Using Our Brains, Voices, Hands, and Hearts to Build Community

It’s Friday morning and the Lower School is gathered together in the auditorium for our weekly assembly. Two fourth grade students stand on the stage with a wall of colorful blocks separating them. They try to reach up over it to take each other’s hand and their fingers barely connect.  Each block has a word or phrase written on it volunteered by the students in the audience. 
The blocks say things like teasing, lying, not sharing, excluding others, not listening, mean words. A student in the audience contributes her idea, “dirty looks,” and another block is added to the wall. The girls strain on their tiptoes to reach for each other again, but now the wall towers too high. They cannot connect. More ideas are shared; more blocks are added; the distance between the two girls increases. To someone walking into the room at that moment, I’m sure they would have been confused, but the students understood that what was happening on the stage was just another lesson to be learned.
For several weeks in our team meetings, in classrooms, and in assemblies, we had been talking and writing about our goal of having a strong community in the Lower School. We reflected on what it looks like, why it benefits us, how do we build and sustain it. At this particular assembly, we discussed community as connection, what brings us together. Then we reflected on behaviors that disconnect us and deteriorate our relationships. The students were able to easily identify behaviors that negatively impact their relationships with each other. They agreed that they had at various times been both the instigator and the recipient of these behaviors. They saw in the towering wall of colorful blocks a visual representation of a very real part of their experience as children trying to navigate relationships in the world.

Why do we devote time at school to growing our students’ relationship skills? It’s because we are invested in helping our girls reach their full potential, not just as students, but as human beings. It’s also because we recognize that school, by its very nature, is a social experience. By choosing to go to school, rather than learn at home, we choose to be a part of a community of learners who support each other in the pursuit of growth for all members of the community.

The strength of the community depends on our students’ ability to recognize and use the tools they have to build it. In the Lower School, we are focusing on four tools: our brains, voices, hands, and hearts. We use these tools to be positive community members, as well as thoughtful learners and confident changemakers. At the end of that assembly where we built the wall, we dismantled it block by block by identifying how we use our brains, voices, hands, and hearts to remove the things that come between us. With the wall gone, our two fourth graders stood hand-in-hand, another visual representation our students understood perfectly well—connection and friendship.