I am warning you right now that a brag is coming. My students are the best. There, I said it. A member of our classroom family has been struggling for the past year with severe anxiety and issues with self-worth. Extreme. She cannot see mistakes or failure as a viable option (yet). To be “out” in Four Square or Dodgeball can be the catalyst for anguish. (While she is not adept at either, eagerly joins in on both.) Her peers know this, and each game holds tension. For the purpose of storytelling, I will call her “Sarah”. So here’s her “Rudy” moment:
The game of Dodgeball is down to three people. Sarah is still in. Another student leans into me and says, “When she gets out, Mrs.G., I’m on it. I will go get her when she runs away. I know what to say.” I reply, “She won’t run today.” Now the game is down to two, the ball comes bouncing past and hits Sarah’s ankles. She drops in despair with a piercing wail. The other player steps out the circle. A classmate notices that the only one still “in” is Sarah. She says, “Sarah, I think you won!” Instead of questioning or challenging the notion, her classroom family begins to chant, “Sarah! Sarah!”
At this point, I have gone to her and am holding her against me to keep her safe. The other students come charging in for hugs and high-fives. I turn Sarah around to see and hear and feel the love. She is so shocked and confused, that I take her hand and place in the air for her so she can receive the high-fives. She finally “came to”, embraced me tightly and whispered, “This has never happened to me before.” Then I could see all the tension release from her body.
As I stepped away, the other student who had stepped out of the circle approaches me and says, “I was really still in. I was the winner, but it’s okay. I won’t say anything.” I hug her and say, “You are a winner, and thank you.”
This story isn’t about winning. This story is about working to change one of Sarah’s fundamental truths about herself. Her goal for this year is to feel safe and loved at school. Our classroom family knows she needs this, and we are on a mission to make it happen. And I never had to say a word. Intrinsic Empathy on our 8th day of school. It’s gonna be a great year.