In one of our first morning discussions, I shared my hopes for their participation as writing community members. Setting the tone at the start provided the structure the kids were unknowingly looking for. Will my teacher be nice? Will other kids laugh at my work? Here were my four agreements:
1. Always do YOUR best. Don't worry about Other People's Best.
(following this was a conversation about comparing ourselves to others, learning styles, and self-acceptance)
2. Always be positive and encouraging to others and yourself.
(we can't forget ourselves in this one!)
3. Be brave. Dare yourself to try something new.
(this one ended up being the most important for many kids.)
4. Listen actively with your ears and your heart.
(My teaching partner, Megan, talks to her kids about "listening with your heart." You know the kid who's so quiet when they share that no one can hear a thing, and then the audience gets restless and the teacher gets frustrated? Listening with your heart means you give your kindest attention even if you have no idea what's being said. One day that person will be brave enough to speak up!)
The second strategy that came to mind was a personal reminder lesson:
Meet People at Their Level.
This is a motto I use for maintaining peace in my life. It comes from a Buddhist belief that we are all one. The angry woman at the supermarket is a part of me. The gleeful child skipping on the beach is a part of me. If we are to connect and support humankind, we must always approach each other with compassion, no matter what emotion is being portrayed at that moment. Using empathy to understand someone's current state allows us to bring each other back in to balance. While this idea has the potential for many, many pages of reflection, I'll keep it simple for now. Each child came in to our writing camp with their talents and their fears, preconceived notions and fueling excitement. As I sat down for a one-on-one conference, wrote comments in their notebooks, or invited them to share in front of them group, I took the briefest of moments to silently check in. Did Jon just need more time before finding the courage to speak? Was Mariya ready for a more in-depth critique to push her writing further? When Michael admitted to the group that he believed his mother would tell him his work wasn't good enough, was he asking for help? Did he have another motive for not wanting to take his work home?
I don't always have the answers to all the questions, but taking that moment to listen puts me on the right track. And if I continue with questions rather than statements (How do you feel about that? What could you say in that moment? Is there something you wish I would help you with?) I'm bound to find the missing key. I love connecting with people in this way, quietly and unassumingly. I love the opportunity to move someone from one frame of mind to another. It's probably one of the reasons I became a teacher. And I love when people do this for me--show me ways to see things in a new light and help me realize the limits I put on myself.
So let us go out into the world with listening hearts and the reminder to be gentle with ourselves, too! Does a successful moment of connection and communication come to mind for you? How do you meet people at their level?