Each year, on the first day back to school in August, the administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, technicians, and any and all other staff gather to celebrate the beginning of a new year. At our opening school assembly this year, which took place first thing on Monday morning, August 26th, I addressed the entire Hopkinton Public Schools community. One of the metaphors I included in my presentation was that of the “backpack.” Essentially, as our kids make the journey from Pre-K or K to 12, all kinds of stuff is added to their metaphorical “backpacks.” Sometimes educators add the stuff. Sometimes parents. And often the kids themselves are filling those “backpacks.”
Imagine the kindergarten girl who, donning a teeny, purple-sparkly backpack, enters Marathon. Some wonderful things will happen to her and because of her. By the time she wears a more sophisticated backpack and attends the Middle School, she’ll have experienced friendships, earned positive feedback from her teachers, gained confidence as a learner, played sports, made artwork, and more.
Until she’s betrayed by a friend. Until she needs to make multiple revisions to a single piece of writing. Until she earns a failing grade on a math test. Until she doesn’t make the team. Even while these are the kinds of experiences that could (and maybe should?) strengthen kids, another result might be that the child’s confidence becomes shaken. Thus, we, as educators, must think about how we’re preparing kids for the inevitable.
For these events--failed math tests and betrayals--alongside so many other distressing events, are likely going to befall all our kiddos. (Um, never mind likely; let’s go with something closer to definitely.) And, most often, we as educators can’t “see” the baggage in the kids’ “backpacks” until the student herself (or himself or theirself) empties it out in front of us.
On opening day, I encouraged our teachers to be mindful of the “backpack.” What’s in it? Are we giving our kids the skills to cope with or even grow from the things that hurt or rattle our confidence? Are kids filling their “backpacks” with strengths, too? Is a kid’s individuality alive and well in her “backpack”?
These invisible “backpacks” are very real.
So, you might be wondering why I’m sharing this with you now. Well, just the other day, I learned that one of our first grade teachers, Stephanie Stanton, has carried the backpack metaphor into her classroom, which is in perfect keeping with our district goals around social emotional learning. I was thrilled to see the note she sent me, and I think you will be, too.
Mrs. Stanton wrote the following:
“Your backpack analogy resonated with and inspired me. I spent time thinking about how I could translate this into a lesson accessible to my first graders and came up with our own growth mindset backpacks.
In our classroom, we talked about how we all have invisible backpacks that we carry around with us. They hold the hurtful and happy things that happen to us that we can't control, and the things we say or feel about ourselves, which we can control. We discussed how we have the power to choose to add positive things to our backpacks and how we can pull them out when we need them.
After we practiced retraining our brains to think positively and came up with a list of things we could add to our backpacks for when things get tough, students wrote their own positive message that they will carry around in their backpacks on a cut out backpack and decorated them. Here is how they came out! I'm proud of their work and so are they - they already used some of these growth mindset mantras while working in the classroom.”
Below you can see one sample of a child’s work. I am grateful to the teacher, and happy for these young learners.
- Social Emotional