With an emphasis on kindness, a dream year blossomed in the classroom

As more than three million New York students return to class, many of them, along with their teachers, are once again laden with anxiety and uncertainty ahead of another year of COVID-19 restrictions. As a long-time educator, I shared these fears last fall, before my principal allowed me to make this my “dream year”.

This encouragement, combined with smaller class sizes, fewer daily interruptions, and less pressure from the bureaucrats in Albany, helped me imagine and realize the potential of what my class could be. Introducing students to mindfulness lays the foundation for kindness, non-judgment, respect, gratitude, and patience with ourselves and others.

My 9 year old students learned how awareness of the breath made us feel soothed and relaxed, and can be applied to alleviate stress and trauma. We channeled that state of thinking and wrote what we were grateful for on gratitude slips.

Our understanding of how the power of mindfulness can impact our moods and responses has begun to permeate the fabric and structure of all of our interactions in the classroom. The way the children listened and responded to each other was gentler, more helpful, kinder.

Gratitude is powerful. During the in-person teaching portion of the pandemic, everything had to be rethought. No birthday parties. No sharing of toys, food and learning tools. As a result of our reimagined traditions, the initial disappointment was replaced with excitement and bonding laughter as we reflected on the names, verbs and descriptive adjectives of the birthday child and formed them into poems. Gratitude and appreciation have replaced the sugar rushes.

The Japanese have long recognized the power of promoting engagement through a simple routine of sharing a cup of tea. Masked and three feet apart, every Friday my students spoke with a “reading buddy” to talk about the books they were reading over a hot cup of tea. Price Chopper generously donated a year of tea and hot cups. During those weird and isolated times when kids couldn’t play with their friends in person, tea and books created a new, hopefully lasting social bond.

The ripple effect of sharing kindness in its many different forms – and learning to express our gratitude in a simple way – helped create an environment where students felt safe and were willing to take risks – personally and academically. Everyone has grown up in all academic fields.

Unbeknownst to me, several students, including three students who often proclaimed they hated writing, began to team up to create mini passion projects to share with their classmates. When two of my minimalist writers forwarded me their 18 paragraph article on Revolutionary War, they included a signature for the publisher – a name I didn’t recognize. As it turned out, my students were enthusiastically talking about their writing on the return bus ride. A kid from another class caught a fever and also wanted to be a part of writing. An editorial staff was born! Students self-initiated and submitted poems, memory book, weekly journal, stories, jokes, trivia, sound dictionary, and space website.

The foundation of benevolence and respect for our differences provided much of the groundwork that allowed these projects to emerge. In previous years of teaching I would have felt too much pressure to weave mindfulness meditations, yoga, reading hundreds of gratitude sheets, brewing and serving tea to everyone, and playing games. daily.

None of this was a waste of time. On the contrary, even with a shortened school day, the emphasis on caring for oneself and others helped create an academic and social “dream year” for all of us.

As teachers, we must give ourselves permission to imagine and create our “dream years”. Reinventing new possibilities of kindness, joy, laughter, deepening the love of learning for students and for ourselves. Everyone’s experience will be richer.

Alice Chiappinelli O’Neill of Guilderland retired in June after 36 years of teaching, the last 29 of which were in the South Colonie Central School District.

Comments are closed.