Time to begin again.
You probably have been given your marching orders from on high: test scores, writing assessments, your own evaluation scheduled, IEP meetings scheduled. The list is never-ending; you do realize that, don’t you? There will never be enough time for everything. Why not begin with something important? Something to grab their collective hearts. Something to take them beyond their own little point of view.
CPR is a term from Responsive Classroom – Circle of Power and Respect. It is the middle school version of Morning Meeting, a successful strategy from these same folks. Perhaps you tried community building during the year, but your students just didn’t do well with the concept. Perhaps this feels like a waste of time in your already crowded schedule. The whole point is community building, and whenever I skipped this idea in my classes, I lived to regret it. The success of the students in your classroom hinges on many factors; as teachers, we all know one meltdown by one student can change the climate for the whole period. Supporting each other, allowing for differences, and developing encouraging moments for each student builds an environment for success.
The first day back after the longest break of the year can feel like the first day of school. Read some of the excellent materials (newsletter, blog, video clips) at the Responsive Classroom website to help you create a community building circle. If you teach in the primary grades, Morning Meeting is the structure developed by RC.
Many years ago I sponsored the Student Council in a middle school, and we developed a school-wide campaign we called RAK – Random Acts of Kindness. We had a great response that attracted the attention of our Director of Schools and city councilman.
Today there is a similar movement spreading that began shortly after the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a result of one simple Tweet from Ann Curry of NBC News, #26 Acts of Kindness became a movement of positive response to the collective sadness we all felt. Responses can be seen on Facebook and on the NBC website. You can see examples of what others have done, especially around Christmas.
Why not try this on your first day back? Take a few minutes to create a circle of desks or a circle of students sitting on the floor. Begin your CPR or Morning Meeting with each person sharing one gift or blessing they received during the break. Share some of the Acts of Kindness school children have done in the name of the school children in Sandy Hook. Discuss how frequently the spirit of generosity occurs during Christmas holidays, but might not be remembered so easily in January or February.
You don’t have to make this about the Sandy Hook students; it can just be your class brainstorming ways to give back or spread joy. If your students have counted their blessings this year, use that as your introduction to the concept of creating their own list of Acts of Kindness.
Make a big chart of their ideas; turn this into a writing assignment or a journal entry. Authentic writing comes from authentic problems, ideas, or challenges. Ask students to pick an idea from the chart and develop it into a class project. Or have them write their opinion about the effects of performing acts of kindness. Each state has a different type of writing assessment by grade level – persuasive, narrative, expository. Turn this writing into the genre they will need to use in their assessment.
This idea can be a simple spark for your students to do on their own, but accountability gives a project better chances for success. Let them post their acts with no names attached or do some things as a class. Suggest they say “thank you” to five people at school by writing the reason for their gratitude on a card and hand it to each person.
I’d love to hear from you if you try this with your class, but you can always post this on the Facebook page as well.
I continue to give thanks for teachers who spent precious hours of their winter break preparing lessons, researching a new project, or developing new strategies for struggling students. You are true heroes with little recognition.
I give thanks for teachers who are determined to not give up on a difficult student or a class with challenging behaviors.
I give thanks for teachers who work together to create a climate on their hall or within their team that encourages yet challenges students to do their best.
Do you have a journal for counting your blessings at school? You don’t even need a fancy one, but I’m always more motivated by “pretty paper”.