© 2019 Marla McLean

And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.

What questions are we asking children?

In what ways are we listening to children?

How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and more meaningful expression and responses?

Why does it matter?

What can we learn?

As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to feel, see, and create is engagement.

Relationship.

Love.

Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,

An environment filled with provocations that delight, intrigue, and expand possibilities,

Values made visible in words, images, and actions that proclaim that all are welcome here

Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult

Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas, concepts, and understandings.

We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.

On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a school community.

 Since then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.

Our active enduring question is, “How can we spread Kindness?”

This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.

Each child makes a Kindness Rock as a gift for another child (they do not know in advance who it will be for!) to exchange on 9/11. And a second one that is left out in the DC metro sometime during the school year area to spread Kindness to a stranger.
Every classroom reads Have You Filled a Bucket Today? This conceptually plants the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for caring for those around us, as opposed to bucket dippers, who themselves have an emptiness and so try to fill up their own bucket by taking from others.

Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.

On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.

We practice how to introduce yourself, and how to give and receive.

Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!

I decided to enter into a project that I have been researching since the 1990’s; anti bias education and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.

“It’s the Tokyo Tower! I can’t believe it! It’s amazing!” Sora, age 3

If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.

There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.

Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.

To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.

 “International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”

My eyes often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon, cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!

Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.

“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.

Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.

Sharing these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others (and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.

As children painted and used materials, they became closer to reliving that moment.

When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.

Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This  picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.

The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering

What is diversity?

The next project was proposed.

I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.

The session ended with the video of Maya Angelou reciting this poem at Clinton’s inauguration.

Here are the ending verses.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

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