In reading the description for today's #AprilBlogADay topic, I immediately thought of a powerful and poignant moment in my classroom this year.
Setting the stage: Every year in January, Bell Canada hosts or sponsors #BellLetsTalk day where they bring awareness to mental health. This year marked the 5th year of #BellLetsTalk day and it has widely spread across social media and deep into todays youth. Over the past few years I have taken the opportunity to incorporate the day and issues into my language and math lessons, but this year it provided a whole new lesson not just for me but for every single student in my class. The morning of #BellLetsTalk day (January 28th, 2015) was just like any other. I turned my classroom computer on and decided that whatever I had written in my daybook was no longer important to cover today. Bell rang, and I welcomed my students into class. Of course I responded to the 27 requests for what we were going to do today and whether they needed any pencils or notebooks out. I need to remember sometimes that my 5th graders are still young and innocent and see the world at face value. How was I going to introduce such an important topic? Twitter to the rescue! We have a class Twitter account (@mmeranger) and it had been a number of days since a student pulled it up on the screen for everyone to see. I immediately pulled open our account and found the trending topics. It was also helpful that an abundance of celebrities were talking about #BellLetsTalk and that immediately caught the attention of the kids.
We then went through the #BellLetsTalk website and watched the short youtube videos of the campaigns spokes people. We talked about their feelings, their experiences and what all this could mean. We came up with the common issue of mental heath. At this point the classroom was as serious as it could get. I could tell the issue was very confusing for some, almost a taboo subject for others and for one student in particular it was her life. Over the course of the year, I made sure my students felt that our classroom community was a safe place to share and ask questions and it shone so bright today. I was privileged enough to have a child & youth worker student in my classroom so I had great support for the students. As we worked though the website, students were forming their thoughts and ideas, asking questions where they felt necessary and for clarification. There was lots of discussion around what a mental illness is, how do we know if we have one, where we get help and how it affects not just the person suffering, but also their family and friends. Open the most poignant part of this lesson.
Student A raises her hand and explains that she has a friend that has mental health issues and that it is sometimes hard for her to know what to say or do because she doesn't know how this friend is going to react. I pose general questions about how this makes her feel & if there is anything she tries to help her friend with. The conversation garners a few comments from other students & from our C&Y worker before Student A emotionally reveals that her friend is her big sister. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. I let the room sit silent for what felt like forever, but was more like 2 minutes. I wanted students to be able to sit, reflect and compose themselves to pose questions or comments, but I also needed time to regain my composure too!
This moment in our classroom was THE moment that we all seemed to need. It was the moment that sealed us as one classroom community; one that is safe, caring, non-judgemental and empathetic. The revelation by Student A put a face to the numbers, made it real and tangible to the students who often think it doesn't happen to them or anyone around them. I couldn't have asked for a better situation to come up to help solidify this important issue.
We went on to talk about #BellLetsTalk & mental health issues for a number of days after. We tracked how much money was raised via social media, we read articles and stories of overcoming mental health struggles. Enter Moment of Humanity #2! At the end of the week I received an email from a parent thanking me for taking the time all week to introduce and discuss the many facets of mental health issues. Her son had gone home after day 2 or 3 of our discussions and brought it up at the dinner table as to what we were talking about (read between the lines that this student NEVER does this). He himself has mental health issues and is learning to manage them amongst his peers but didn't know how to explain his struggles to them. I relieved this student from this pressure and was now able to open up and be himself just a little bit more.
These are "pay cheques" that you just can't put money on & this is why I teach.
For more information on #BellLetsTalk click here.
Go forward and be the sunshine & happiness today & forever.