Community meeting is a regularly scheduled time in the week when students can discuss observations, questions, concerns, and worries.The children set the agenda for the forty-minute discussion time. They voice concerns and respond to each other. Sometimes they empathize, sometimes they disagree, and sometimes they respond with possible solutions. What matters is that they know it is their forum.
Over time, students recognize that solutions are not always easy to find. However, being heard and acknowledged opens them up to taking the chances necessary to live the solutions. "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye" (The Little Prince by Saint Exupery, 1943, p. 86). The Little Prince learns that to know the fox is to create ties with him. This distinguishes the fox from the hundred thousand other foxes. Knowing the fox is a process that requires patience of the Little Prince. Like the meetings between the Little Prince and the fox, community meeting becomes the predictable time for the children to sort through life's unpredictabilities and create the tools needed to trust themselves and each other.
To launch your first meeting, gather the children in a circle. Explain that this is a meeting they will create. It is a time for them say what is on their minds. Some people may want to say what is going well in the classroom and to thank others and that is welcome, too.
It is helpful for the teacher, as facilitator, to ask in the beginning who would like to speak and to make a note of it. Maintaining a record will help ensure that there is no one (or more) dominant voice. Also, if there isn't time to discuss everyone's concerns, you can then refer to your notes in the following week and make sure that those who weren't able to speak before can speak now.
When someone brings up an issue, hear first from those involved, and then open it to the community for discussion. Sometimes, problems become too heated or need more time to solve. The children will learn that there are not always quick solutions and that sometimes different attempts need to be made over time to find the solutions that work.
Meditation is another opportunity for children to re-imagine what is possible.
Following the loud and crowded daily experience of lunch and recess, the children need a moment to slow down and to be in a quiet, still place. To address this need, I began doing a brief meditation with my first grade class. Meditation is an opportunity for children to sift through the daily details of external stimuli and to realize what matters most to them. Meditation is a brief moment in which children can experience and then change intense feelings, such as fear, pain, and anger.
To start our class meditation, I would ask students to sit quietly for a minute, either closing their eyes or keeping their gaze fixed on one place. Once they became comfortable with this ritual, I used visualizations from Spinning Inward , a book on children's meditation by Maureen Murdock, .
The visualizations lasted for about 5-10 minutes, enough time to allow children to think through a choice, ask questions and create answers. My students frequently requested a visualization that involved choosing whether to walk down a path in the forest or along the ocean. Eventually, I guided them to envision a person walking toward them. The person could be someone they knew or someone they wanted to know, but was definitely someone they trusted and respected. As the person approached, I asked the children to formulate a question that they wanted to ask. Upon meeting the person, they asked the question. They could either get an answer or choose to simply talk to the person. After the conversation was over, they said good-bye and opened their eyes.
After each meditation, there was a brief sharing session and in my class the responses were varied: "I feel more relaxed. I was able to ask about my father, who is away right now." "I talked with my grandmother, who is sick. I told her that I hope she gets better." "I found out how to make an invention to slow down time when you are having fun!"
As the children's experience with visualizations deepened, they shared the duties of leading the visualizations. Sometimes they created visualizations that invited imaginative departures. For example, my student Catherine especially enjoyed leading the class to imagine entering a room with three paintings: one painting is blue, the second painting is green, and the third painting is red. She asked her fellow students to choose a painting to enter and then to explore it. Afterwards, during the sharing session, the children described how it felt to go inside different colors. Some chose to linger in one and some chose to go into all of them. Their choices usually reflected a feeling they wanted to experience: calmness, excitement, intrigue.
Visualizations seem to help some students outside of school, too. One parent told me that when her daughter hurt her finger while cooking, she said, "I'm going to take a quiet moment." Another said that when she told her son she was stressed out, her son advised, "Mom, you should meditate for a silent minute to feel better. We do it everyday after recess and then we feel different."
Amy Martin is a teacher in the New York City public schools.
We welcome your thoughts and suggestions about these activities!