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The Whiteboard Jungle: Classroom exercise may have helped bring closure to difficult time at Hoover High

One benefit of having winter break in the middle of the school year is that it provides an opportunity for fresh starts.

And those of us who work at Hoover High School sure could use a cleansing of last semester’s turmoil that slammed our campus like a tornado: the student brawl, the walkout, the negative press.

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A feeling of unfinished business hung over us like a fog for a good part of the fall.

With this in mind, I began the first day back by passing out neon red squares of paper to my students and having them write last semester’s grades along with a short reflection.

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I told them this would not be shared with anyone, including me.

Once students finished, I had them fold the paper in half twice into tiny squares.

“We are locking away the past forever and… ” I said, as trash cans were distributed down each row, “… throwing the grades and any negative feelings out. Not the lessons learned, just the grade itself. It’s a new year and a new semester, time for a new beginning.”

I dimmed the lights.

“First, let’s get reacquainted with Room 11202. Did you miss this room during the break? It’s been a while, so in your new seat, place your hands in front of you on the table to have a physical connection to the environment, close your eyes and think positive thoughts. In order to give you ideas on what to think about, I will share mine,” I said.

“Dear Room 11202. Thank you for being here for my students and I. For being a sanctuary of learning. We look forward to wonderful memories the rest of the way,” I said.

“Now, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes for at least one minute. You may begin.”

I played meditative music at low volume.

Once most students’ eyes had opened, I passed out pastel blue squares of paper.

“Write down a favorite memory you have from winter break that brought you joy. It could be a gift, a song, a text, a sunset. Write down what the memory is and why it brought joy to you,” I said.

“Fold it once and put it inside a safe place in your binder. Now you have something that makes you feel good each and every day. Some of the approaching days will be pleasant ones, but some will not. For that darkest day that may surface, when it seems everything has gone wrong, open up your binder and look at this piece of paper and be reminded of what gives you joy.”

By happenstance, principal Jennifer Earl walked into my classroom right at the time I was beginning this lesson. Usually, she stays for a few minutes then continues on to other rooms in making her rounds.

This time I asked her to stay for the entire lesson because I wanted her to experience this for herself. She even threw away her own red piece of paper with great enthusiasm.

Well, she was so inspired by what she saw, she asked me to do the lesson with the entire staff at that afternoon’s faculty meeting.

When I demonstrated the activity with my peers, I sensed a calmness in the room. Reconnecting with our workplace felt like the right thing to do coming back after the break. We all needed closure. How serendipitous that Earl walked into my room when she did, as if it was meant to be.

And all of this happened in just the first day. I can’t wait to see what will unfold the rest of the year.

Brian Crosby is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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