Given what we’ve all been through in the past 15 months, we’ll need some extra time to adjust during these first few weeks of school. Because we know that students can only learn when they feel safe, we encourage you to put a little extra time into helping students find what still feels familiar, to re-establish or build new friendships, and to find ways to have fun.
Creating positive classroom climate may take new strategies, but the effort will pay off. This small daily time investment will help students be more productive in academics in the days, weeks, and months to come by facilitating a range of social/emotional needs.
5 Radical Minutes has three constant strands, all based in solid research. The critical difference in this program over others is that we’ve chosen these three means of connecting students and staff and combined them into a straight-forward daily format.
Structured, paired activities bring students together with all others in the classroom over time. As a result, all classmates get to know one another. Designed to foster acceptance, compassion, and kindness, paired sharing connects youth who may feel isolated or not liked with fellow students by revealing how much they have in common with others.
First Two Minutes: One partner responds to the provided prompt and the partner only listens.
Second Two Minutes: Partners switch roles and the listener responds to the prompt (not what the partner has shared).
Last Minute: Both have a conversation based on the connecting prompt provided.
Classrooms use structured circle activities to further build community. Some circles are geared for fun and laughter. Others address a range of emotions, issues, and attitudes and are designed to enhance classroom climate. When something has gone awry between a student and others in class, restorative circles can be used to support the student needing to take responsibility and make amends. Because most circles focus on community building, students learn how to create that “safe container” for difficult conversations.
Stress and anxiety prevent students from doing their best on tests. Additionally, stress leaves students vulnerable to impulsive reactions and short-sightedness. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has a 40-year history of research starting with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Robert Sapolsky‘s research on the debilitating effects of stress brings meaning to the relief it is for students to be able to release anxiety and become mindful of the present. Students learn to break the cycle of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. This contributes significantly to operating as a trauma-informed school and academic success.
5 Radical Minutes is a process designed to work best with the majority of classroom settings. That said, we recognize that schools vary greatly in the circumstances of their student populations. We trust in the professional capacity of teachers to amend the process while keeping the goal and meaning of the prompt intact. If your school is unexpectedly closed because of a new strain of COVID or some other event, teachers will be able to use the prompt as a whole-group discussion or use break-out rooms for small group process.
There may be some prompts or circumstances when working with the whole group will be most effective. When all students are at their desks facing the teacher, it feels more like a learning time than a sharing time. This arrangement can work, but it would be better to have all students in a circle or somehow able to see one another. It is fine for students to stand during this short activity — the goal is for each person to see everyone else.
Students need more predictability now. Especially at the first of the year, some may feel particularly vulnerable. You might choose to have your class work in small groups for a couple of weeks before pairing them up for prompts. It may work better for students to be with a consistent group for a few times before mixing the groups into new clusters. Waiting a bit before they’re paired will allow them time to trust the process before they’re paired with one student they don’t yet know.
They’ll continue to have small group activities on most Thursdays and teachers can decide how often to change the small group make-up, but we encourage teachers to make sure that all students work in small groups with all other students at some point during the early months of the school year.
We have a few suggestions for alternate participation for students, depending on the limitations in which you find yourself. These are just a starting place:
Invite students to draw a picture of a situation involving the prompt. This works for all ages. Regardless of whether students wish to hold up their pictures for others to see, they can each share a comment about their reflection on the prompt or what they learned through the drawing.
Having students journal is a great option. As with drawing, you can give them the option of sharing a reflection about their writing or what they learned.
Because teachers can’t see all the pairs when using virtual classroom break-out features, it is really difficult to know whether some students are struggling. A safer option might be to have students always work in small groups rather than pairing when using distance learning platforms.
Amend the prompt language to use it with the whole class as a discussion rather than pairing or grouping students.
Allowing students to respond randomly might be less stressful than calling on individuals, but do whatever works to get participation. Implementation options include:
Teachers are professionals, and they know their students best. We don’t want to limit you to the suggestions above, but want to provide several options.
The goal is that every student connects every day in a meaningful way with one or more other students or staff. If you see an alternate activity that allows students to integrate the meaning of the prompt, use it! We don’t want to be overly prescriptive about delivery.
That said, the surveys your students will take are designed to give administrators data that is most reliable if all classes follow the program with fidelity. In circumstances that require adaptation of the program, work together with your administrator to find ways that assure the greatest accuracy of survey results.