“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” —Rumi
Susie, our fourth grade teacher welcomes a new group of 18-20 children and families into her life. In preparing to receive each child, and all their gifts, challenges, dreams, worries, and so much more, she knows love will be at the center of all the moments that they will share.
As last school year began, the music teacher presented Susie with an intriguing proposition that made her ponder the power of love more deeply. The music teacher desired to craft the yearly school-wide winter performance from original works that students wrote and presented on the theme of love. This spurred Susie to think: Instead of simply acting from a place of compassion and love, perhaps she should explicitly teach love as a unit in her classroom.
Week one she introduced her students to the theme. She had long known that love was a central principle in her classroom culture, but teaching lessons about it was different. She struggled with how to begin an endeavor that she believed could be a rich experience of self-discovery and a defining foundational element of the school and community. She fumbled through sharing some artifacts; letters, pictures, and a few special items from my life that symbolized love to her. She then flipped the question back to her students: What is love for you? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Inevitably, they generated a list of things they enjoyed doing, extending to a map of hobbies, events, and people they loved. Perhaps this beginning was shallower than she had hoped, but it was a place to seed the conversation. she knew with the proper care and attention, this seed would grow.
Realization 1: Love is too big and too complex to talk about all at once; we need to establish parameters.
Thus, Susie crafted the following three-part structure: Love is fostered within us…grown among us…. and gifted beyond us. These three phrases would allow her students to do three things: look inward to discover the very personal, essential root of love; reach out to see the light and love of those in our immediate presence; and lastly dream of the possibilities love can bring to the earth, including a more global perspective of human kind. Each week they sat together and explored a new activity, conversation, and experience through the lens of love. Similar to many teachers who try something for the first time, she constantly reflected on the degree to which these weekly gatherings were effective. Some really resonated, like the beautiful faces the students created to highlight their “self-love.” These adorned her classroom walls for several weeks as a celebration of the light and gifts of each child. Of course, other lessons functioned as activities rather than fruitful experiences, primarily because the content wasn’t steeped in the genuine experiences of the children. In the end, however, she wasn’t looking for proficiency or expertise, but rather for engagement in a central human right that can so easily get lost in our everyday routines.
Realization 2: Teaching love is much more than a lesson planning exercise; it calls for meditation, processing, and action.
While the lessons became part of her weekly class meetings, the conversations were not confined to this time. They were works in progress, which we referred to constantly. “Love is fostered within us” crystallized when her students needed to call upon patience of heart because their multiple attempts to complete a task had met failure. They acknowledged that “love is grown among us” when we needed to forgive a friend for using unkind words and actions, or show compassion when a classmate returned to school after losing a pet or suffering from a difficult personal event. “Love is gifted beyond us” became more than words as they worked together to knit squares for a sick child’s blanket, or they weeded through the recycling bin to ensure that trash did not contaminate our daily practices to heal the earth. This ongoing dialogue filled their days more explicitly than it had in her past years of teaching. While she couldn’t formally attest to the impact on each child, it was a beautifully transformative process for her to continually explore with her students both the simplicity and complexity of love.
The time finally arrived to take their teaching and learning and put it to verse. Their collaborative effort of brainstorming, writing, and discussing led to the beautiful prose that emerged into song lyrics.
Realization 3: Despite the pressing demands of academic expectations, there is always time to explicitly teach love.
Ultimately, students will carry these defining lessons in their hearts and actions far beyond my classroom walls, and long after the music has stopped.