Post by Minna Kim for the Kind Kindred series.
Ricky was a fun-loving, laid back kid who loved to read and engage in conversations (sometimes excessively…as did most of the other 17 students in the class). He was also a bit of a space cadet whose command of a writing utensil was adorably lacking and the subject of math may as well have been written in another language. Other than these sound bites on Ricky, there was nothing especially glaring about him until we began to write poetry.
His letters teetered and tottered onto the page, with some tumbling backwards, forming wobbly words fighting to stay straight across the line, which eventually disentangled into a dazzling poem. He appeared to be a natural at expressing himself through written words in the form of riddles and poetry. He instinctively tapped into what I would call “voice”. And poetry was apparently the gateway.
I define “voice” as the expression of one’s truth through words that are written, spoken, or thought. In writing, I encourage and instruct my students to write with “voice”, with intentional word choices to express a specific tone and to engage readers. Similarly, I instruct and model how to speak to others with the same purpose of consciously communicating by expressing feelings and ideas honestly and receiving messages with an open heart; in other words, using our voices to be heard. Finally, I practice mindfulness with my students every morning to cultivate a connection between mind, body, and heart through breathing, feeling and moving so that we may connect and hear our voice of truth within, more popularly known as our “gut instincts”.
My personal belief in my role as an educator is not simply to provide an accessible and optimal academic experience. It is also about creating a safe community and holding space for my students as they experience themselves and others with compassion so that they may find the courage to express themselves mindfully while allowing the same for others. Not just in the classroom, but in life. Susan Kaiser Greenland articulates this point well in her book, The Mindful Child. She writes, “The traditional ABCs of reading, writing, and arithmetic that served us well for generations don’t serve us fully anymore. Helping kids build strong academic skills is fantastic, but that’s just one of many elements that make a well-rounded education. We’ve seen children do well academically but struggle socially and suffer emotionally. We’ve seen the toll stress has taken on the health and well-being of many kids. In response, the focus of education has broadened beyond academics to serve the whole child…”
So how does one access and then teach “voice”? These are some tools I have gathered throughout my 6 years of teaching, my own mindfulness practice, the inspiring work of others, and tons and tons of trial and error experiences.
- Meditation – Whichever tickles your fancy. I simply sit on a blanket or cushion and allow my thoughts to flow as I bring the awareness back to my breath over and over again…yes, it is a life-long practice.
- Journaling, morning pages (Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), free writing.
- A confidant, life counselor, life coach, therapist, etc…whom you can trust to hold a safe space for you so that you may express yourself openly out loud or even in silence.
- Yoga – I fondly refer to yoga as moving meditation.
- Practicing voice modulations – i.e. screaming out loud at the top of your lungs! It’s invigorating! Try this in a place where you won’t alarm others, like in a car or into your pillow. Yes, I’ve done both. Multiple times.
For others you are teaching (please modify as you find appropriate):
- Mindfulness practices for children – There are so many resources out there now. Some of my favorites include, Little Flower Yoga and Mindful Schools.
- Sentence starters to free write, interactive writing, shared writing.
- Social Emotional Learning and Conflict resolution – I love the work of Dr. Robin & Warren Heydenberk.
- Yoga for children – Again, so many resources. I am receiving my training through Little Flower Yoga at the moment. Kripalu also has a program that looks wonderful. For the first time, there is a Children’s Yoga Conference in D.C. on Sept 27, 2014.
- Practicing voice modulations – I have students repeat phrases or words multiple times but in different volumes or expressions. For instance, saying “I am loved” in a normal voice, a whisper voice, and then a loud voice.
These are some success stories I would like to share:
- Yeajee would get upset often and was unable to communicate this to anyone but her mother. After several conversations with her mother and mediation guided by myself between Yeajee and whomever she was having conflicts with, she began to leave me post-its about her concerns. Although she never initiated a verbal conversation with me about her troubles, she found a way to communicate with me. She found her “voice” through post-it notes. This one lit up my heart.
- There’s a boy named Steven in my class. When he got upset, he would react physically by kicking, punching, and scratching. He also used unkind, hurtful words. His mother got many upsetting phone calls about his behavior, even prior to 2nd grade. This year, we worked together on using our words to communicate our feelings through conflict resolution mediation techniques. Today, Steven’s mother is receiving less upsetting news and more positive ones! It seems he is beginning to channel his “voice” in a way that does not compromise the expression of his feelings.
- When I get upset or anxious, I openly announce to my students, “I’m starting to feel angry because I had to repeat myself several times for you to work quietly.” Although this may not always work, my students are quick to remind me to try mindful breathing to help calm my mind. I cannot help but chuckle…allowing myself to use my “voice” fortuitously leads me back to a mindful state.
- Recently, my colleague told me about her student with selective mutism in her kindergarten classroom. Although he speaks English and Chinese fluently and openly at home, he refuses to speak in school. With her loving guidance and open communication with his mother, he has been leaving her notes and reading in a whisper to her from beyond the whiteboard in their classroom. I gather he is beginning to feel safe using his “voice” thanks to wonderful people in his life who have created a positive environment for him.
In reality this work takes a lot of patience, trust, persistence, and compassion. It is most successful when the individual implementing this work is also doing the work for herself in her own life. This brings me to my next point…
First and foremost, I am a human being. I personally struggle with “voice” all the time. Sometimes it’s simply inaccessible; I’m at a loss for words. And sometimes I feel it caught in my throat, wrestling to either stay put or explode out of me. And other times I mask my “voice” with the voice of another. Fear, shame, guilt, unworthiness, anger, or simply because I am unaware – whatever the reason may be, I find it more difficult to access “voice” than not.
As I struggle and succeed in discovering and using my “voice” in thoughts, speech, and written form, I find that I am becoming more at peace with the struggles and successes I define in all areas of my life, in those of others such as my students, and in our world. I find that I am more forgiving, loving, compassionate – and an unexpected bonus – having more fun! I believe this stems from allowing myself and others the expression of truth as I tap into my “voice”.
These approaches are not fool proof nor can I boast of a 100% success rate. I fail. Often. But the successes are just too sweet for me not to try.
One of my students’ responses to a social-emotional learning project I was working on for a presentation on stress.
|Hello, my name is Minna. I am presently a 2nd grade NYC public school teacher residing in Brooklyn, NY. I am a lifelong learner, constantly seeking ways to be schooled through living, loving, and practicing mindfulness.|