Brookwood School values that children see adults as resources and have agency over their experience and learning. I witnessed that in action in the 2nd Grade. The children got together and asked their 2nd Grade teachers if they could invite me into their classroom to present their concerns to their teachers. I was so proud of them for organizing a social action. They made an argument around Think Sheets, and we had a hearty discussion. They articulated their concerns so clearly, made concessions, and continually refined their requests as we went along in the process. By taking this risk and showing vulnerability, they make the school a better place. These are eight-year-olds!
The students' true argument was about sitting with their discomfort when they make mistakes at school. They felt they should be able to quickly say “I’m sorry.” and then forget about the action. Forever. Think Sheets, they said, make them feel ashamed, and their actions stay with them longer. However, once we deconstructed that statement, they agreed that think sheets were necessary and a good thing. They also agreed that completing a Think Sheet was not shaming them and that they wanted to better understand themselves and their emotions, develop a toolkit for problem-solving, and collaboratively plan ways to repair their relationships with peers and adults. But we also agreed that this conversation should and will continue.
This event led me to wonder, How do we reframe for our children when they express what is, in essence, the discomfort that comes with feelings of remorse when they make mistakes? Also, what does accountability look like, and how can we empower our children in those moments?
Mostly, the children that visit me for mistakes feel relieved after our conversations because I focus on their feelings, not the mistake that was made. Once they can discuss their feelings, they feel validated that it was normal to have those big feelings, but they would have reacted differently if they had a toolkit or a list of different actions they could employ when they identify they are having big feelings. Finally, they feel empathy for the person impacted by their choice and feel empowered that they can develop a solution to repair the harm. This philosophy comes straight from the RULER Inc curriculum derived from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
What I learned from the 2nd graders yesterday is that they don’t have the understanding of the vocabulary to describe the remorse they feel grappling with the impact of their actions. They sound sophisticated when they say they are made to feel ashamed, but when you dig deeper, we realize they are describing the appropriate remorse or guilt for their actions. I stated, “You think about your actions a little longer after a Think Sheet because you are all good people. Your conscious is guiding you, and you won’t make the same mistakes because you are consciously mindful of the impact of your actions.” It’s developmentally appropriate that children not avoid negative feelings, so we guide them in developing appropriate responses.
Ms. Wilson further processed these ideas by pulling resources from Brené Brown‘s book Atlas of the Heart. Brown gives definitions for the terms the children were investigating and relatable antidotes. Below is an excerpt from pages 134-135.
Shame - I am bad. The focus is on self, not behavior. The result is feeling flawed and unworthy of love, belonging, and connection. Shame is not a driver of positive change.
You get back a quiz, and your grade is F. Your self-talk is I'm so stupid.
Guilt - I did something bad. The focus is on behavior. Guilt is the discomfort we feel when we evaluate what we've done or failed to do against our values. It can drive positive change and behavior.
You get back a quiz, and your grade is F. Your self-talk is Going to the party instead of studying for this quiz was so stupid (versus I'm so stupid).
Humiliation - I've been belittled and put down by someone. This left me feeling unworthy of connection arid disgusted with myself. This was unfair, and I didn't deserve this. With shame, we believe that we deserve our sense of unworthiness. With humiliation, we don't feel we deserve it.
The student sitting next to you sees the F at the top of your quiz and tells the class, "This idiot can't even pass a quiz in here. He's as stupid as they come.” Everyone laughs. You feel dumb and enraged.
Embarrassment - I did something that made me uncomfortable, but I know I'm not alone. Everyone does these kinds of things. Embarrassment is fleeting, sometimes funny.
Your teacher is handing out quizzes, and you come back from the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe.
I still am bursting with pride that the children organized this social action without any help from the adults. Today, I visited their morning meeting and told them again how proud I was of them and that they inspired me to write this piece. I encouraged them to take social action anytime they felt the need to speak up. It is imperative that they do. They beamed with pride. And so should you.