! I think I will add it to what I already do…I call it The Plammy awards. Kind of like the Grammys but with paper plates. I design a paper plate award for each student. Like the sunshine award or best actor in class. I try to personalize to each kid to recognize something awesome they did that year. When handing them out I give a speech about the student before revealing their name:). It has always been a fun event! This year I will end with the bottle of dreams! Thanks for sharing!

  7. This reminds me of a tradition we have on Winter Solstice to get an ornament, take the top off and then write our hopes, dreams, intents, goals, etc… on small slips of paper and fold them and stick them inside the ornament. We also write these things for others and put those slips in their ornaments. We put the tops on and seal them by melting candle wax on them. The next year we begin the process by breaking open our ornaments and looking at what we wrote…

    So, with my elementary STEAM classes, I think we will use empty water bottles and do something similar as we reflect on our time together this year. Or perhaps we begin with a toast and then finish with the reflection piece.

    Thanks for sharing the post! I’m going to blog about this!

    • Thanks for sharing, Kristen! I love the ornament idea! Be sure to share your post if you blog about it!! 🙂

  8. Dave and John,

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful idea. I will share it with my entire teaching & learning team. Bryan Bronn, Lead Learner and Principal, Branson Junior High

  9. All year long in my classroom I use “the sticks of fate” (a cup of popsicle sticks with each student’s name on it) to choose for special jobs, who gives their speech first, calling on kids etc. At the end of the year I give out the sticks and remind them that they are really in charge of their own fate and can decide what they want their life to be like. We add the sticks to the scrapbooks we have made during the year and send them home. I have heard years later about people still treasuring their scrapbooks!

  10. We have an event at our school where 8th graders pass the torch to the 7th graders on the last day of school. The torch is a wooden torch that was created by a teacher and it stays displayed in our trophy case until the end of the year. This “passing of the torch” symbolizes that leadership is being transferred to the new class. The Student Council president gives a speech and passes the torch to the newly elected president.

  11. Such a great idea, that I am definitely going to do it! I am a huge proponent of sticky notes whether it be for encouragement, redirection, or even student activities. I emailed Dave and told him that I was going to give each student a sticky note that says I believe in you signed Mr. D (that is what the students call me)!

  12. I have just began substituting in my school district, and I am working on becoming a “Sub Pirate”. I know the year is almost over, and I have only been subbing for a little over a month now. I have to say, that being a sub pirate is one of the greatest and most challenging adventures. It takes a whole lot of creativity, and quick thinking, and learning by trial and error because you are entering someone else battle field and you have no idea what territory lies ahead of you. I am determined, however, to be a success in my district by this time next year. I am taking lots of notes and coming up with some great strategic ideas for this challenging endeavor.

    • Awesome, Wendy!! Subbing is, indeed, a big challenge but I’m sure your pirate attitude will win the day!

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