A Transformative Kindness Project for your Class

This week in Peace of Mind class at Lafayette we are turning our attention to kindness.  We have spent the past several weeks working on conflict resolution and now at the end of the year, when the weather warms up and the kids are gearing up for summer, we are bringing our focus back onto kindness. 

In 5th grade we are doing the Kindest Things project.  This is a wonderful project to do with a class.  We take a whole class period and spend it thinking about the best in each one of the children in the class.  One by one we think about each child and write down the kindest thing we can think of to say about them.  I am always heartened by the thoughtful, creative and surprising things the kids have to say about one another.  

There’s one little boy that I’ll call Frank who is a bit shy and awkward and has some serious learning challenges.  As the 5th graders get older and start morphing into pre-teens before my eyes I have worried that Frank would be left behind, that he wasn’t cool enough to fit in.  But I was so thrilled to read the comments the kids wrote about Frank: “the nicest person in the school”, “always has a smile for everyone”, “he is filled with kindness”, “Frank is awesome!”  

Giving the kids a chance to pour their hearts out, anonymously, which is very important for their comfort, is a wonderful way to encourage kindness.  The project allows kids to stop and see the good in every person in the class.  And the looks on their faces when a week later they get the sheet of paper with all of the kind things their classmates said about them is priceless.  I really encourage you to try this project with your students. It’s a bit of typing for you but so worthwhile.  I’ve even had students take their Kindest Things paper to college with them!  

Have a peaceful week!


Black Children Are Not Historical Figures: The Importance of Representation in Children’s Books.

I am a public school teacher in Washington, DC. A few years ago I wanted to teach a lesson about brain science for my young students.  To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single children’s storybook that told the story I wanted to tell, and there were certainly no books on the topic that reflected the diversity of the children in my classroom.

So I wrote, illustrated and published the book I needed myself.   When it came to creating the characters in the story all I had to do was look out at my students.  My students are a diverse mix representing cultures from all over the world from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan to Ethiopia to Denmark from Guatemala to Iceland, as well as many kids both black and white born right here in DC. 

I decided to choose students that I don’t normally see in children’s books.  Students like Yoab whose family is from Ethiopia, or Tyaja whose family is from DC, or Sergio whose family is from El Salvador and Guatemala.  In DC our schools are filled with young black and brown children – in fact 78% of children in DC are children of color. But our school bookshelves don’t reflect that reality.

Continue reading

Armed with Love

All of the talk lately about school shootings and arming teachers reminded me of one of my heroes.  Antoinette Tuff was the school bookkeeper in DeKalb County Georgia who in 2013 single-handedly prevented a school shooting by disarming the potential gunman.  Did she have a weapon? No.  But she was armed with calm, kindness, and compassion.  These crucial social and emotional skills helped her to save the lives of countless children and their teachers.  

As the full-time Peace Teacher at my school teaching more than five hundred kids every week I see a big part of my role as triage. I do my best to look out for the lonely, angry ones, the ones who always seem to be alone, the ones who aren’t connecting with the other kids. I don’t know anything about their reading or math skills. There are other wonderful teachers to take care of that. All I’m concerned with is their hearts and happiness. I’m lucky to work with an amazing SEL team who can take it from there and dig in and help. Why are schools spending more and more money on guards and staff whose sole purpose is to break up fights and discipline kids? Why doesn’t every school have a Peace teacher? Why isn’t this the most urgent need? Continue reading

Mindfulness, inclusion and umbrellas in the rain

This morning as I was walking our dog, I came upon a group of middle schoolers waiting on the corner for their bus. Or I should say, corners. On the right were two groups of talking, jostling kids, huddling close together under shared umbrellas in the rain. On the opposite corner was one boy, without umbrella or hood, weighed down by a soaking backpack. He was looking away from the group, unsheltered and disconnected.

This scenario hit close to home. For the last three years, my partners Linda and Jillian and I have devoted ourselves to developing, writing and publishing our Peace of Mind Curriculum. We believe that teaching mindfulness skills to elementary school students as the foundation for social and emotional learning lessons leads to kinder, more empathetic, happier children, and more inclusive schools. I wondered how much emphasis the school the corner kids were heading to placed on social and emotional learning, and whether the group of kids had considered the lone kid.

As I was approaching the corner, contemplating what I could do to brighten the boy’s day, I saw the kids on the opposite corner begin to look his way and talk a bit louder. My heart sank, my breath constricted, my stomach hurt, and my body’s emotional memories of middle school were triggered, expecting the old story of exclusion and teasing to play out.  And then, unexpectedly my whole body relaxed as I watched what unfolded:

The two groups of kids on corner merged into one, called out friendly greetings to the boy, and crossed the street, covering him with their umbrellas – not to make him uncomfortable, but to include him.  As I passed I saw a slow smile forming on the boy’s face, and felt an easiness in the group.

Beautiful. Hopeful. Profound. A new story. Continue reading

Football and Mindfulness?

Football and mindfulness? 

Most people wouldn’t think that football and mindfulness would really go together, but in Peace Class, you never know what will happen.  Last Monday morning my students came in even groggier than usual.  It was the morning after the Superbowl and most of the kids had stayed up much too late.  Iwas trying to think of a way to wake them up so that we could do our mindfulness practice. 

We were getting ready to do a practice adults call “noting” that we call “Popcorn” in our Peace of Mind Curriculum.  In this practice we try to count our breaths and whenever we notice that our minds have wandered away we “pop” our finger and then start counting again. It’s a fun practice that the kids enjoy, especially when I call it a mindfulness game.  We always talk about how this practice helps us to strengthen our focusing muscles so that it is easier for us to concentrate.  

“How do you think the ability to focus might have helped Nick Foles (the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) win the game?” I asked.  Suddenly everybody was awake.  The kids had a lot of opinions but most were about the Patriots.  So I decided we needed a reenactment. Continue reading