I was fortunate to visit a couple of elementary classrooms this week during nurture group and I was heartened to see students engaging with one another and practicing skills to help them self-regulate and stick together. While we have a lot of work yet to do, I am enthused that we are focusing more on meeting the social and emotional needs of our students. At one point in my visit, students were expressing their differences through telling their classmates of their fall break plans. Each student felt free to express their ideas and excitement, even if it was simply staying at home to achieve the 30 goals in Mindcraft they had set for themselves. The differences in what kids thought exciting was totally accepted by the class as was evident in the expressions of all who listened. There was no judgment. The social walls that are typically created, yes even in fourth grade, were not visible to me at all.
At this point, a memory came to me from my time as a middle school administrator. My family and I were eating at Logan’s, and at a table across the room was a CGMS student with his family. At school, this student was quiet, maybe shy, and did not engage with others. He was not one who many thought to include in their social circle. However, in the restaurant that evening with his family, he lit up!. He laughed and talked the whole time. His gregarious behavior was reflected back by his entire family. I remember being deeply sad that he had to put so many walls up at school.
This week, Brené Brown’s new book, Dare to Lead, was released. I’ve been excited to get it ever since I pre-ordered it some time ago. At one point, Brené is talking about the armor that students wear at home or at school. A small snip/paraphrase is below.
We can’t always ask students to take off their armor at home or on their way to school. What we can do, what we are ethically called to do, is to create a space where all students can walk in and for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on rack, and open their hearts to truly being seen. We must be guardians of a space that allows students to breath, be curious, and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. They deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale. We should never underestimate the benefit to a child in having a place where they can take off that armor. It can and often does change the direction of their lives.
It is SO HARD for many students to open their hearts to truly being seen. The polarization of our society and the ability to hide behind the walls of social media, compounds the issue of being safe and vulnerable. Brené shares that you can’t fully grow and contribute behind armor. It takes a massive amount of energy just to carry it (armor) around.
I applaud the quadrant two efforts of our teachers. Those who assume the responsibility in being a part of whole-child education are our rock stars. Every student in our district is a child who is growing both socially and emotionally, and their ability to demonstrate vulnerability and courage opens wide the doors to lifelong learning.