After they’ve been greeted and students enter Karen’s classroom, she asks them to make a commitment for the day. I loved three things about this. First, she’s beginning each class with self-reflection. Second,the commitment is something they decide so it matters to them. Third, they write these down so that the students are, probably without their knowledge, creating a lovely record of their emotional growing.
Karen always begins by writing her commitment on the board. She told me about one commitment with which she’d struggled. She became aware she was ending every sentence with “Okay?” She asked students to track her behavior. “I said ‘Okay?’ 38 times in one day!” she told me. The challenge she committed to was to be okay-free for two days in a row. “It took me two weeks!” she said.
I chose two commitments: 1. Have fun and 2. Watch and learn.
Immediately I experienced the power of commitments as Karen began the first of three Brain Smart Start activities. They do some version of these every day. The purpose of the first activity is to unite all students in community. Karen started with music and video of Chubby Checkers and urged everyone to do the twist. (I learned Chubby Checkers twisted on the balls of his feet and that’s really hard to do!!!) I hate dancing, but I’d made the commitment to have fun, so I followed through and it was really fun and, indeed, I felt connected.
For the second activity, a de-stresser, Karen led the students in doing “The Pretzel” —a yoga-like move where you cross hands and legs, then pretzel your arms so that you touch your chin with your thumbs. “This connects your right and left brain,” Karen said to the kids. We did this three times with big breaths in and out each time. I found this calming and suspect the kids did too.
The third activity is to connect the children through touch, eye contact and sharing information. The prompt for the day: Find someone, take that person’s hand, twirl each other and then tell your partner something that you never thought you’d do, but that you have done. Karen gave an example. “When I was in the fourth grade, I hated boys, but….” A student quickly fill in the blank, “Now, you’re married!” I never thought I’d be lucky enough to do a residency with Karen and to work with the same students in back-to-back years.
One of the things I loved was how Karen united learning…all those activities having a “twist.” In fact I loved it so much that I told students we were writing with a twist. Then I used the word three or four times, “twisting” it into my presentation until one of the 5th graders told me to knock it off!
Tomorrow I get to go to Karen again. The kids have been discussing which character will star in our story. Can’t wait to find out!