Heart to Heart Support Group
Teacher Reaches Out to Students
Why a support group? I believe that both adults and children misbehave and draw negative attention to themselves to meet needs that are often ill-attended. Many children are confronted daily with fears, anger, depression, repression, and countless other negative feelings, without validation from the adults in their lives. These children, also, do not know how to deal with these feelings.
I decided years ago that my students should have an outlet, both positive and healing, for these feelings. I began to set aside two periods per week to actually have a support group for my students. During this time we would discuss school-based problems, home conflicts, and many other difficulties young adolescents face.
This year at Tom Joy School, where I teach sixth grade, my students are already so involved in Heart to Heart each Tuesday and Thursday that they enter the room these mornings looking forward to "group" and asking if it is still scheduled.
I have two formal goals for Heart to Heart:
- To provide a warm, caring environment in order to facilitate personal and academic growth and
- To provide a support program, based on the group concept, that will help students deal with pre-adolescent problems and concerns in positive, appropriate ways.
Through this group structure, I also hope students will come to realize two things. First, and most important, that there is a way to release pent-up anger and pain through talking it out. Second, that often they are not responsible for the bad things that affect their lives.
How does the group operate? First and foremost, a group is only as successful as its facilitator (guide). That guide is you, the teacher! You must be willing to sit down with your class and to let your human side materialize. For us to sit down with them and talk person to person and, more important, to listen to them is not a loss of control as a teacher. If anything, it is gaining control through trust, love, and acceptance of our students and vice-versa.
During the first session, discuss the following rules. They are meant to provide boundaries and safe feelings within the group.
Rule #1: Everyone is accepted in this group.
Rule #2: Never put down anyone or laugh at anyone.
Rule #3: Speak what you really feel.
Rule #4: Everyone gets a chance to talk (one by one, around the circle). When it is your turn to talk, you have the option to pass (be quiet).
Rule #5: No one talks about what is said outside the group.
Reiterate that you are simply one member of the group, just as each of them, and there will be times you may want to bring a problem to the group, too. Students love this because suddenly their "teacher" is really human.
During the second session, I introduce a short discussion where we all participate. I may say, "Let's pretend your life is written in pencil. What is one thing you would erase? I start out with my own reply, such as, "I would erase the time I lost my temper and hit my sister." Then the next group member usually feels freer to speak up, because I, the teacher, started the discussion. Don't be discouraged if, during the first few meetings, several children say, "I pass." This only verifies that this is either new to them, that they may be shy, or that they may be afraid to trust the group. As the group meets over and over, you will not need to introduce a discussion topic, and children will join in more and more.
Discipline problems begin to fade, because students are talking out problems, are realizing they no longer stand alone, and are actually developing some very sophisticated life skills.
Heart to Heart is perhaps the most significant thing I do as a teacher. It sets the tone for positive learning. Through the group, we learn to think, to problem solve, to organize our thoughts, and to practice positive self-talk. This carries over into the academics and into social interactions outside class.
How do you find time to fit in Heart to Heart? Just do it! Save an academic subject for the next day. It pays off!
This article is a condensed version of "Heart to Heart," a chapter from NEA's Innovative Discipline, published by the NEA Professional Library.