As a 6th grade teacher I find that I spend a HUGE portion of many of my days engaged in conflict management and resolution with my students. As early adolescents, my students are learning how to engage, interact, and navigate through daily experiences with peers, family, and teachers.
The middle grade years can be both tricky and overwhelming for students. As teachers it is essential that we provide a listening ear, guidance, and strategies to help our students navigate this potentially emotional time.
I was so excited to have the opportunity to participate in a book study for the resource Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder. While the description states: “simple activities to promote reading, writing, math, science, and social skills for children ages 4-8” I have found some tools that I will be adding to my tool belt and incorporating into my teaching as I enter this school year with my 6th graders.
My focus on this resource has been Chapter 7: Raising the Citizens of Tomorrow. While I have had the opportunity to apply some of my learning with my 3 and 6 year-olds at home, I will be implementing many strategies within my classroom as well.
Within Chapter 7 the author, Mariah Bruehl, describes five competencies our children must possess for healthy development and that are essential to the future of our planet. These competencies are: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, and relationship skills. She then explains the different stages 1-3 that children progress through and learn to develop an understanding of these skills. Finally, she offers steps, processes, and ways to explore these skills with our children and students while offering additional resources like picture books, websites, and activities.
One particular exercise that I will utilize both at home with my children and at school with my students is that of “Put-Ups and Put-Downs.” This exercise is essential in helping children to understand the way in which we communicate and how we can build another up with a “put-up” or we can tear them down and hurt another’s heart with a “put-down.” The goal of the exercise is that through the sharing of a provided story titled, “Susie’s Day” and with two paper hearts, children are able to determine things that were said to Susie that hurt her and what could have been said to make her day better. This is a priceless exercise that allows children to be more reflective and thoughtful about how they communicate effectively with others, and how their words directly impact how others feel about themselves.
I plan to incorporate this “Put-Ups and Put-Downs” exercise into my 6th grade classroom through the teaching of the novel Crash by Jerry Spinelli. Within the novel, there is a character named John Coogan-aka Crash. He is a boy who says whatever comes to mind without much thought of how his words impact others. His parents work a great deal, leaving both Crash and his sister to their own resolve.
Upon reading the first few chapters, I will give my students two hearts. As Crash interacts with Penn Webb, a character that he treats unkindly, I will ask them to tear a piece from the heart for each unkind comment he makes. Upon completing the reading, we will discuss some of the “Put-Downs” we heard and discuss how we can change those unthoughtful words and turn them into “Put-Ups” that could have helped to improve Penn’s spirits.
The ultimate goal is to make my students more aware of how words can hurt others and how we all need to be more thoughtful in our interactions with each other, so we are not bringing one another down, but rather building one another up. To make our classrooms full of caring and thoughtful citizens, we have to make them aware and provide them with the necessary tools to build the skills to be thoughtful and kind to one another.
I have always said, my focus as a parent and teacher is not for my children or students to be the smartest, best athletes, or have the highest paying jobs in the future-what is essential is that they are KIND, THOUGHTFUL, and CARING human beings.