Teacher's viral 'baggage activity' brought her students to tears

What a beautiful idea.

Update from the author: I wrote a follow-up to this article sharing a trauma-informed perspective of the activity. You can read it here.

Karen Loewe has been teaching for 22 years. Clearly, all of that experience has given her a solid bead on what her students really need.

The middle school English teacher from Oklahoma shared an activity she did with her students for the first day of school on Facebook and it's gone insanely viral. In just three days, her post has already been shared more than 335,000 times.

What has caught people's attention is something we all have in common—emotional baggage. We live in an era of rising mental health awareness, but also increased social pressures to appear as if you have all of your sh*t together. For kids in the turbulent middle school years, whose their bodies, minds, and spirits are growing at breakneck pace, having a place to share their emotional turmoil can be incredibly helpful. But many kids don't have a safe, supportive place to do that.


Ms. Loewe's classroom just became that place.

RELATED: This teacher's viral 'check-in' board is a beautiful example of mental health support.

Loewe shared a photo of a plastic sack filled with crumpled up paper, with the story of what transpired in her classroom:

This starts my 22nd year of teaching middle school. Yesterday was quite possibly one of the most impactful days I have ever had.

I tried a new activity called "The Baggage Activity". I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders.

I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc. No names were to be on a paper. They wadded the paper up, and threw it across the room.

They picked up a piece of paper and took turns reading out loud what their classmate wrote. After a student read a paper, I asked who wrote that, and if they cared to share.

I'm here to tell you, I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up and about and shared with the class.

Things like suicide, parents in prison, drugs in their family, being left by their parents, death, cancer, losing pets (one said their gerbil died cause it was fat, we giggled😁) and on and on.

The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough. The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too. It was an emotionally draining day, but I firmly believe my kids will judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster.

This bag hangs by my door to remind them that we all have baggage. We will leave it at the door. As they left I told them, they are not alone, they are loved, and we have each other's back.
I am honored to be their teacher.

Seriously, what a fabulous idea. It gives students a chance to get their troubles off their chest and heart, but also maintain anonymity if they want to. It gives classmates a chance to hear what's going on in each other's emotional worlds, to understand what everyone is going through, and to know they are not alone in their struggles.

RELATED: A huge thanks to those who openly share their mental illnesses. You saved my daughter.

Good teachers go beyond textbooks and curriculum, knowing that education is more than just acquiring information and memorizing facts. When students feel seen and heard, it's easier for them to learn. And when kids have empathy for one another, a classroom can become a safe place for learning to take place.

Well done, Ms. Loewe. Let's hope other teachers and students benefit from your wisdom.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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