My hope in asking for a junior division assignment was that the students would be more independent however, I also knew that in exchange, I would be likely dealing with the issues of the tumultuous “tween” years. My expectations for this group were particularly high because I had taught nearly half of them for two years in grades 1 and 2 and I felt as though I knew them pretty well. Unfortunately, we have been having social issues in our classroom and the students are having difficulty treating each other with kindness. I wasn’t prepared to have to “teach” kindness and gratitude at this age. After 20 years in the primary grades, I suppose I assumed they would already know how to be kind. Let me be clear. They are not horrible kids and having raised two kids through the “tweenage” years I know the behaviour is driven by hormones etc., Kindness becomes more complicated in the junior grades as the social constructs change and being popular and fitting in becomes that much more important. What I’m trying to get across to the students is that kindness is actually more powerful than being mean but they aren’t yet all buying into it…yet. I’m not giving up.
We started by reading the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio together as a class. After every few pages there was so much to unpack in discussion with the students about empathy, “precepts” for living and loyalty in friendship. In discussions, the students were easily able to empathize the injustices suffered by Auggie and were angered by the actions of the antagonist, Julian. We also went to see the movie in order to compare the stories and they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were thoughtful in their assessment of the themes and the major differences. In reality, however, they were having a hard time putting all of this knowledge into practice with one another.
I needed to dig a little deeper and do some research and I happened upon a great website connected to the book; #choosekind is a campaign attached to Palacio’s book and it started us on a journey of kindness. We’ve also been using lesson plans from the Random Acts of Kindness website and have begun daily gratitude journals. We started restorative circles using our talking stick using Restorative Circle prompts. We have created our rules and agreement for our circle. It has been a slow start because we are starting with topics that are allowing students to relate to one another and are not value or character based sensitive topics yet as we work to build trust in the circle. Our first couple of prompts were, “What are 3 things that you cannot live without?” and “Who is your hero?” Not everyone is able to come up with something right away and sometimes we have to circle back, but it is a beginning.
We also wanted to do something as a class that was more global and would make an impact on people whom we didn’t even know. In Peterborough, we have a store called Under One Sun. They are part of a larger organization that supplies crafts from artisans in Haiti, “Restoring Dignity Through Artistry”. We decided to participate in a Christmas ornament fundraiser which helps to create jobs and sustain families in Haiti. Some of the money goes to the artisans for healthcare, childcare, education and materials and some of the money comes back to the school. Our class of 22 students alone sold more than $1000.00 worth of ornaments. This fundraiser makes a difference in our community and for families living in Haiti and broadens our student’s awareness of global issues of poverty. In addition, we are going to learn how to make paper bead jewelry ourselves as gifts for our own families.
As we move into the holiday season, December is a great month to think about giving, gratitude and kindness. We are going to be working with the Senior Centre down the street, hanging our art work, singing songs to entertain and presenting a dramatic re-telling of “A Promise is a Promise” written by Robert Munsch. We have created a kindness calendar which includes random acts of kindness for each day that do not cost money. Hopefully, day by day, discussion by discussion the students will come to realize the power of kindness.