Everyone’s heard the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
But it can be easy to forget the truth of those words, especially when we get so bogged down by our own worries. Thankfully, teacher Karen Wunderlich Loewe remembered their importance and recently went viral for implementing a new classroom activity designed to teach her students compassion.
Karen has been a middle school teacher in Oklahoma for 22 years, and she’s learned a thing or two about what makes her students tick. Yet even after all that time, her kids can still surprise her.
This year she tried out a classroom icebreaker called the “Baggage Activity” and was taken aback when it ended up being “one of the most impactful days” she’s ever had as a teacher.
Karen shared details on her Facebook page, writing, “I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage, and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders. I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc.”
She told them not to include any names and to throw their “baggage” across the room once they finished writing. Then Karen had each student pick up a slip of paper at random and read it aloud. If the person who wrote the note was comfortable coming forward, they could; otherwise they could remain silent.
The kids responded in a powerful way. “I’m here to tell you, I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up about and shared with the class,” Karen explained. “Things like suicide, parents in prison, drugs in their family, being left by their parents, death, cancer, losing pets (one said their gerbil died cause it was fat, we giggled) and on and on.”
Nearly everyone present was touched, feeling empathy, compassion, sadness, fear, and joy for their fellow students. “The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough,” Karen said. “The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too. It was an emotionally draining day, but I firmly believe my kids will judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster.”
At the end of the activity, Karen gathered all the crumpled notes and placed them in a garbage bag that now hangs on the classroom door. The visual representation of their collective baggage will serve as an important reminder throughout the year.
As the students left the classroom, Karen said, “I told them they are not alone, they are loved, and we have each other’s back. I am honored to be their teacher.”
Teachers like Karen have such important roles in our society. Educators are tasked with more than communicating math, science, history, and English. In many cases, they also demonstrate kindness, empathy, and compassion for their fellow human beings. The “Baggage Activity” is a perfect example of how profoundly a good teacher can affect the lives of their students. Great job, Karen!
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