When I taught sixth grade, one student shared a personal story that took all of us by surprise. It was a typical Monday morning, and we gathered for our daily Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) advisory meeting. We had been working for about three months on becoming skilled and efficient with all of the CPR components. It was Jesse’s turn to share. He looked around, took a deep breath, and said, “Last night there were shootings in my neighborhood, and one person died.”
Such shocking, upsetting sharing hadn’t happened before.
My heart sank and my mind raced: How do I control this situation? Is this an appropriate share? How can I recognize the facts in students’ lives and keep everyone emotionally safe?
I didn’t have time to assess or make choices: students’ hands went up. They were ready to ask questions and make comments: “First, are you OK?” “Where did this happen?” “Did you see or hear the shooting?” “Has this happened before in your neighborhood?” “Were the police helpful?” “Were you scared?” “Did you know the person who got shot and died?” “I hope everything will be OK in your community.” “Thank you for sharing, and be safe.”
The students had managed to navigate their way through this important, tragic, and complicated morning share with compassion and respect. Whew! They had shown that they could rise to the occasion and show empathy, conversational skill, and maturity, even when faced with a shocking and grave situation. What had allowed this to happen? Did my careful thinking and planning for CPR meetings have anything to do with the students’ responses? Had CPR supported us in a real community challenge?
Yes, indeed! Modeling and practicing with students how to respectfully greet each other, working on the routine of having everyone practice sharing about both their school and personal lives, practicing respectful questions and giving empathetic comments, playing fun and socially challenging games, and prompting interaction with a daily message, all paid off in this critical moment.
Young adolescents need to make sense of their expanding and challenging world. Unfortunately, events like the Sandy Hook School massacre and what happened in Jesse’s neighborhood occur in many students’ lives. The CPR structure provides a safe place for addressing issues that arise both in and outside of school. The Developmental Designs practice of CPR gave my students a context and skills to have a meaningful conversation with Jesse in a twenty-minute meeting. Most of our sharing topics were aimed at ordinary, daily interests, such as favorite places to hang out, accomplishments we were proud of, and qualities of a good friend; this familiar structure helped us share about much bigger issues that were intensely important and timely.
View this 2½-minute video of a seventh and eighth grade teacher leading a CPR meeting at New City School in Minneapolis.
Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross is the former Executive Director for The Origins Program. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and previously taught in the St. Paul Public Schools. He co-founded and served as principal for four years at New City Charter School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Posted May 2013