Today’s post is brought to you by guest contributor Kayla Good, Language Arts teacher extraordinaire at Poca Middle School. We love Kayla’s smart reflection on her craft and the work that engages her students. 

By Kayla Good

I am a firm believer that teaching children empathy and understanding is of utmost importance. (My classroom motto is “Kindness Matters.”) It is even more important when teaching the middle grades… We all know what a struggle those years are!

My students’ backgrounds play a major role in all my lessons. I teach at a low SES school with little parent involvement. Many of them don’t have a single adult to talk to or confide in. It breaks my heart.

Middle school is rough, in general. Kids are going through major physical and emotional changes -changes many of my students don’t understand. They don’t realize there is a reason behind their moodiness, hostility, or their inability to control impulses. On top of all the changes, these kids fight battles at home that I could have never imagined. Especially not at 12 years old.

I make a conscious effort to connect to what is happening in the world and in their daily lives. I try to notice (through thought-provoking bell ringers and casual class discussion) who is having a hard time, who needs an outlet, and who needs someone to listen.

I’m constantly searching for ideas of how to incorporate the power that lies in telling your story. The courage it takes to let people in, instead of closing yourself off from the world. I need them to know they are not the only ones struggling. And I need them to trust me enough to do so.

In my search, I came across a website featuring an idea they call “Letters of Peace” (http://www.howlifeunfolds.com/lettersofpeace/). The first thing I read on their site was: “It’s often the people who have been directly touched by violence or cruelty who have the most faith in humanity. We asked some of these remarkable individuals to put pen to paper and write Letters of Peace to the world so we can all be inspired by their words.” And I knew I was going to find a way to incorporate this into my classroom.

Together, we read the stories of those who have been through some pretty horrific events, we read articles like “Pen, Paper, Power! Five Benefits of Journal Writing,” we talk about why writing is important (we do this all year, too!), we talk about how a handwritten letter affects others upon receipt, and we talk to each other. They share their stories -and most importantly, I share mine.

At the end of the unit, my students must complete one letter to someone of their choice, one letter to themselves OR a letter talking about an event in their lives, and one letter expressing gratitude to their parents/guardians. But their favorite part of the unit is sending Christmas cards to those in need. Some years this comes in the form of local children who are battling cancer, Veteran’s at local Veteran’s homes, and the elderly. This year, I am going to go through all the GREAT ideas I was given on Twitter and allow my students to choose who they send their cards to.

Each year, after we complete this unit, I see the number of letters and notes my students write to others skyrocket. There’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing children write and share their feelings with one another.

WVCTE is wondering…

Do you bring the handwritten word or personal messages into your classrooms?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!


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