The above is a picture of my dining room table. This table is the anchor for my family.
In an era of disconnection, with busy lives and so many devices that can pull us away from one another into our individual worlds, the dining room table can serve as an anchor for us. It can keep us from floating away from one another into our own universes. I truly believe that a table has never been more important.
Many years ago, I was a single mother to two young children. I remember looking for a place to rent and my one key necessity in my hunt was that there must be room for a dining room table. There must be room for us to eat together. I didn’t have a lot of money at that time and it was a struggle to find a place for us to make a home, but I held onto that value throughout my search and I did indeed find a place that had room for a table. It was a small table, tucked cozily into the kitchen, but it worked. We could come together daily to eat – yes, but to also do much more than that, to connect.
The years passed, and over and over again I thanked this anchor for what it provided my family. Our table did much more than hold our plates and give us a place to refuel. When my two now-grown kids were teens, they were often busy with friends, activities and life in general. Coming to the table together was our one daily anchor. Whether we arrived busy, grumpy, reluctant, whatever; this was our time together. Eye contact was eventually made. Stories were told. Sometimes tears were shed. Debates were had. Lives were shared and we were once again connected.
My two eldest are now grown up and no longer live at home. It is now my husband, our 12-year-old son and I that gather daily to eat together. This time remains as important as ever. I remind myself often to not make this time be about rules. This is a special time carved out simply for being together. This means that I must try to create the conditions that will help everyone to want to be there. So, I try to focus less on rules and manners and more on enjoying being together. I try to hold fast to the point of why we come together and hold that front and center in my mind.
Classroom families need anchors too
Having a regular connecting ritual helps to keep any system from falling apart. Rituals give us a break from having to remember to bring togetherness and enjoyment into our classroom. It’s not something we have to think about in isolation, it’s a part of what we do on a regular basis. (“Every morning we do this,” or “Every Friday we…”) Our students can then expect and look forward to these times, and we can lean on this structure to help us keep our learning community together and our students close.
Finding your anchor
Although some learning communities have the ability to enjoy the ritual of eating together as a class, for many classes, this anchor is not an option.
So, what can you do?
Find your own version of “the table.” The point isn’t to eat together, the point is to consciously create and establish rituals of togetherness. Come up with something that is realistic and works for you and the people you are trying to hold close.
I have enjoyed and established many togetherness rituals with my students over the years. Below are just a few of the rituals that we enjoyed and anchored us together as a community:
- Reading aloud to my students on a weekly basis. (Especially for teens, who rarely receive this gift.)
I personally find it helpful to shift the mood of the environment during this special time to create a sort of bubble around it. It then feels like a separate time, somewhat magical, that sets it apart from the rest of the day. This could be anything from dimming the lights and turning a light on only where I am reading, to moving the desks to different places where everyone can be more relaxed, lying down on gym mats, being outside, or turning on strings of coloured lights. I select what mood shifters I want depending on the age and specific needs of the students. Additionally, if I know I have students who may find it challenging to listen and not move their bodies, I offer everyone paper and a pencil to quietly doodle while listening. This can ground the students who need to move a bit more. Shifting the atmosphere in this way can make it feel like we experienced something together – which we did! We were brought together on a journey through our imaginations.
- Creating art TOGETHER.
This is different from me giving my students a project to do. This is about us enjoying the process of being together, by creating together, teacher and students alike. There is something very powerful about the process of collectively creating. Creating means that we are drawing forth something from within us to be shared; we are making visible our inner worlds. When we do this together, we are sharing our worlds with one another, without necessarily even speaking. This might look like creating a weekly collage, mural, wall of doodles, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not about making it beautiful, it’s simply about carving out a regular time to create together. I often find it helps to put on music as a backdrop to the experience as music can help to hold the container for the activity, supporting the engagement of the group and helping everyone to fall more deeply into the experience.
- Establishing a regular time to enjoy one another outside, in the natural world.
This special time could be carved out for creating art together outside, working on a garden, or simply going for a walk together. (When teaching little ones, I’ve been known to lead weekly parades while singing the Sound of Music and marching and dancing through fields! And yes, they laugh at this…but they also love it and join in and can’t wait until our next time!)
The point is to create a regular time to be together in nature that works for you and your students. Nature has a gentle way of bringing us to one another. The discovery of our connection often arises within the quiet moments outside in which we realize how we are each a part of something bigger. Sometimes when we are away from screens, desks and fluorescent lights, and instead immersed in the sensorial experience of being outdoors, there can be more openness to eye contact, chatting, sharing, and connecting.
Never use the anchor as a reward (or threaten to remove them)
Anchors are meant to be consistent experiences that keep us connected to one another. We need to keep these rituals as things that we do together no matter what, not reserve them as a reward for being good or threaten to take them away if kids don’t behave. Just like the family dinner, it is there for the grumpy as well as for the enthusiastic. It is through the act of coming together regularly that connection can be found and community can be built.
When we use togetherness rituals as a tool to try and get kids to behave, we undermine the very nature of how they work and we render them powerless. Anchors work when they provide communities with consistent times of being together simply because you are ‘you’. That’s it – you are a family or a learning community and in order to be together meaningfully, you need to be connected. Humans are hardwired for connection and when we can create the conditions to keep connection joyfully alive, we are also creating the conditions for emotional safety and for supporting children to discover their best selves.
Discovering the power of the classroom anchor
This blog is the first of a series of three on the power of anchors in building community. Stay tuned for more on the link between classroom anchors and inclusivity as well as how to create them with even the most challenging students.
I am filled with gratitude for the anchors in my life that have kept both my family and my students close. Never underestimate the power of connection, for it can grow wondrous things!
I’d love to hear about the anchors you use in your learning community to keep connection alive!
P.S: Are you an educator looking for professional development opportunities this year? Join Tamara & I in our 12 session PD series starting late September- December 2020 based on our book, Reclaiming our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut Down Than Ever—And What We Can Do About It. Join us for one session, multiple sessions, or all 12. Click here to learn more.
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