The Five Letter Word That Saved My Life!

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Ok… so I have a flare for the dramatic! But seriously, when I began getting ready for my first year of teaching I planned lessons, decorated bulletin boards, set up the classroom furniture, and had my first day of school read aloud book all ready to go. I was prepared, so I thought.

I soon found out that the missing piece of the puzzle was a well thought out curriculum in social emotional learning (SEL) and the incorporation of a five-letter word that has since been a wonderful addition to my classroom: PEACE!

But what is peace? Why is it important to teach and include in your curriculum?

Once I discovered the value and importance in talking to my students about peace, I began starting each school year with a conversation about what the kids themselves think peace means.

“Being able to feel good about yourself!”

“Blue!”

“Soft and quiet!”

These are just some of the things they’ve come up with, and they are always surprised to learn that peace can be found in many places. It doesn’t just refer to “world peace”. They can have a hand in creating a peaceful environment wherever they are.

We then read the book Peace Week in Ms. Fox’s Class by Eileen Spinelli. After reading about all the squabbling and chaos happening in Ms. Fox’s class we share moments of difficulty we’ve had in the past and how we worked through them. I then, and with that dramatic flare previously mentioned, reveal a “peace path.” The kids “Oooo” and “Ahhhh.” Once settled down we go over the different parts of the peace path:

  1. Take a Breath
  2. Stop and Think
  3. I statements: “I felt __________ when __________ because___________.”
  4. Followed by the listener repeating the persons feeling with, “I understand you felt ___________ when ____________ because __________.”
  5. Brainstorm: One idea at a time, problem solve, take turns.
  6. Come to an agreement and make peace: Shake hands, high five or hug.”

img_20161017_142250462This is followed by some fun modeling on how to use the peace path and give respectful “I statements” as well as how we use our listening tools (“we listen with our eyes, ears and hearts!”). Each person on the peace path stands on either side of it, with another student whose classroom job is a “Peacemaker.” They then follow the steps on the path and step forward until they meet in the middle where they brainstorm ways to make amends and come to an agreement in the middle.

What has been great about the addition of the peace path in my classroom is that it has given my students a voice and builds their skills as leaders when they help their peers “walk the peace path.”

I leave the peace path in a part of the room dubbed the “Peace Area” and students are free to offer the flower to a peer and invite them to the peace path when they feel like they need to resolve an issue.

Generally, I have found asking students to use the peace path during recess, or other transition parts of the day doesn’t generally interrupt the work time as a class. I’ve also even allowed some kiddos to go to the peace path whenever they’ve needed to and have seen it help with them getting focused again when they return to working because they feel heard and have had their feelings valued.

There is so much I am still learning about social emotional learning and building a peaceful environment and culture in my classroom. I hope this one example of the use of a Peace path is helpful to you and can help you and your students work towards building these very important social emotional skills.

By Jennifer Khadir

Finding My Place As A Teacher

“What’s your secret?!”

“How do you get your students to the circle so peacefully?”

“How do you keep your kids so engaged?”

“When do you have time to plan your lessons?”

So many questions still left unanswered, or come up throughout the career of a teacher, that were not quite so covered in Education 101. Three years into teaching and I have so far found that there has been no better training than the lessons taught to me by my very own students. Them and the peers I work alongside.

Before I go on, I have to first admit that teaching is a second life career for me. I first spent almost a decade working in Corporate Communications while I lived in New York City. Having always longed to be a teacher, when my husband and I decided to move our young family of three across country to San Francisco, CA, I jumped at the chance to go back to school and earn my Masters of Arts in Teaching.

How smart of me to go back to school during my time as a stay at home mom. I didn’t have to work and I’d have plenty of time to study, earn good grades and take in everything I could during my time as a student teacher. I was 30 years old, my son was three, and we just moved 3,000 miles away from the family and friends we spent all our lives around helping us and providing support that I was too naive to have realized I was getting so much of.

Needless to say, it was a tough road. If it weren’t for the support of my husband, and the fortunate placement of some pretty incredible people that have been placed in my life along the way, I couldn’t have done it. But thanks to them, my ambition and type A personality, I graduated with a 4.0 degree from a top rated University and was well on my way to becoming the educator I had always dreamed of being.

Soon after I was even offered a teaching position as a second grade teacher for a school in East Oakland. I was on cloud nine. My timeline was all coming together… I should also mention that a month after graduating I gave birth to a second son who was a mere eight months old when I started working again after a three year hiatus as a stay at home mom. All my check boxes were getting ticked off.

Move cross-country, check!
Experience being a stay at home mom after working non-stop since high school, check!
Get Master’s degree, check!
Have another baby, check!
Become a bonafide teacher, check!

Does it sound like I am bragging? Because I’m not. Like all those celebrity couples that the media loves to place on a pedestal, watch in amusement as they attempt to live up to the live’s the tabloids created for them, then later watch their relationship experience a great fall…I must admit my first year teaching was the most difficult and gut-wrenching experience I ever had.

It was like a punch to the gut. I spent countless hours planning, preparing, fixing up my classroom. I remember aching to get my hands on those classroom keys! I memorized my class roster. I spent weekends the summer before my first Fall as a teacher at Lakeshore. I was already spending money before I was even making any! I was so excited.

Then reality hit.

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Especially in a school serving an area’s most vulnerable and under-served young people. I was in for it. My type A personality was about to get a humble lesson in humility. My students were my best teachers. That said, I did not feel ready for the challenges that faced me that first year.

In just the short two years since, I have grown immensely, learned so much, and learned to take whatever advice I could get with an open heart and an even more open ear.

I’ve since also grown to appreciate the importance of things like social emotional learning, and building a culture of love and safety before all else, including the curriculum.

It is my hope that this will be a place where teachers come together to share their experiences, share their expectations, their hopes, and their ups and downs.

As I think back to my time as a student teacher, I remember admiring so much the classroom management displayed by my host teacher and asking, “Can you tell me exactly what goes into your classroom management techniques?” After sharing and showing me some of the things she does, she said, “…but you’ll have to figure out what feels right to you.” And while that is so true, it doesn’t hurt having resources, tips and tricks shared along the way!

I have grown to value the importance of good and ongoing mentorship. It is with all this in mind that I look to build a place where weekly blog posts and podcasts can live to help me and any teacher looking to build a resource of mentors and resources can come to as we seek answers to those unending questions of how to best support our students and live up to the needs our children have as they grow and learn all they need to know to go out into the world as competent well-rounded people.

By Jennifer Khadir