First Words

Paris Priore-Kim

October 17, 2016

I can never be too grateful for the way in which my days start. Invariably, they begin with a series of “Hi” and “Good morning”, which commence at the top of the Kosasa Neighborhood and accompany me all the way to my office in Castle. The regularity of this welcome moves me each and every time. From day to day it includes different children, of different ages, at different points along the way, yet it is consistently earnest, full of recognition and full of warmth. I can’t help but think that these greetings represent more than common courtesy. They reflect knowledge about connection, communication and community.

These simple first words from children frame my days in optimism and commitment. They inspire me to do my best. Likewise, our beginnings with our students have the power to elevate and engage. These initial moments convey so much about how we feel about them and what we value for them. They bridge us to one another and to purpose. There are so many beginnings across our campus that convey this powerful understanding and cultivate critical elements of social emotional learning.

In the K – 1 Omidyar Neighborhood, our youngest learners begin each day with an oli kahea on the lawn facing their teachers. Their voices swell in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to state who they are, and to state their hopes for the ways in which they will grow. Their teachers respond with an oli komo, which acknowledges their students readiness, and welcomes them with aloha to start the school day. Many classrooms all over the Junior School are opened with oli in this way, centering and focusing hearts and minds, and placing students and teachers in meaningful relationship to one another, to our past and to our place.

Several hundred yards away from Omidyar, a silent but potent greeting awaits sixth-graders every morning on a white board in their team space. At the start of each day, students reflect on a message that they, themselves, have distilled and authored through reflection on a shared reading. Following the reading, students craft the main message and add hashtags (see photo) to include all the main ideas surfaced in their conversation with one another. This cycle’s message reads: “You are Punahou ʻohana. You are not alone. Do not be afraid.” These quiet prompts open the day with thoughtful, centering conversation, and routinely attend to self-awareness, to common emotions, to the cultivation of empathy and to resilience.

Calls to mindfulness offer another kind of quiet beginning in classrooms. Students are asked to take a few moments to draw their awareness to the present moment. They might close their eyes as they tune in on the present, without worrying about the past or fretting about the future. They are encouraged to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings without judging them, but simply being aware of them. Students say that this practice reduces stress, which gets in the way of learning. Moreover, this calming and centering practice promotes acceptance and puts student wellbeing at the forefront.

Attending to student wellbeing not only engenders health, but also generates engagement and supports learning. As I consider the beautiful beginnings above, as well as the immense resonance of a simple, sincere “Good morning” from a child, I regretfully recall those points in time when, as a young teacher, I would signal my students to turn in their homework as they rushed into my classroom. I was overlooking the opportunity to acknowledge my students’ importance to me over their homework’s importance to me.

The intentional commitment of time to cultivate empathy, moral reasoning, resilience, and care for self and community via personal and authentic engagement with our students is so powerful and valuable. It engenders personalized and social emotional learning, which in turn, resonates in the attitudes and actions of our students in enduring ways.

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