I hope you are enjoying the snow – it’s perfect Olympic-watching weather! We are five weeks into the second semester, believe it or not, and sometimes the doldrums of the winter set in. Often, when we move through our busy lives, we become so wrapped up in our own woes that we forget that everyone around us is also going through something. This is the time to take a step back and remember that everyone has a story. Actually, not just one story; everyone has multiple stories.
This week at Dawson, all of our students and faculty participated in an activity that helped remind us of this. Amy Troy, our amazing Director of Diversity, put together the activity as a way for us to think about and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. In preparation for the activity, we had assemblies with each division, talking about empathy and about how we can be more empathetic by listening to and understanding other people’s stories.
We also listened as a group to a couple of different stories that were recorded through StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” Starting in 2003 with one recording booth in New York city, they have now recorded over 75,000 interviews that are archived in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Exploring what StoryCorps does and creating our own archive of stories makes sense in the month of February, a month when we are focusing on our core virtue of compassion.
At the introductory assembly, Ms. Troy pointed out that while we know and hear a great deal about what Dr. King did during the Civil Rights Movement, there are thousands of other people who made a difference in smaller ways, and it’s good for us to remember that small actions can make a big difference. She shared a story recorded by Dion Diamond, a man who peacefully protested during the Civil Rights Movement, sometimes all by himself, by sitting at an all-white lunch counter or cheerfully joining a picket line protesting integration at an amusement park with a sign of his own. Click here
if you’d like to hear his story.
We also had the chance to hear a couple of other stories before beginning the activity ourselves. The first involved a man who was robbed at knifepoint during his commute home from work. He reacted in a surprising way, and the story is quite moving. If I’ve piqued your interest and you would like to listen, click here
. The final story we listened to involved a 9-year-old boy interviewing his father, asking him, among other things, “Why do you take me to protests so much?” The exchange is very sweet, especially when the father shares a proverb about babies entering the world with closed fists because “that’s where they keep all their gifts.” I encourage you to listen to that one
We then split up into smaller groups and then even smaller groups of two or three to record and archive our own stories. Students and faculty were given a variety of prompts to get them thinking, and once they had brainstormed and talked, they interviewed each other and made recordings, answering questions such as, “Talk about an important relative in your life,” “Tell about a time when you felt left out,” “Tell me about your first day of teaching.” Some students said they didn’t want to open up too much while others later said they found the activity freeing and found themselves opening up more than usual. Either way, we all got a chance to listen to one another and understand how complex and rich all of our lives are. And we were reminded just how much every one of us brings to our community each day.
Another way we remind ourselves of this is through our Wall of Appreciation. Each year in the Middle School, we create a wall that is filled with individual appreciations for every student and teacher in the division. In preparation for creating the wall, we talk in our advisories about what makes an appreciation particularly thoughtful, and then students write them, sometimes working in pairs or small groups. We then put them all up on the wall for everyone to see. Every year, there is a theme. One year it was a school of fish, one year it was stars and planets, and this year is a garden – the students are flowers, and the faculty members are leaves.
Given how much the students enjoy writing and reading these appreciations, we decided that lower school students should have their own wall of appreciation. And so yesterday, our eighth grade Dawson Ambassadors came to the Lower School and explained how the wall worked. To continue with the garden theme, students are going to be seeds getting ready to grow.
We also read a wonderful book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, that talked about how doing and saying kind things fills other people’s buckets while being unkind led to bucket dipping. The book and the appreciation wall are reminders that small actions and words of kindness can have a tremendous impact. The book ended by reminding students to be bucket fillers, so hopefully you’ll notice them making a deliberate effort to do this (they do it pretty naturally anyway!). I, too, strive to always be a bucket filler, and reading the book to our students reaffirmed my commitment to doing this. The book asked us to begin each day asking ourselves how we will fill others’ buckets and to end each day reflecting on whether we did so. If we can all focus on filling each other’s buckets, we will get through the winter doldrums a happier and more connected community!