Words Can Build Us Up
Over Spring Break, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube that I saw circulating the social media networks. After nearly a dozen different people I knew had shared it, I finally watched it, not really knowing anything more than this simple description: “Our youth group wanted to see if positive words could have an impact on people. We were surprised at how quickly we found out.”
I have worked very hard with my class this year to establish a community of positive peer influence. We have read books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and discussed the impact of kind words and actions. We have used the Second Step social-emotional learning curriculum to explore topics of empathy, problem-solving, and anger management. We have used the Golden Apple to identify positive attributes of our classmates. We have a RESPECT board that students can sign, with drawings each time the board is filled to further acknowledge students’ actions.
Even so, it seems like the third quarter saw an increase of peer conflict and unkind words. Maybe it was the weather that kept us cooped up inside for too long. Maybe it was just the stress of everyday life. Whatever the cause, I felt like my students were starting to forget all of the wonderful things that they had all done. So when I saw this video, I knew it was something I was going to do with my class when we got back from Spring Break.
Of course, I wanted to modify the activity to better include each of my students. But I also wanted to recognise that I am also a part of the class community. So the first thing I did was go to my room on Friday morning and, with the help of my wonderfully talented wife, redo the bulletin board outside my classroom door. We put up new paper, drew large circles all over it, and wrote the name of each member of the class (including myself) in the middle. (But because of my efforts to maintain as much anonymity for my students as possible, I won’t be sharing pictures of that.) I used my bulletin board letters to post “Words can build us up!” as the header. Then I printed out a list of each class member and gave it to the students this morning.
We watched the video and talked about the importance of sharing positive messages. Then everyone had time to write down a positive word or phrase that they associated with their classmates. I reviewed each list to check for spelling and offered suggestions for simplicity when a statement was too wordy. Once a list was done, that student was able to go out in the hall and write their words or phrases in each person’s bubble. By the end of the morning we had a bulletin board with 25 bubbles that had 24 positive affirmations in each one. (Students didn’t write affirmations for themselves!)
Words really do have power. I love the message of this song: words can build us up, words can tear us down, words can start a fire in the heart, and put it out. We used to say that sticks and stones could break bones but words wouldn’t hurt us. Now we know better. Yes, sticks and stones can break bones, but words can break a person. It is my goal to have students who stop and think carefully about the words they use, all day, every day.
Knowing that one single activity is never enough to make anything a habit, we are going to take some time each day to share positive comments about one another. We are in the fourth quarter, which means we have just a couple months remaining before school is done for the year. So while we continue our academic work, especially math, literacy, science, and social studies, we are also going to continue our social growth. Not only do social skills have lasting benefits throughout life, they make the overall classroom environment much more pleasant, leading to more collaborative projects that will foster increased student learning. Also, social-emotional learning will improve the quality of our out-of-school learning activities, such as the upcoming field trips to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and the museums in Springfield.