Teaching for Collective Well-Being as Summer Approaches
A Collaborative Blog Post from Katie Cunningham and Kavita Tanna
During this global pandemic, a microscope has been held up to the social inequities our society has perpetuated and often ignored including unequal schooling, structural inequalities, racism, mental health, and the impact of climate change. In this post, we draw from the metaphor that while we are navigating the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. For some students, the past few months have been an optimal time to outgrow themselves, find new passions, take on personal projects, reflect, and even renew. For many students, this time has been fraught with financial insecurity, racial and ethnic prejudice, family illness, and even death.
In a time of immense challenge, we are reminded that while we are in different boats, our well-being is strengthened when we serve as lighthouses on the coast for one another. We hope that this moment of a global health crisis and the crisis of racism expressed through protests across America will help draw attention to the inequities that have endured and that out of this storm comes a brighter future where the well-being of all students and teachers is valued. We know supporting our students to strengthen well-being within their own communities is not enough. Our conversations with students, the texts we choose, and the language and lenses we provide can teach towards collective well-being. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the protests around the nation demonstrate even more clearly the responsibility we all have to one another and that young people can, and in fact need, to take part in that.
One of the great paradoxes for us during this crisis is the way in which new connections have been forged at this time of physical disconnection. During this pandemic, we met virtually through mutual global literacy connections. Katie lives in Connecticut in the United States and Kavita lives in London. After an initial introduction over email, we have been having weekly Zoom meetings along with colleagues from Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe to imagine new ways to support schools, teachers, and communities. We are lighthouses to one another and are collectively reimagining a more hopeful and sustainable future for students and schools around the world.
In this post, we share ways that you, your students, and school communities can focus on collective well-being as summer approaches to serve as lighthouses for one another. There is work to be done to dismantle the oppressive systems that perpetuate racism in America. There is work to be done to support students and families facing unemployment, food insecurity, and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. There is work to be done to bring hope, connection, and care to the students and communities we serve.
Far from comprehensive, this post humbly offers some sites of possibility. The picture books, writing suggestions, and creative outlets we suggest are designed to give you and your students ways to stay connected over the next few months. There are low-tech suggestions that include drawing, noticing, wondering, and composing. There are also high-tech suggestions including collaborative padlets and Youtube channels.
Whether you are a K-12 teacher trying to support students online or a parent, grandparent, family or community member trying to support the well-being of a young person in your life, we hope you find these ideas useful and helpful. The following ideas can also be used by school leaders to support teachers over the summer in ways that do not necessarily have to involve students. If you or the young people with whom you work don’t have access to a computer or tablet at home, the websites and digital suggested activities can be accessed using a smartphone.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
What is Well-being? Teaching towards collective wellbeing is a perfect opportunity for student-led learning. Support students to share their definitions of well-being. What do they think is important for a full, joyful life? One way to scaffold student learning towards defining well-being is to invite them to consider the 8 areas of our life that we can define and reflect upon. Which are the areas of life that they feel strengthened by? Support students to create texts that celebrate joy in their lives through poetry, songs, art, and stories.
Examining Collective Well-Being. Support students to name the things in their communities that support well-being as well as the things that are missing for personal and collective well-being. Support students to understand the ways in which collective well-being is historically, culturally, and socially situated through literature by reading the nonfiction book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, the middle grade novel What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado, the Newbery-winning graphic novel New Kid by Jerry Craft, and an Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese. Visit SLJ’s booklist on social justice for more titles that address inequity, equality, and organizing for young readers. Share the Kidlit4BlackLives Rally with families. Support students to consider actions they can take in their own lives to support the collective well-being of others.
From I Am to We Are. Collective well-being is about recognizing that we are a part of something greater than ourselves and that we have a responsibility for making a better world. Compass Education offers a useful tool to support and structure student reflection to shift from an “I am” mindset to a “We are” mindset. After defining the term wellbeing, reflect with students on what is going well in their lives and in their communities and where there are opportunities for change. What would they like to change in their own lives and in partnership with others to make their communities stronger? Some students have already been engaged in protest marches, letter writing, and sign making. Create a space for students to share about those experiences. Support students to reflect on ways they can take action now and over the summer to support the well-being of others in their family or community.
Story Sharing. When we hear, view, or read one another’s stories, we grow in our empathy towards one another. We neurologically mirror the emotions and actions of the people we encounter in stories. In short, we are changed. Support students to continue to have an outlet to create and share their stories this summer. Consider creating a padlet or other digital tool that invites students to share their story in some way with one another over the summer. Use a broad definition of the term story to encompass anything that allows students to express their thoughts, feelings, imaginations, and lived experiences including art, photography, dance, inventions, poetry, music, and written words. For students who are looking for prompts offer simple suggestions such as What Matters to Me, Where I’m From, and What I Hope for the Future. Invite students to follow and try the video prompts of the Write.Right.Rite series by Jason Reynolds at the Library of Congress. Share projects such as Our Shared Story from Australia and Goal Four in Africa as places for students to follow the stories of others for inspiration and as outlets for sharing their stories.
Collective Text Set of Hope. In partnership with fellow teachers or students, create a multimodal, multimedia text set that focuses on hope that can be referred back to throughout the summer to offer students sparks for inquiry, engagement, and reflection. Support students to reflect on books they’ve read this year that have characters that give them a sense of hope that they can share with fellow classmates. Introduce students to the work of Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman. Incorporate nonfiction books that remind us of nature’s resilience such as Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas. Incorporate a variety of texts with messages of hope such as news articles about greater visibility around the world including Mount Nairobi in Kenya, songs like “Here Comes the Sun” sung by the Camden Voices Choir, and poetry such as Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”.
