After two weeks and four lessons of Social and Emotional Learning activities, I’ve learned quite a lot about my students. I’ve learned that they have a difficult time seeing things from another’s perspective. That they don’t know they have a choice. And perhaps most importantly, that they don’t understand their feelings, or the feelings of those around them… but they want to.

Our last class started with a Quote of the Day:

We often ingest toxic communication from those around us and from what we watch and read. Are we ingesting things that grow our understanding and compassion? If so, that’s good food. Often, we ingest food that makes us feel bad or insecure about ourselves or judgmental or superior to others.

This is by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I chose it specifically to see what this troubled group of boys would do. I presented it sentence by sentence as a word jumble. (The idea is taken from the excellent website, “Word Jumble on cards.”)

At the start of the activity, the ring leader immediately started mispronouncing Thich Nhat Hanh’s name over and over again as thick. (This was meant to be sexual.) The boys all started laughing, which continued for several minutes. At one point, the sole girl in the class had enough and challenged the ring leader to listen and behave. He said, “You shut up.” When we finally had the quote unraveled, they each read a line out loud. The laughing stopped. Total silence. And then, “Mr., what does compassion mean?”


They have a choice. The question is, can I get them to understand that?

This was the fourth lesson designed for Social and Emotional Learning, and after the class, it occurred to me that SEL is the practical application of RFK’s moral courage. It takes real bravery to interrupt your classmates fun by standing up for someone who’s being ridiculed. But that’s exactly what these lessons are teaching the students to do. Goal setting, different perspectives, and stoplight problem solving are all laying a foundation for the students to display moral courage.

It’s the funniest thing, thinking about that word jumble activity, because they were engaging in toxic communication while they were sorting out a quote denouncing their behavior. And when it was unscrambled, it was staring them right in the face… and they knew it.

We watched the first three minutes of the video below afterwards. They chuckled while he spoke, but I didn’t care. I think they heard the message, but were too cool to admit it.


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