“This is a very special bowl,” I confided in my children, holding the bowl in front of me, containing multi-colored slips of paper. “It holds something we’ll pull from each week. It holds intentions.”
I started doing this practice last year with my kindergarten, first-, and second-grade class. And yes, I actually taught in a kindergarten, first- and second-grade multi-age class. And no, it did not work well.
“An intention is something we plan on doing. If I intend to go to the store, I will go to the store,” I said, giving a couple more examples and reinforcing our new mindful vocabulary. “Each week, we’ll pick an intention, one that we’ll come back to every day. We’ll think about it, think of ways to we can reach our intention, and talk about if we reached our intention.”
Unbeknownst to them, I had already chosen our first intention—authenticity—inspired in part by yoga, in part by Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and in part by our first unit for the school year on identity, founded upon the essential questions: What makes you who you are? How can you be your best self?
Truth be told, authenticity was not only a lesson I wanted to teach my children; it was a lesson I learned on my own this past weekend—the weekend before the first week of school.
I’m about to share something very personal, and I want to clarify why. We are teachers, and our jobs transcend academics. We are, first and foremost, sentient beings, molding not only our children’s thinking, but their interactions with their own feelings. And in order to do this well, we must know and appreciate ourselves and our experiences first and foremost.
This past week, I got my heart broken. Silly, it may sound, to let my love life penetrate so deeply to my core, and to allow it to consume me to the point where even I was unsure if the show—the show that was the first day of school—would go on just yesterday. But alas, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love hard. And it happened last Thursday.
The first thing I did at school on Friday morning, in the wake of heartbreak’s aftermath, was go to my boss. I knew I wasn’t myself; I knew I needed her to know. I walked in, my hands trembling, the black circles from a lack of sleep pushing into my skull, tears already leaking from the corners of my eyes. I confided in her my heartbreak; I told her that I wasn’t myself today; I told her that she didn’t need to do anything, that I just needed her to know.
She, of course, welcomed me (and my authenticity) with open arms. It was the first of many experiences this weekend that helped me connect with myself, and it wasn’t the only time I was able to see the bountiful results of doing so. I felt it while I laid on my friend’s couch, crying my eyes out while she rubbed my back; I felt it when my friends so graciously made me food that I refused to eat; I felt it when I let them love me at a point where I was unsure if I could even love myself. And it appeared that, by doing so, I came out of that despair more quickly than I thought I would or could.
“It takes a lot of courage to be authentic,” I said to the children this morning, after revealing this week’s intention of authenticity and explaining its meaning. “Sometimes, you may not like things about yourself, and you may even notice that other people don’t like things about you. This week, we’ll talk about all of these things about you, and find ways to share and appreciate them.”
I spoke from the heart when I shared this during our mindfulness practice this morning, without conveying its exact source. I spoke from genuine—some could say authentic—experience. I brought that authenticity into my classroom this week, being unabashedly me, and watching my students soak up every second of it. For that’s all our kids want, and that’s what they sense in a great teacher: someone who is unafraid to stand in their shoes and proudly say, “I’m me.”
This past weekend, I learned that when we’re authentically ourselves, love reveals itself and grows all around us, even if it’s only nourished by the water of our salty tears. That understanding will absolutely endure the test of time and the rest of my life. I will never let it go, no matter how soon the next wave of darkness washes over me.
And I hope that, by the end of our first six weeks, my students see that, too.