Connecting and Reconnecting. A large part of our well-being comes from our social connections. With physical distancing constraints, this can be especially difficult for students. Support them to focus on ways they can connect with people in their home in new ways by interviewing family members, revisiting old photographs together, or researching where they are from.
Digital Wall of Gratitude. Invite students to take part in an optional summer Wall of Gratitude using a shared technology such as padlet or Google slides where students can share images, quotes, or simple statements that express gratitude in some way.
Letter Exchanges. Receiving a letter in the mail is a simple pleasure that brings joy to the writer and the recipient. If you are in a position to do so, invite students to share letters with you or fellow classmates that would be willing to be part of a summer letter exchange. To launch the exchange, share tweets from a father about how letter writing and a letter exchange changed his daughter’s life. If possible, send interested students envelopes and letter writing paper to set them up with initial materials for their exchanges.
Readers-Writers-Artists Notebooks. If not already a practice in your classroom, use the final weeks of school to support students to use a daily notebook to record their thoughts, to write short or longer works, to sketch, doodle, or paste cut out snippets from magazines or newspapers. Model with your own notebook and encourage students to use their notebooks as a safe space for exploration whether they use a physical notebook or create a digital one. Share Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s YouTube channel all about keeping a notebook for inspiration all summer long. See our Classroom Bookshelf post on authentic, student-driven writing at this time for more ideas.
Celebrate Reading Joy. While reading has the power to heal and comfort, for many students the trauma of this moment means that reading joy is simply too much to ask for at this time. When the time is right, we can support students to find joy in the small pleasures that come from reading to relax, reading by choice, and reading to connect. Support students to generate their own ideas about what brings them reading joy while offering suggestions like when we read something that makes us laugh out loud, when we root for a character, read about a new place, or find moments in texts that make us pause, think, and take action. Help students or families by setting up virtual summer book clubs through Zoom where students can read a common book or can simply offer text recommendations in an informal environment. You can also create a private YouTube channel for students to share virtual book talks that they prerecord with their peers as the intended audience. Share with students and families Scholastic’s free Read-a-Palooza series that emphasizes the Seven Strengths model by LitWorld.
Listening Party. Set up a weekly or monthly listening party over Zoom where the sole purpose of the gathering is to simply listen to whoever needs to be heard. Establish protocols that support everyone to be heard such as allowing everyone to unmute themselves from the start of the “party” to say hello and hear one another’s voices. Ask partygoers to mute themselves after a few minutes of hellos so that one voice is heard at a time. Invite partygoers to use the chat function to celebrate one another or to pose questions or thoughts to the group particularly if that is a more comfortable format than speaking. Thank everyone for attending and ask when they’d like to meet again.
Music is Medicine. Invite students to create a collective playlist that celebrates the year or the upcoming summer season. What are the songs that they turn to for comfort, to let go, and to share in the joy of music with others? Invite students to share songs and create a playlist using Spotify or iTunes. For the remainder of the school year, share one song each day as part of your morning message to welcome students to the day or use the song as a background to an asynchronous lesson you have pre-recorded.
One Word Challenge. Invite students to reflect on the year and to offer a word that represents their experience this year. Honor the range of words that students will choose including words that express complex feelings about protest, loss, and uncertainty. Also, invite students to select a word for how they want to celebrate the summer. What is a word or phrase that they want to use to help anchor them to their truest selves during this time of immense challenge and complexity? Invite students to share their words in some way through live synchronous sessions where students hold up their words at the same time. Support students to put words that have meaning for them somewhere visible in their homes as a reminder all summer long.
Unplug to Renew. While platforms like Zoom and Google Meet offer important ways to connect at this time of physical distancing, many students and teachers will feel they need to unplug to renew. Support students with various ways to renew and re-energize by taking a break from technology. Families may want to engage in screen free days as a way to reset and connect with one another. Support students to design their own plans for personal renewal using the 4M Model: Engage in movement everyday, master a personal goal, be mindful of media consumption, and identify the people, ideas, and actions that give them meaning. Support students before the end of the school year to develop and share their plans and then engage in collective inquiry about how to support one another over the summer to stay committed to their plans. Support students to consider the ways daily reading can serve as a source of renewal.
Inspire Citizens: Sustainability Compass
Inspire Citizens: Wellness Wheel
KidLit4Black Lives Rally
Our Shared Story: Australia’s Story Sharing Project
Goal Four Foundation
SLJ Booklist: Social Justice
Site of Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s YouTube Channel on Keeping a Notebook
Reading Joy in the Time of Coronavirus
LitWorld’s Seven Strengths
Kavita is guided by the famous philosophy accredited to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” After teaching in England and China, Kavita’s mission as the Deputy Director of Inspire Citizens is to connect with like-minded individuals who wish to empower children through inspiring, interconnected, and globally-minded holistic education. She is developing this expanding community through her work as a passionate advocate and mentor for social-emotional-ethical learning and wellbeing initiatives at all age levels, including for administrators, teachers, families, and students. The vision is to see holistic wellbeing practices embedded into global competence education using the Inspire Citizens’ Impact Frameworks.
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About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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