Just One You Activity: Use in virtual or in-person settings, with students or adults, to create a transition and build Belonging. By NSRF National Facilitator Kaethe Perez

I am spending the week with my six-year-old grandson, who is having his first-grade experience online. Looking over his daily schedule, I noticed he has SEL listed 20 minutes daily as his first online class meeting. Parents who are not educators probably would wonder about the acronym SEL. 

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has always had a place in building a culture of learning in a classroom. For kids to learn, their social and emotional needs must be addressed, and in 2020, it seems everyone is vastly more stressed, students, teachers, and parents alike. I’m writing today to remind us all to remember that adults cannot give what they do not have – supporting one another with grace and sensitivity is more important than ever. 

With staff meetings and online student learning so prevalent, I reached back into the gem of a book, TRIBES, A New Way of Learning and Being Together written by Jeanne Gibbs. One of the energizers in the book that can be used for inclusion, presenting self, and social skills is J-O-Y: Just One You. 

I adapted the activity for adults to be used at the beginning of an online meeting, but the same steps can work in classroom or meeting settings as well, helping build trust and a sense of Belonging among participants.

Somewhat similar to the Transitions Protocol, but in breakouts or small gatherings to be more intimate, this new Activity allows participants to acknowledge where we are socially and emotionally. The slide here was shared onscreen, and I verbalized the instructions as follows: 

After heading into breakout rooms in triads, you have one minute to determine who is Person A, B and C. Each will interview another in this order: A interviews B, B interviews C, then C interviews A. Each person will have three minutes to share (J) something in your life that JUST happened, (O) ONE thing you would like to do for yourself, and (Y) a part of YOU that makes you a very special person. After all three have shared, you will have five minutes in your breakout to discuss the content and process of what was shared. I will send a broadcast announcement when you have just two minutes to finish and return to the main room, where we will debrief.  

Before sending everyone into the breakout rooms, I gave everyone a couple of minutes of silent reflection time to think of their three statements, so they would be prepared when entering the breakout room. 

In the large group debrief, I usually ask: 

1) Why might we have chosen this activity to begin our meeting? 

2) Would anyone care to share how they felt during or after the JOY breakout ?

3) How might you use this activity in your own practice?

If it is not mentioned, I share my thinking about this activity. It’s good to begin with a  low-risk activity to build some trust, since each person decides how much or little they want to share. I also mention confidentiality – that what is shared in the breakout room stays there unless explicitly agreed that it can be shared. They may also have noticed that I, as the meeting facilitator, never entered the breakout rooms like I may when the breakouts are about learning specific content. By staying out, I was respecting their privacy during that time. 

Finally, I share how I connect this JOY activity to the JOY Dishwashing detergent that is available at grocery stores. When I was a classroom teacher, I had a small bottle of JOY at the sink for when students were upset or beginning to act out. I told them I could not have them ruin my JOY, to please go over and wash their hands in some JOY! I let them take a good five minutes, letting the water run over their hands. There is good brain research about running water affecting mood. Norepinephrine, an organic chemical that functions in the brain and body as a hormone that can help people feel happier, is naturally released in the brain. The cold water can also increase production of beta endorphins, or ‘feel good’ molecules, that will give a sense of well-being. And if you’re in the classroom right now, extra handwashing is a good thing, right?

Think about how you can put a little JOY into your practice, for your students and for yourselves.  I wish you well.