That little gem of advice up there is brought to you by one of my first graders. Allow me to explain and then maybe you’ll want to join us in sending some love notes.
On a recent January morning, we were having a class conversation as we prepared to attend an all school meeting. We were talking about how to participate in a meeting with all the kids in the whole school, and I was trying to push my students past their usual responses geared toward politeness – be quiet when someone is speaking, sit still, don’t put anything in the person next to you’s ear – that kinda stuff. I was urging them to participate actively. I said something like, “If someone asks a question, really try to think about the answer in your mind. It’s not enough to just sit there like a cute, little ball of first grader being still and quiet. You have to be engaged. Maybe even raise your hand and say your ideas out loud.” Then a little girl warned, “But if someone says the wrong answer, don’t laugh at them.” I started to smile and nod, but she followed up with a question, “Well what SHOULD you do then?” It was kind of a dose of my own medicine because I’m always asking them that, “If you’re NOT going to _______, fill in the blank – run, hit, use your pencils as swords – what WILL you do?” A few kids started to pipe in their own answers, “Nothing.” “Yeah, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Fine choices, really. Wouldn’t we rather them sit quietly than laugh at someone? But what if I pushed them a little more here. There was a little seed I’d been wanting to plant in them. “Well, maybe you could do better than nothing, maybe you could send them a little love.” To which they replied, “EWWWWWWW!!!!” With grossed-out six-year-old faces, giggling and some kissy noises. “No, not that kind of mushy-gushy, boyfriend-girlfriend kind of love. That’s not even allowed in first grade. I mean kindness. What if you just thought a little message of kindness in your mind like you were talking to that person, something like, ‘It’s ok, friend. We all make mistakes. You’re still a good person. And we love you.’ Maybe think that. I wonder if the person would be able to feel those thoughts. ” And that’s when a little guy in the front row chimed in with, “Be a mind pen pal! Like you’re writing nice notes to people, but in your MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND! (taps head for emphasis)” YES! Right on, dude!
I’d actually been trying this out myself for a few months before I urged the kids toward it. A few times recently, the idea of purposely sending positive thoughts out to others has crossed my path. Over the summer, I read a book called ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield. Early in the book, a few characters are discussing an experiment testing the effects of positive human attention on plants. I’m not sure of the scientific validity of the whole thing, the book is a novel geared toward spirituality, but in the story, they ask a person to sit with some plants and mentally ask them to grow stronger and to focus all his attention and concern on their growth. Can you guess what happens? They grew faster and stronger. When I read this part, I pictured myself in my classroom with my students gathered around in a circle as we do before we start each day. I imagined myself mentally asking them to grow and learn. I wondered what impact my positive thoughts might have on them.
Fast forward a few weeks into the school year, after I’d been mentally urging my students to grow and learn
every morning when I remembered. I came across another inspiration about sending silent messages to others. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s. She wrote a post recently in which she asked her readers, “Are you searching for the light?” Her advice, if you are, is to BE the light. Liz went on to describe how, in a time of deep depression, she developed a practice of silently wishing blessings upon the people she passed on the street. She would think to them, “May you know happiness. May you be free from suffering.” She told how she often wished these blessings to strangers, so she wasn’t sure if it was working for the people she blessed, but that she began to feel it working in herself. It made her move her focus off of her own sadness and on to others in the form of positivity.
So I’ve been trying to expand my mind messages beyond a morning wish for learning. I send them often now during my days, to strangers when I’m out and about, to my friends and family near and far, but I do it especially at school with my little learners. When they’re distracted and I’m waiting for them to pay attention, “May you have good things on which to focus your attention. May you develop self control.” When they’re sad because someone teased them, “May you know you’re worthy, no matter what anyone else says.” When they’re nervous and don’t want to try something new or hard, “May you know your own strength. May you be surrounded by people who will encourage you.” When they make me laugh, “May you experience so much happiness.” Of course, I very often speak these words out loud to them. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be changing them, but it’s definitely changing me. It sets my focus on the positive leaving less room for worry or frustration when things get uncomfortable. It cultivates a calmness in me and I hope that seeps out into the classroom… and beyond.
A job perk of being a teacher is that the kids give me lots of cute little notes, and while the ones I give them aren’t often made with crayons, I hope they know we’re pen pals.