The Final Countdown
Make the Moments Count Rather Than Count the Days that Remain
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl
“Sometimes we’re all too quick to count down the days that we forget to make the days count.” – Unknown
For years, I have been known as the Count Down Queen. My colleagues will tell you that I always know how many days remain until some type of break, conclusion, or commencement of a school year. This does not mean that I do not enjoy teaching. Quite the contrary—I love it! However, I also enjoy a nice break, too. I like to have a goal in mind, and a countdown has always seemed to prepare me for the tasks leading up to a change or some type of momentous event. However, a recent conversation with my kindergarten daughter made me reflect on the many meanings of a countdown and how this action of counting down, specifically to the end of the school year, can impact the other individuals in education—our children.
One night in early April, I snuggled into bed with my daughter to say our prayers, reflect on the completed day, and discuss the upcoming week. In an excited voice I said to her, “Harper, you only have eight more weeks of school remaining in the year. We should start a countdown!” In an instant, I saw my daughter’s face turn from contentment to anguish. I immediately responded with, “What?! Aren’t you excited for summer?” In a sad and confused voice, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and slowly asked, “You mean I only have eight more weeks left with Mrs. Muth?” My heart sank. What had I done?
This prompted an instant conversation about what the end of the school year may look like for my daughter, her classmates, and her teachers. We discussed the fun end of the year activities that were planned in her school, what we could do to thank Mrs. Muth and all her teachers and support staff, how she will have an opportunity to learn from another teacher when she progresses to first grade, and the activities we have planned as a family for the summer. This brought on many questions from my child, such as “Will Mrs. Muth still teach at the school?” “Why can’t Mrs. Muth be my teacher in first grade?” “What if I don’t like my new teacher as much as Mrs. Muth?” “What if my new teacher doesn’t like me?”
Thankfully, we finished our conversation on a positive note. I tucked my daughter into bed, kissed her goodnight, went to my bedroom, and reflected on the lesson this six-year-old had just taught me. I was shocked. I got a bit emotional, too, both as a parent and an educator. It became apparent to me that in my twenty years of teaching and caring for students, in my own excitement to prepare for an upcoming break I had not once considered how my students may interpret the countdowns that I created, announced, or posted in the learning space. If my own child was having anxiety about a countdown, what were the students in my classroom thinking and how were they feeling about the upcoming conclusion to the school year? Harper comes from a stable home. She is fortunate to have the constant support of family, friends, and neighbors, and she enjoys time spent both at home and in school. And yet, even with this caring and supportive home life, she was upset and anxious when I suggested a countdown in preparation for the final day of the school year.
“Even amid one of the most challenging school years for educators, our students may not want the school year to end.”
I have taught students of all ages, levels, and circumstances. Some have come from a similar supportive atmosphere, and others have been homeless, have transitioned to a new family life, or do not have the daily support at home. Prior to that meaningful conversation with my daughter, I had never given thought to what students may think, feel, or expect when they realize that school will no longer be in session. Even amid one of the most challenging school years for educators, our students may not want the school year to end.
How do our students feel about a countdown? Do they appreciate it? Do they want school to end? Do they feel safer or more loved in school? Where will they exist when they are not in school? Are they being fed? Are they being cared for? What will their daily routine look like? Will anyone even bother to assist with a daily routine? Who will communicate with them? Will anyone compliment them? Do they have a safe and nurturing home environment? Do they even have a home?
“Rather than counting down the days to the end of school, what if we appreciated the remaining days to their fullest?”
Rather than counting down the days to the end of school, what if we appreciated the remaining days to their fullest? Could we reconsider the use of a countdown in education and examine the impact it may have on our students? We don’t have to cancel a countdown. What if we shifted our thinking a bit and counted down to a united event, such as an assembly, field trip, performance, or reward? What if we took the time to discuss with our students what the end of the school year means and what it will look and feel like in our subject areas, classes, and the school? What if we asked our students to share their concerns about summer break? Could we offer our students ways to ask for help or to inquire about supplemental materials, resources, or routines for summer use? Could we create ways to communicate with our students throughout the summer or simply let them know we will miss them during this absence from school?
Before we announce or post an end of the school year final countdown, let’s take some time to reflect on how this action may be perceived by our students, their families, and even our colleagues. These individuals may not appreciate the final countdown or be as excited as we think they are for school to come to an end this year—or ever. They may prefer to make the moments count, rather than to count the days that remain until summer break.
About the author:
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl has served as a proud educator since 2001. She has successfully led secondary music programs in a rural school in Pennsylvania and two Title I schools in Maryland, one of which was assigned to corrective action. In both states, Lori has had the opportunity to open two new school buildings and develop their curricula. In 2004, Lori received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Daniel Boone Area School District (Pennsylvania). In 2011, she was a finalist for the Howard County Public School System’s (Maryland) Teacher of the Year Award and a finalist for the 2013 Howard County Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Award. Lori is the author of more than 75 articles for an assortment of educational publications and she designed these mentoring pieces into a graduate course that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago) entitled “Making Key Changes.” These unique experiences have permitted Lori to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, speaker, and writer. She is often invited to provide meaningful and reflective professional development sessions to staff and students throughout the nation.
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl earned her Bachelor of Science in Music Education from West Chester University, Master of Music Education from Lebanon Valley College, Administrator I Certification through McDaniel College, and Doctor of Music Education from Liberty University. She lives in the Baltimore, Maryland area with her engineer-husband and their two children. Learn more: MakingKeyChanges.com. View past issues of the Making Key Changes newsletter and subscribe here and/or enroll in Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl’s reflective summer graduate course.
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May 3, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)