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.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When schools closed early in the spring, the entire country was thrown for a loop. Parents had to figure out what to do with their kids. Teachers had to figure out how to teach students at home. Kids had to figure out how to navigate a totally new routine that was being created and altered in real time.

For many families, it was a big honking mess—one that many really don't want to repeat in the fall.

But at the same time, the U.S. hasn't gotten a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. As states have begun reopening—several of them too early, according to public health officials—COVID-19 cases have risen to the point where we now have more cases per day than we did during the height of the outbreak in the spring. And yet President Trump is making a huge push to get schools to reopen fully in the fall, even threatening to possibly remove funding if they don't.

It's worth pointing out that Denmark and Norway had 10 and 11 new cases yesterday. Sweden and Germany had around 300 each. The U.S. had 55,000. (And no, that's not because we're testing thousands of times more people than those countries are.)

The president of the country's largest teacher's union had something to say about Trump's push to reopen schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that schools do need to reopen, but they need to be able to reopen safely—with measures that will help keep both students and teachers from spreading the virus and making the pandemic worse. (Trump has also criticized the CDCs "very tough & expensive guidelines" for reopening schools.)

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