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Compassionate Community

Brigid Fox | Brevard, NC

“Many things are true at once,” is something I keep hearing. I was speaking to a friend last night and reflecting on how, for our kiddos, that can feel a little confusing. In the Acorn class, we do our morning check-ins as a group. We ask them to name a feeling that will help our close community know where they are at that point. It is increasingly clear that 1 feeling won’t always cover it. I watch them as they pause and try to identify that exact word to convey all that they are aware of in their hearts and on their minds.

As you may imagine the responses vary. There are the “really, really, really, really, infinity really’s excited,” “sad and happy,” “washed away,” “optimistic and nervous,” types of responses. And we also have “all the feelings at once,” as well as “I’ll pass,” where it seems there just isn’t something particular to name. While I listen, I try to imagine what is happening in their life and growth to create these sorts of feelings. We seem to whiz through this part of our sharing, while I am wanting to have a heart to heart with each person.

Experience has taught me that I find time in the day to meet the children where they are and hear what they want to tell me. As we work through different activities, a child’s behavior may remind me that they had a check-in feeling that I could ask them about. Or at recess, they come bounding up to tell me of some thrilling adventure they will soon be going on (such as a play date with a friend).

Most often, I find that hearing these feelings brings me to a place of compassion. You can imagine what the energy level is like for a child with “infinity really’s excited” next to a child who may be feeling optimistic and nervous. This is where I can model empathy and patience with someone who is “pushing our buttons.” It is not scolding or shaming that will help this child grow strong and compassionate, but bringing awareness that their choices are creating a disruptive, unhelpful, or challenging classroom gives them an opportunity to make another choice.

This way of speaking to someone can be seen throughout the classrooms. All ages, at different levels, of course, are learning to use their words to help someone while also making clear that they have boundaries. “Your words hurt my feelings” all the way to “I know you are excited about our upcoming trip, but can you please stop tapping the table with your pencil?” can be heard. I imagine as the children follow this trajectory with their communication and they become adults, they might find life’s challenges a bit less daunting because they have the tools to communicate their boundaries and their needs with compassion.

As we are learning to be aware of all of our feelings, however contradictory they may sound, they are all possible. Allowing space for those feelings and growing through them, rather than tamping them down or snuffing them out, is what we practice in our school. We are a community and our work together, if nothing else, must be full of compassion.

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