There is a phenomena in teaching where new students come in every year, stay for awhile, and then inevitably, they go.
I bond with them, grow to love them, and around April the annual letting go process begins.
I venture to say it is an art that I have mastered, this connection, this being loving, and then letting go. Only to turn around, and do it again, with an open heart.
It is so important to bond with people, and so important to love as fully as we can, while we are with the ones we love. Letting go of relationships, when the time has come, is just as important as opening to them. I believe we can learn to let go well.
To bond there are simple ways: touch, eye contact, laughing together, humor, sharing a personal story. I bonded with my students by starting each day with a choice: give me a hug, a high-five, or a handshake as you enter the door. There were years when I didn’t do this. The years I did were always more full of connection, relatedness and love.
The simple act of offering a child a hug, high-five, or a handshake, showed them I was open to touch. This is huge, as we all need gentle touch and are so starved of it, especially if you are a kid. Imagine, they are separated from their family all day, starting at way too early an age if you ask me, and are contained in a classroom where they are told, “Keep your hands to yourself.” Giving a child a hug in the mornings was a surefire way to show I cared and let’s not forget, touch is healing, too.
Once we established that boundary and my kids knew they could come to me for a hug, hug me they would. All day, some of them. It is a touchstone in a life that may be full of stress and worry. It is a safe moment, with a trusted adult, where no words are needed. The simple act of holding a child shows them they are safe. Someone loves them. And I did. Very much.
Another fun way to connect with young people is to get them moving. The best way to get them to move is to move yourself. In my classroom we would have dance breaks. After a long time of sitting I would announce, “Dance Break!” Kids would cheer, push their chair back forcefully and stand up ready to go!
I’d turn on the music and initiate a move. They would follow. I would go around the room and connect with each one individually and dance with them, make eye contact, be playful, do the running man and then take off to another group. Kids would follow, dance around and before you knew it, we’d be in a dancing train, moving around the room in unison.
There’s no better way to bond than to play, laugh and have some fun.
As the year went on, I told my kids that I cared about them. I would tell them they were smart, no matter what their test scores. I assured them that only certain things can be measured, and I reminded them that their funny jokes, beautiful smiles and creative art projects didn’t fit into the mold of public school measurement, and that was our fault, not theirs, so please, don’t ever think you are dumb because of a test, or because you are not testing for Gifted and Talented.
Finally, and here is the kicker, is the letting go.
Acknowledgement gives completion. I promise. Try it. If you want something to feel complete, acknowledge it. To complete a relationship, acknowledge that person.
On the last day of school, I set a timer for 10 minutes of “Me time.” I told the kids they could not interrupt me, no matter what, I wanted to just share from my heart for ten, uninterrupted minutes.
I said, “I want you to know that I love you. I love each and every one of you.” I looked around the room at each of them as their eyes and mine began to swell with tears. “No matter what you may think, no matter what I may have said, I think you are amazing. If I ever hurt your feelings or made you feel like I did not like you, I am sorry. I never intended to have you feel less than amazing. You have to understand, I am an adult, but I am not perfect. There were days that maybe I was sad, or I had stress at home, or I just drank too much coffee, and I may have taken it out on you, been short-tempered, left you feeling like I didn’t like you. It was NEVER about you. Never. You are amazing, and bright, and fun and I love you so very much. I will miss you. I will think of you. I will always hold you in my heart.”
Many of my kids were crying. Some were actually sobbing. They got up to rush me and hug me. There we stood, in a dimly lit room, surrounded in boxes and the shambles of a place that had been our home for so many months, holding one another in a big circle, sobbing. I felt their love. I felt that even though they are ten or eleven, they listened to me and they got it. They got what I was trying to say, they felt my love.
So I say to you, bond. Bond with those you know and love. Give and receive, give and receive. Hold hands. Share a story. Eye gaze without words. Listen deeply to one another, uninterrupted, and just get it. Get what that person, over there, is attempting to express. Truly take the time to get their world. Where do you think they are coming from? How does it feel to be them? And finally, when it’s time to part, say goodbye and acknowledge whatever went unsaid. Acknowledge them for who they are to you. Tell them, “I acknowledge you for…” and then let your heart flow.
We skimp out on goodbyes a lot in this culture. We get funny, we feel things and it’s easy to just circumvent the whole moment, leaving us incomplete and in each other’s psychic space for eons. Have the courage to say goodbye. Say goodbye until they get it, until they get who they are for you, what gifts they gave, and how much you love them. Have them get your love. That’s all they ever wanted anyway.