My school, my district really, is a big believer in SEL stuff. Our academic coach comes up with a calendar each month so we don’t always even have to think of SEL activities to do with the kids. I do still sometimes come up with my own, and sometimes I complete the entire month’s worth but with how hectic things have been lately I’d say I get to about three quarters of the thing. All that to say, I do quite a bit of SEL stuff in my room.
Today I felt they needed it and I had a little over 20 minutes so I decided to squeeze in a couple activities I thought would be good. I had the students write their names big on a piece of paper and then place them face down on their desks and shuffle them amongst the 4 or 5 desks at their pods. Then shut the lights and turned on the screen and they saw their mindfulness guy pop up and knew to assume the position.
We watch this young, hip kid do mindfulness exercises once or twice a month. They know that we he pops up it usually means they should sit, facing him, hands in lap, feet on floor. They know it means usually they close their eyes and I take pictures for our class Twitter while they do what the clever, stylish, and attractive young man tells them to do. I usually join in about halfway. Half of them have bought in and take the ride. The others know they just have to fake it and chill for five minutes and they do this just fine as well. His mindfulness exercises always involve breathing and thinking and mantras of sorts. They work. Like for real for real. He relaxes you being all suave and hypnotic and if you buy in full stop it’s like feeling tucked into the softest warmest blanket for a bit. It’s fleeting and partially in the mind but it’s so cool how you can use your brains and body to transport yourself and elevate things for a minute. Impressive for sure.
Today’s trip had us breathing and eyes closed and thinking. We covered our hearts and repeated after our guide. Fifth graders are less likely to play along if I make them speak out loud so when mantras and other sayings are to be repeated, I tell the kids to just think the words. This way more participate and, honestly, when they actually participate they see that I’m telling the truth when I say that it works. Those enlightened few go all in every time. Today we were telling ourselves how awesome we were, and then sending the love we had conjured out to our families and loved ones, building that up and sending it out to the world, and then ending back within us – always cognizant at each step of how creating and shooting out this love made us feel. The idea being, I think, that when we completed this circular jaunt we had built up, and increased awareness of, so much love that when we finished by bestowing it upon ourselves (I am awesome, it’s ok to be awesome, I am great, it’s ok to be great, etc) it was huge and enveloping and we BELIEVED it. This was the first of two SEL activities that surprised me in twenty minutes. What surprised me about our mindfulness journey was a couple of my low self esteem girls either were so swept up they stopped paying attention or didn’t care and allowed their inner voices to become very loud whispers. The final self-affirmations were kind of shout-whispered and I had to look and their eyes were shut tight and they were so relaxed seeming and they were just feeling it and all that love must’ve been leaking off the screen and out of me and all around because it was the most blindsidingly touching thing. I literally gasped at how it affected me.
After I turned the lights back on I had the kids shift to the next table pod. The papers were all switched around so they had no way of grabbing their bestie’s page. It was all going to be random. Their job was to write whoever they got a nice note about themselves. Just a quick, uplifting thought. I told them they didn’t have to sign it but, especially if it’s not someone you’re super tight with, wouldn’t it be nice to just tell them that even though the two of you don’t hang everyday that you notice this one cool thing about them? All but two wound up with signatures, at least that I saw. I let them rotate four or five times. I told them to put some heart into it because it’s probably what they would want. I was taking my Twitter pictures of the kids pouring their little hearts on these random papers, in my mind inspired by the love-in we all just experienced on the Vimeo thing. I was all caught up in watching them do good for others, for our homeroom family, I was going to stretch it to the last possible second before I had to let them pack up for the day. I wanted the most kids possible to be able to write on these.
Then my second surprise came. Big duh moment. Yes, there was so much joy in watching them say nice things randomly to each other. But watching them read the papers?! How did I not see that this was the toppings on the frogurt? DUH. So I told them to stop the rotations and return to their papers and they scurried like mice knowing the cheese truck just toppled. I snapped a couple but missed a few humongous smiles with my phone camera. I cannot explain with words the genuine, pure happiness in some of those eyes and smiles. Everyone had tucked into their own so no one was worried who would see what for a solid 45 seconds or so no one cared about being cool or cynical or aloof. I don’t think I’ll ever forget a couple of those smiles. Some showed me their true gleeful selves for the very first time today and it was so, so beautiful.
It was actually a super rough day. Full week after a 3.5 day week for them and it’s also the week before Spring Break? Rough week. Apathy is at an all time high and work production at an all time low. But those two moments were pillars of luminous light which shone towers above it all at the end of the day. Made it all more than worth it and I plan on having the memory carry me through what is bound to be a very rough rest of the week. Or at least through some of tomorrow. I’ll take that too.