As I watched our 4th graders share their 2020 intentions with their class, I was struck by how this particular assignment encouraged them to understand themselves, their relationships, and their environment more fully. Barry Turner, who created this assignment, asked his students to set an intention for the year––urging them to reflect on how they want to show up in the world, for themselves and others.
We’ve all seen New Year’s resolutions come and go––and January can sometimes feel too goal-driven, too fixated on success versus failure, all or nothing. This more mindful approach suggests students can benefit from releasing the idea of an end-goal or achievement. It’s not that goals are counter-productive––goals can be quite helpful in achieving one’s “to do” list: cutting down on sugar consumption; exercising more regularly; getting more sleep.
And yet the idea behind an intention is more expansive and involves a deeper awareness of one’s self and one’s relationship with others. Daniel Sigel, author of The Mindful Brain, wrote, “Intentions create an integrated state of priming, a gearing up of our neural systems to be in the mode of that specific intention: we can be readying to receive, to sense, to focus, to behave in a certain manner.” In a word, intentions build resilience.
Once the 4th graders decided on their word for 2020, they brainstormed concrete action steps, deciding for themselves how they can stay focused. Their in-class presentations––sharing why they chose their word and what their action steps are––seemed to fill the students with confidence. Through this meaningful self-reflection, our students know themselves.
So how does this play out with 4th graders?
Annie shared that her intention is to focus on leadership this year. I asked her what that means and she said, “Well, being bossy is telling my little sister what to do; being a leader means I should show her how to do it and maybe do it with her.”
Noelle shared that her intention is to loosen up so that she is less concerned about exactly how something will turn out and “can go with the flow.”
Harper hopes to contemplate the importance of the environment by looking at both the small and large changes her family can accomplish.
Jordan wants to freeze, which as he explained, means to slow down and not rush through his activities and life.
Adagio wants to give; Bella plans to focus; Nick hopes to be generous; and Geneva desires to be helpful. Mr. Turner is striving to stay balanced. Ms. Moon’s word is flexibility and, like Noelle, wants to "go with the flow." Ms. Cherney is keeping humor at the center. Between regular check-ins throughout the year, and a few concrete plans, the 4th graders are positively focused on ways they can take care of themselves, their relationships, and their environment. They are, as writer and educator, Elena Aguilar, states, “telling empowered stories” through the lens of optimism and hope.
Have you chosen your word yet? Focus? Humor? Flexibility?
We're entering the first year of a new decade, a leap year, and an election year, so let's all look to our 4th graders for their collective wisdom, their model of how to set and sustain intentions. As educators and parents, our busy days––teaching and reading, childcare and travel––could use more intention. Why not open your google calendar now and set reminders in March and June, with a single word or question?
At the beginning of the 2019–2020 school year, I asked our Professional Community members to share a photo or memory in response to the question: “What sustains you and brings you joy?” In looking ahead to 2020, I want to renew that question and affirm my intention is: hope for the year ahead and all it brings.