This article showcases a constructivist approach towards fostering the attitudes of ‘empathy’ and ‘tolerance’. It is also reflective on the school culture, benefiting from a transdisciplinary approach of integrating PSPE with units of inquiry.
The unit under the transdisciplinary theme Who we are, with the central idea We, the children of the world, face a variety of risks and challenges, brought a growing self-awareness about being empathetic towards peers which further merged beautifully with the practice of mindfulness we follow. Children were excited to share knowledge about the health concerns, social and emotional issues that children of their age group were facing throughout the world.
During circle time, children talked about how “their friend wanted to be accepted and hence were reluctant to share their true feelings with others”. Many worried about self-image, about being cool and popular among friends and peers. Most challenging was for them to truly tell their friends their opinions and how if they were angry and felt like crying sometimes, they did not share their emotions for fear of ridicule. Although the raised concerns were age specific and common, this indicated a need to integrate our PSPE (personal, social and physical education) programme more cohesively within the classroom practices. Repeated visual collaboration within the school of PSPE integration with classroom systems encouraged the children to come up with better strategies, coping skills, and above all empathy for self and each other.
Open discussions led by students involved the school counselor and their form tutors to brainstorm solutions. Guided visualization, breathing, maintaining silence during the ringing of a bell and pebble meditation were incorporated. Even after the inquiry unit had ended, children extended their learning. The students decided to lead mindfulness every day as a time-tabled program in their classes, starting with a morning 15 minute student-led session. These sessions helped to create a calming physical space which gradually moved on to their thought processes. Mindfulness practice, within a span of a month, started showing a visible calmness descend over the students. They started displaying mindfulness during bus dispersal, lunch hour and even arguments among each other were replaced by discussions and quiet thinking. These students were happier, more focused and were showing signs of developing strategies to deal with the anger and frustration.
To sensitize the students further, we brainstormed collectively as a class:
- “How can we help or befriend?”
- “Suggest to your friend a way to deal with her anger and fear.”
This was not an easy process. There was a lot of self-internalizing and reflection by students. They talked about strategies to deal with their fears and to manage anger and they became more confident to voice out and report the same. The Action against bullying week, a whole school project, became the platform for them to find answers to the questions:
- “What does a bully look like?”
- “Where does bullying happen in school?”
- “Why does bullying occur?”
The children not only took face-to-face polls, but the Council President also initiated putting up secret boxes throughout primary school to collect data on the subject.
The efforts and collaboration between the counselor and tutors were now tangible. Affirmative action and pro-active implementation of the system already in place helped the children to come up with probable solutions, which the students could initiate and follow through. The students set up class secret boxes and appointed a class monitor by rotation. During circle time, they read situation slips put by classmates in their class secret box and tried to analyze and find solutions to the problems. Solutions such as ignore the situation, tell a teacher, find a calm spot and do mindfulness breathing were suggested. Buddy systems took better shape, with children following ‘we play together’, captains by rotation, and volunteering as kindness detectives. Circle times in classes became the discussion forum. Any student grievance was addressed at this platform from, “I do not have friends” to “bully incidents happen when we are waiting for the bus home”.
Students of grade 5, including the Student Council, considered not only helping out with individual issues but also made slogans and posters on anti-bullying to empower all upper primary students with solutions and strategies. They made anti-bullying and team building committees, where incidents were reported and written in a register. The students who displayed positive deeds started being acknowledged and they in turn shared which strategies worked.
Collaboration happened as we took out a page from a child’s diary and put forth all our thoughts on the table. It was clearly a humbling feeling to see the slow but steady progress in the student’s situation from the view point of both the tutor and counselor. It was also a personal journey of instilling calmness in every aspect of our lives. The excitement of seeing a drop in bullying incidents within 3 months and of managing zero bullying cases during the month of Founder’s day practices was unparalleled.
Kriti Nigam has taught different curricula over the journey of 14 years. Kriti has been facilitating PYP grade 5 for 4 years. She is working currently as Grade Level Coordinator, Form 5 at Pathways School, Noida. She loves collaborating, exploring new ideas and implementing innovative, interactive and constructivist teaching methods. She tweets @NigamKriti.
Aarti Bakshi is the school counselor with Pathways school Noida. She has extensive 11 years experience in hospitals and academic setup and she has a PhD in developmental psychology. Aarti is passionate about mindfulness, teaching through life skills stories and mental health. You can follow her on Twitter @bakshiaarti.