With the goal of creating a sense of community, we begin each school year with a camping trip. On this particular trip there were ten teenage girls – some of whom we had just met – and two teachers. These girls came from different cultures, some from other countries and some from other states. I had been wondering how we were we going to create an emotionally safe environment for the younger ones, while offering the older girls the challenges they needed. Some options would be to make up rules like putting the older ones in charge of the younger ones, or giving the older ones a talk about being role models—but somehow these all felt artificial. After praying about it, an idea came to me.
The idea was based on the game called “Secret Santa”. In that game students secretly share gifts with a randomly chosen friend. What came to me was a more subtle version of the same game. Each group, including the teachers, would choose a higher quality like kindness, gratitude, etc. and practice it during our trip. At the end we would try to guess each other’s quality.
The trip went amazingly well. When we asked if anyone could guess what the jr. high girls had chosen for their quality, one of the older girls said she felt it was respect. She supported her choice by sharing that she’d noticed that the younger girls would listen to her ideas, and even though they had their own ideas, they would give hers a try.
The high school girls chose cooperation. What a great choice! They were the link between the teachers and the younger students, and this choice contributed to the positive energy of the entire group. This quality wasn’t very easy to guess, but one of the younger students said they thought the older students had been supportive.
The teachers chose servicefulness. What choice did we have? We were going to do this anyway since it was our job, but now it had an element of fun—we wanted to be serviceful. One of the students said they felt we were being helpful. I have to say it felt good that someone noticed!
Looking back on this experience, there were a couple of lessons in it for me. First, it showed me that students can make good choices when left on their own. We did not have to tell the students which quality to choose, and we did not have to remind them to practice it. Secondly, it reminded me of how important it is to notice and voice when someone is doing something positive. And thirdly, it taught me that having a shared positive experience at the very beginning of the year—even though it takes lots of planning— shows us that we are capable of working harmoniously, if we put out enough energy.