Monday, April 11, 2011

That's How Powerful We Are

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how making paper clip chains had become all the rage in the Woodland Park 3-5's class. It started with my uncovering a large stash of the things which I finally made freely available to the kids, and one child with knowledge of the chain-making technology. Like a wildfire, I tell you, it's spread. At any given moment there is at least one child, if not more, over there by the windows manipulating those most humble of office supplies into what they are calling "compliment chains."

They then, when they are finished, long or short, made from the standard-issue paper clips or the large ones, hand them to me, saying something like, "Here's a compliment chain for circle time."

The compliment chain is something we make every year using a set of plastic chain links one can get from Discount School Supply. It was something I devised as a new teacher to demonstrate to children how they can be powerful by making other people feel good. We raise our hands, taking turns saying kind things to one another, adding a link to the chain for each one. We know our powers are working when the other person smiles. Sometimes we give our compliments aloud, other times we whisper into their ears, but we know it's working because of that smile. Every year's class approaches the activity a little differently. Some years one child will add a hug to punctuate her compliment, and then like the paper clip chain trend, it will spread to all of them. Some years, the word "compliment" is interpreted quite broadly including wishes for after school play dates and statements like, "I love you." This year's group hasn't incorporated the hug, and has stuck to a stricter definition of the term, but has instead added the phenomenon of a child raising his hand to declare, "I didn't get a compliment," a statement that is often not even true, but nevertheless calls down upon himself a waterfall of love for his shirt or shoes or pants.

And now, to this, they've added the paper clip compliment chains.

Traditionally we've added one link at a time, slowly making it longer day after day, week after week, hanging it from hooks on the ceiling over our circle time rug, until somewhere around the beginning of May, it encircles us entirely and we celebrate those 500 times we've made one another feel good. The advent of the pre-linked paper clip chains, however, has forced a change in the program. We start by counting together every link in the new chains, typically somewhere in the 40-60 range. I then declare that we'll need to give that many compliments before we can add the new chains to the ceiling, usually telling them that we each need to give 2 or 3 compliments. Then we rise to the challenge together to give compliments to one another during a free-form minute of making our friends feel good.

Many of them go the express route, bopping quickly from friend to friend dolling out the same, "I like your shirt" to each of them, while others seek out a special friend, sometimes luxuriating in a hug in the midst of the crowd. Others keep a very accurate count of the compliments they give while others get lost in the process of seeking out a fellow traveler, looking her in the eyes and saying something they think will warm them.

I'll be the first to confess that there is an artificiality to all of this, but man they love it, they all do, and there is nothing like sitting there among them as they mill about saying kind words, smiling, noticing that they've caused a smile, touching gently, moving about a small space with care for and a hyper-focus on the other people. And frankly, I don't care how many times they've heard someone else say, "I like your shirt," every single one of them, when it's said to them, looks down at their shirts and smiles, feeling special. They haven't yet grown into their adolescent cynicism or our adult concern with superficiality.

Needless to say, we finished encircling our blue rug long ago. We started at one hook at the beginning o the year . . .

. . . made it to the next hook, link-by-link continuing on to the third and fourth hooks . . .

. . . we then made it to the bulletin boards behind where Teacher Tom sits . . .

. . . and around the corner, which is the point at which we began adding the paper clip chains, accelerating our progress.

We now have a double chain, one plastic, one metal, that goes back to the first hook . . .

. . . before taking off in the direction of our stated goal of reaching the loft on the far side of the room.

At close of business last week, we were within one good compliment session of reaching that goal, after which we will continue to the bathroom, then to the "outside" door, then into the gym, and then outside.

Each of those thousands of links designating a time we made a friend feel good. An undeniable record of how powerful we are.

Later we will return to being superheroes and princesses, but for now at least, we are practicing using our real powers, the ones we all have, if we only remember to use them.

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Play for Life said...

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo F. Buscaglia
... even if it is just to say "I like you're shirt".
Donna :) :)

Amanda Lynn said...

I love this post and mainly because I think that is the most of your classroom I have seen at once! I love the trees in the middle of the room id love to see more and here about how each space is used :)

Unknown said...

If I feel this good just from reading this post, I can only imagine how great your "friends" feel after all those compliments! Wow ~ powerful stuff! And don't 'cha just love it when a seemingly insignificant skill like joining paperclips, takes off and begins to take on a life of its own? Love it! :)

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

This is just very lovely and inspirational - and it is true that simple compliments like "I like your shirt" are a common theme with my small children as well, they are sincere, and do cause happy smiles from the recipient.

What a lot of happy, positive energy from this compliment links idea - and good teaching. Our world needs individuals who feel happy enough to extend compliments and good will to others.

Chapter Forty said...

So not only is courtesy contagious, so are compliments.
Beautiful things happen around you Tom.

Brandin Brosh said...

Hi, my name is Brandin Brosh and I am in Dr.Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama.

I think what you are doing in your classroom is great! It's funny how something so simple can become so big. I love the fact that you created such an original idea to teach such an important concept.

I remember when I was in elementary school my teachers would say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." This is a great way to encourage children to be nice to one another. Something as simple as telling a child that their shirt is cute can make their day! Since everyone is included it helps children not to feel left out too!


martha brown said...

When my Kinder kids (age 4-6) get the paper clips -- they seem to like to twist them open and make sharp, pointy weapons.... I like this compliment chain idea... we'll try....

Katie said...

Just thought I'd let you know that I tried your compliment chain out on my preschoolers at group time today... It was a hit! Much later in the day, the children were still enjoying adding compliments to the chain, and we added 40 just at lunch time alone! All in all, the children and I were very impressed that we were able to give 100 compliments in under half a day. What a wonderful way to help them value the power of kindness. Our chain is now hanging above our circle time rug too. :)