Breathing and a Kindness Circle

The week before winter break was filled with changes to our classroom schedule. It may not seem like much, but extra rehearsals, making and wrapping gifts for parents, making cards for parents, and adding glitter to the cards, were filling our already full days to overflowing. We were all feeling excitement, joy, anticipation, and let’s be honest, some stress. And, if you’ve ever experienced that, you know, it’s all good, until it’s not.

I had recess duty the last full day of school before break. The lunch duty teachers greeted me with smiles and shaking heads. “Good luck with recess. They are really having a hard time.” I raised an eyebrow and thought “Alrighty, then.”

Out on the playground I carefully watched to see if the time outside would help them regroup. Sometimes they just need time to run around, be free, and get rid of their extra energy. This was not one of those times.

What was I going to do? I heard the voice of a former professor in the back of my mind, “If you’re having classroom management problems, look at yourself, not at your students.” Ok, what was I asking them to do that wasn’t appropriate for them at this time. What was I missing? What could I do to help them?

I had less than 20 minutes to figure this out. I went into creative problem solving beast mode. Have you ever experienced that? For me it means relentlessly pursuing a solution, with the energy and drive of a big, powerful beast — cloaked of course, in the gentle trappings of a kindergarten teacher! I thought laterally, divergently, creatively, critically. Heck, my brain was standing on its head trying to figure it out.

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It was time to ring the bell and return to our classroom. I didn’t have it all figured out, but I did have the beginning of a plan. I took a leap of faith. I rang the bell, and trusted my big, beautiful, creative problem solving brain would continue to work as I moved the girls forward.

I stood — breathing — and calmly waited for them to join me. Then I began to speak in a rather quiet voice. I could see the ones in the back of the line straining to hear me. I paused, and with only the slightest elevation in volume, I asked if they could hear me. Many answers of “No!” filled the air. I responded, “Ok, I’ll speak a bit louder, but you’ll have to listen closely, because I’m not going to yell.” They strained with body and brain to hear every word I said.

“When we go in, we’re all going to take off our coats and get a carpet square. We’re going to be silent when we do this. Once we have a carpet square we’re going to find a spot to lie down and breathe. Find a spot that’s comfortable, where you have some space to just be, and breathe. Are you ready?”

There were some quiet questions which I answered with the least words possible.

Them – “Get a carpet square?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to lie down?” Me – “Yes.”

Them – “We’re going to breathe?” Me – “Yes. Once we’re all set I’ll set a timer for about 3 minutes. Then we’ll come together at the carpet.”

I asked again if they were ready. They quietly responded “You beddy!” (Our call and response to “Are you ready?”)

Once we entered the learning space, I barely spoke above a whisper. I encouraged them to find a space, breathe, relax, and just be. Most of them did it easily. Some needed a bit of help. Still others asked “Can we do this every day?!?”

In those few minutes, while they breathed, I was still in silent beast mode —  thinking, problem solving, and breathing. My inner conversation went something like this. “Yes, the curricular content I have planned is important, but will we actually be able to cover it? Will it be a time of joyful learning, or will it be a time of distracted learning punctuated by my constant call to learn? They need time to breathe. They need time to practice self regulation and pro-social behavior. They weren’t going to do it on their own. I need to help them. I need to give them time, and a structure that allows them to succeed. They need to experience success, and the joy of pro-social behavior.”

By the time I rang the chime, my plan was set.

While they put away their carpet squares and gathered on the carpet, I quickly collected my supplies. I joined the circle and began. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been having a tough time these last couple of days. It’s seems like it’s been a lot harder to listen, and harder to be kind to each other. I don’t think that’s the best way to end our time together before we go on break. I’d love if we could leave each other with a time of peace, love, and kindness. So I thought we’d give a kindness circle a try.”

I’d never done a kindness circle before, nor had I ever heard of one, but it sounded good to me. I took another breath, trusted in the power of my words, my intention, and my students, and continued.

“Each of you will get a name — not your own — and you’ll have 10 minutes to make something nice for them on this card. Do you think 10 minutes is enough time?” They all agreed it was a good amount of time.

I forged ahead, “You can draw something, write something, or even make something. It’s up to you. There are only 2 rules — You must keep your name a secret until we come back to the kindness circle to exchange kindness with one another. And, you have to do your best with whatever you make.”

They liked the rules and waited — with some impatience — for me to give out all the names. With names in hand they set off to work.

As everyone was settling in, I noticed some angst and tears. I popped over to find out what was wrong. The girl who was crying said, “By accident I said the name of her person. I didn’t mean to do it. I want to switch with her so everything is still a secret.” I affirmed her act of kindness in admitting her mistake, being sorry, and  wanting to correct it. They switched names, and all was right in their world.

The 10 minutes zoomed by. I rang the chime again, and they gathered back together on the carpet with quiet excitement. Before we started, I mentioned that both the giver and the receiver of the card were practicing kindness. The giver was kind by working hard for her friend. The receiver was kind by being gracious. “Perhaps it’s not what you hoped to get. Or maybe you can’t read what they wrote. That’s not what really matters. What matters is that they worked hard to make something nice for you.”

It worked out better than I imagined.  Each exchange was lovely. Givers and receivers were kind and gracious. They practiced beautiful pro-social behavior. They looked each other in the eye. The givers said a little bit about what they made and why. The receivers accepted the gift, gave it a look, commented that it was very nice, and said thank you.

I sat back, took another big breath, and basked in the glow of our kindness circle. My inner conversation was calm, satisfied, and affirming. Taking a risk; pursuing a creative solution like a beast; trusting myself and my girls; taking time to breathe; giving the space and opportunity to be kind, is fantabulous! I gotta find a way to include these super powerful happenings more regularly in our days together.

Beast mode has been called off, but rest assured, the thinking continues. A solution will present itself in due time.