“We are all connected-like it or not, our responsibility is to care for these connections.”
Aimee Meredith Cox
My school has this awesome chunk of time every day called Connections. In Connections, we teachers facilitate “Circle” in which there is a greeting, sharing, activity, and closing; provide time for students to read independently (I also like to use this time to show a book trailer, conduct book talks by myself or my students, introduce my students to reading tools such as Goodreads, etc.); teach emergency drills; provide some character education via the PBIS Cool Tool, etc. The theory behind Connections is based on some of the latest brain science that tells us the brain is a social learner. Dr. David Rock says, “There is a large and growing body of research which indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, [and they] collaborate better and generally perform better overall.”
Now, I know some of my colleagues don’t love Connections. They’re under pressure to do more and are vying for any additional instructional time they can get. That’s not my flow. And here is why:
Two weeks ago, my 7th grade students were preparing for a Courage Retreat put on by Youth Frontiers in which they would 1) identify personal fears and understand that everyone has them, 2) commit to acting with courage to make our school a better place, and 3) deepen relationships with classmates to break down social barriers. Although I was only able to attend for a few hours (in which I ran into a high school classmate who now facilitates Youth Frontier retreats–what up Hannah!), I was delighted to see some of the payoff, which I will share with you here.
Following the Courage Retreat, I asked my Connections class, “What is one of your fears and what courage step will you take so that that fear does not control you?”
I will admit, some of the kids did not get it. Their biggest fear was losing their dog, so they were going to be extra careful when they opened the door to go outside. Their biggest fear was spiders so they were going to try really hard next time to be the one to bring the spider to the “waterpark” i.e. the toilet instead of moving to a different level of the house. Fine, whatever, we have some work to do.
But the greatest answer came from the last student. You know the one. The one who reads during the share-out. The one whose behavior is so antisocial that none of the other kids want to be around him. The one who is working so hard to just be here.
When it came his turn, he held the talking piece and whispered that he could not possibly share just one fear. Go ahead, I said, if you can’t share just one, share three, share more, we’ll listen. Finally, he mustered,
“I’m afraid of people treating me poorly, treating me like I don’t exist.”
That was the most honest and vulnerable answer we’ve heard. Thank you for sharing. Why don’t you tell us one small courage step you are going to take so that that fear doesn’t control you.
“I think I just did it.”
And, I kid you not, my entire Connections class began to applaud and cheer him on. One little lady even stood up and said, “You exist, Jace.* You exist SO HARD.”
Thank you, Youth Frontiers, for spurring this beautiful connection. It is our responsibility to care for these connections. Let’s make it happen.
*this is obviously not his real name