Friday, February 1, 2013

Fight Hate With Love--in the Classroom

I know it’s been far too long since I got on here and blogged! Life kind of took over!
I had an experience with my students today that I just have to share. I’m not offering any products or lesson plans, but I feel like this is a story that needs to be told.
I am HUGE on teaching my students to work together as a team--to respect one another--to love and take care of each other. We had parent teacher conferences this week, and they just left me feeling kind of defeated. So many parents brought up social concerns that I was largely unaware of. It made me feel quite ineffective as a teacher. But I decided I would try to nip this problem in the bud. After all, my sweet students are only second graders! I don’t want them to think at such a young age that teasing and bullying are acceptable.
Now I did not have any hard-core bullying going on…mostly cliquey little girls who “don’t want to be friends with HER,” and “don’t want to play with HER!” I have way too many bossy girls this year! Throughout the years I’ve found various teambuilding activities that I’ve tried with other classes, and decided to merge a couple of those to help my second graders. So here’s what we did today:
First, I used an activity that I read about last year in the Teaching Tolerance magazine {see this post for more info on Teaching Tolerance.} I gave each student a mini-Tootsie Roll Pop. I asked the kids to tell me some things they noticed about their Tootsie Pops, or some things they know about Tootsie Pops from their background experiences. I wrote their ideas on the board as they mentioned them.
I then directed the conversation to the idea that Tootsie Pops look different on the outside. Even though they’re all suckers, they are different colors and flavors. But if you keep licking and get to the center, they all have a Tootsie Roll in the middle—they are all the same on the inside. This is like our class! We are all people, but we all look different on the outside. However, we are the same on the inside. We all have a heart, lungs, bones, tummies…we also all have feelings. We all have a need to be loved. We all need friends. Just like all Tootsie Pops are the same on the inside, all of us are the same on the inside. We all get hurt sometimes. We all hurt others sometimes. But no matter what our background experiences are, we all have the same, basic emotional needs.
I used this activity to segway into my next, another idea I got online, although I don’t know its original source. (My friend posted it on Facebook a few years back.) I gave each student half a sheet of scratch paper. I told them to look at their paper and tell it “I hate you!” …tell it “You are ugly!” …tell it “I don’t want to play with you,” “I don’t want to be your friend,” “You are dumb!” Then I told them to stick their tongues out at it, crumple it up and throw it on the floor. I had the kids stand up and stomp on the papers, grind them into the floor, and so on. Then I had them pick the papers back up, put them on their desks, and try to smooth them out. While they could do this to some extent, they could not get all the wrinkles out. I told them that this is like what happens when we are mean to people; when we tease others; when we bully others. I shared with them a story about a boy who called me fat when I was younger. I explained that it hurt me so badly that I can still remember it. To me, that boy will always be known as the boy who called me fat, and nothing more. I am sure he has grown up and doesn’t even remember that day, but it will never leave my memory. (I think we all have a story like that.) I told my students that when we say hurtful, mean things to others, it’s like the wrinkles that we made in our pieces of paper; we couldn’t get all the wrinkles out and we can’t take back the hurtful things we do and say to others. We never know when we might be making a permanent impact on a person’s life with our words and actions. This really hit home with my kids. The looks on their faces made me want to cry! I told them that we have a choice in whether we want to be a “good, positive wrinkle” in someone’s life, or a “bad, negative wrinkle.” I asked them which they’d rather be, which they would prefer to be remembered for. I told them that it is our job as teammates, as a class, to support and build each other up. I told them that I know none of them want to be remembered by others for something hurtful they said or did.
 
The amazing thing is, they got it. We talked a little about apologizing and how that can help, because none of us are perfect and we are all likely to make mistakes and hurt others from time to time. One of my sweet, darling seven year old students raised his hand and said, “It’s like what Martin Luther King taught us…Fight hate with love!” Yes! Yes it is! We have too much strife to deal with in our world to tolerate having it in our own homes and classrooms. And my darlings got that today. I know it’s not over. It will take consistency and a lot more work, but I could see a change in their attitudes and demeanors. It was peaceful and beautiful.
We are doing a challenge for the remainder of February. I gave each student a checklist with all the names of our classmates on it. By the end of February, they are to have worked one-on-one with each person on the list. We do a lot of partner stuff during math and Daily Five, so I told them I want to see them working with other people. Branching out. They have to work with everyone on the list by the end of the month.  They were excited to meet this challenge. When we gathered on the carpet at the end of the day, I asked them what they had learned today. One little girl said, “I learned that I want to be a ‘good wrinkle’ in others’ lives.”
Praise the Lord. J  
 

2 comments:

mrsyoung said...

Thank you for your post. My fifth graders struggle with social issues frequently this year. I love the crumpled paper idea, especially that you pointed out we can be a positive wrinkle. We read "Owen and Mzee" yesterday. So much good discussion. I appreciate your timely post!

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Underpaid and Overblessed said...

I did both of these things with my 5th graders last year! I love witnessing those "aha" moments the kids have when we do activities like these.

 
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