The words we use to talk to each other, to ourselves, and about ourselves and others all matter.
Of all the colourful pieces of art on Ms. Munro's wall, the line of white paper envelopes is the most intriguing. It looks like a small post office. But inside the envelopes are powerful words. Words of affirmation.
The words we use to talk to each other, to ourselves, and about ourselves and others all matter. These words create a culture that can be positive, life-affirming and transformational. Or these words can create a culture of fear, silence, and loneliness.
The words inside the little white envelopes are precisely the kind of words the world needs. They are words that strengthen the hearts and minds of the students.
Open up an envelope, and you will find a confetti of brightly coloured cards. Some contain the students' fears or worries, with an encouraging phrase on the back that will help them overcome those fears. Other cards contain words of affirmation from their fellow students and teachers.
LEARNING FROM A STORY
Another tool that Ms. Munro has used to help students learn about overcoming challenges is story. First, the students will read a book. Then they'll analyze the main character's journey.
What were that character's struggles? What did they do to overcome those struggles? What steps did they take to achieve their goals?
Goals can be as simple as finishing a book, or getting better at Math, or being nicer to one's sister. Goals don't have to be lofty. Students can start making goals at any age - focusing their attention on a desired outcome and moving towards it. But without a growth mindset, those goals will be difficult to achieve.
By learning about the challenges of fictional characters, students are able to contemplate how they can take steps in their own moments of difficulty. The book Willy the Worrier, by Anthony Browne, is being used as a platform to consider the emotional experience of worry and what to do when you feel worried. While the book Willy the Wimp, also by Anthony Browne, has allowed the students to examine the issue of bullying through the lens of another person’s experience.
True stories can be even more powerful. Ms. Munro talks about how the class watches video clips about "children who have had positive outlooks and achieved great things despite obstacles." By seeing other children their age overcome obstacles, students have been inspired to be more persistent when encountering their own obstacles.
Meditation is a simple tool that helps students manage emotions and increase their ability to stay focused. In term one students focussed on deep breathing, visual meditation, smiling meditation, and learning how to ground themselves through their senses. It has been so popular with students that they sometimes request a meditation break.
Sometimes you might be walking down the halls of the Foundation Years Centre and will see a student sitting outside Ms. Stephanie's classroom with his hands in his lap, eyes closed, emanating peacefulness.
Interestingly meditation has been proven to help improve grades and behaviour.
A school in one of San Francisco’s toughest neighbourhoods implemented a consistent meditation practice in the school with astounding results. They added half an hour to the school day for meditation. Over the course of four years the middle schools’ practice of two fifteen minute meditation sessions resulted in a 79% decrease in detentions and a marked increase in academic success.
THE CHANGE IN GRADE THREE
In just four short months a transformation has occurred in the Grade 3 classroom. The students demonstrate a greater sense of empathy. They don't give up on themselves as easily. They'll stay the course during a challenge.
They have developed a personal narrative that invites them to keep going despite any challenges they may experience. They know how to take a deep breath when they're getting stressed (most adults don't even know about that simple trick!). And they've already experienced the power of meditation to calm the mind.
As the year continues, Ms. Munro's students will continue to hone their emotional intelligence and build a language around their feelings. It will be fascinating to see how students continue to learn and grow throughout the next year.
Just like the envelopes on the wall, they will be filled with new experiences from which they can learn from.