When it comes to understanding others and developing true relationships, there is never a timetable that is fit for all. While some open up quickly, others need extra nurturing that builds trust and strengthens a bond over time. The relationships I build with my students are no different. The one thing that is certain is that the bonds are not limited to 186 school days and continuously create an impact for years to come. While many schools may be looking to close out their year, my class is continuously open to new conversations, as well as reflections on our journey together. As empathy and understanding are such a large part of our T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. experience, there is always a special vulnerability that is tied into my lesson called “Take A Walk In My Shoes.”
Days before I plan on embracing this heartfelt lesson, I ask the students if they could please bring in an extra pair of shoes to school, ones that they can leave for a week or two. A pair that they have possibly grown out of, maybe a pair from a different season that is no longer needed, or even from an off-season sport. I remind them that if they are unable to bring a pair in, I will have extra pairs in the classroom for them to borrow.
When the day comes, I start by reading a special book written by Dr. Seuss called “My Many Colored Days.” This book is so simple in so many ways, yet the impact it creates by gifting an opportunity to relate and generate their own version, gives way to a complexity that allows you to see inside their little souls.
With each page, I pause. Maybe it is the color yellow that allows some to feel free to imagine the unimaginable. For others, it is the color blue that speaks to them and gives way to sadness. Whatever the color means to them, they simply take in the moment while I read.
Next, I hand out an index card. Just one… one that they use to design their own “colored days”. At this point, I reread the book to them and they embrace the time to add their artistic touch to their card. Once their card is complete, I pass out another.
The first 3 cards are specific colors. I always want to know what their day looks like when it is yellow, black, and a rainbow of mixed-up colors. I put on music and give them unlimited time to just draw. When they are finished, they then flip the card over and tell me two things:
- What this color day is like for them or a story of a specific day that they want to share.
- What do they need from others on a day like this in their little world?
Once they are done, I put a stack of cards out and allow them unlimited access to add any color days they wish. Most often they take 3-4 more cards, but there is always a handful of students that take ten or more. After completing them, I ask them to bring their cards and their shoes to meet me for a little time together.
During this time, they pick out a special color pipe-cleaner to attach their cards to their shoes, and then they are encouraged to pick just one they would like to share with me. After they share with me, I allow them to share with others if they would like. We then gather around and talk about our walk in life… our journey. I prompt them with questions and we take time to listen to how others feel. After many prompts, such as “Do you think others understand what you need on your black day?” or “How can you make someone else feel if you share your yellow day with them?”, I take suggestions on how we can lead others in empathy. There is always a student that suggests placing our shoes in the hallway and that is a moment for me. A moment of trust, love, and leadership. I make sure that they have the option of leaving theirs in the room, but one by one they always take their shoes to the hallway. Such vulnerability, strength, and courage were found right there at that moment. Come along, take a walk in our shoes.