This I Believe

Jana - Bowling Green, Ohio
Entered on January 20, 2008

I have a buddha on my desk. Wooden and plump, he sits in the palm of my hand baring the trademark belly – the one you rub for luck. I came by him in the way many teachers come to own the items that clutter their desks; it was a gift from a student. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that this buddha would come to represent the heart of my classroom.

Years ago, looking for ways to build community, I stumbled upon an idea that involved having students sharing compliments with each other as they passed an object around. Initially, we used a ball, but as a ball begs to be tossed, it was quickly replaced by other less “tossable” objects. The buddha was perfect and “buddha time” was born.

Curious and quiet, my wary, self-conscience fifth and sixth graders gather with me in the prescribed circle on the floor on this first day of the year and we review the buddha rules – you may only talk if you are holding the buddha, you may give a compliment or ask for one, and you may pass if you have nothing to say. The compliments are tentative at first- “I want to thank Sara for letting me borrow a pencil in math today” or “I want to thank Amy for being a good friend and for always playing with me during recess” or “Brian made an awesome pass when we were playing football today”.

Gradually, though, the weeks pass and our buddha time evolves. As my students get to know each other, their comments deepen. Gender and social boundaries are crossed. They take more risks and speak from their hearts – they begin to really notice each other in an intimate, mature manner. The insecurities that were carried in with them in September are set aside as they seek out the goodness in each other, eager to comment on what they have noticed this week.

To a shy student: “I want to compliment Josh on his oral presentation – I know it was probably very scary for him but he did an awesome job”.

From an intimidating student: “When I didn’t make the play last week and Alaina did, she was very gracious to me and made sure to let me know that she was sad I didn’t make it with her”.

Sometimes the unexpected happens, like the time Adam chose to say, “I realize I may have upset some of you this week and I’m really sorry, I’m just having a bad week,” he said.

Years pass and I continue to marvel at the ways my students seek out the good in others. I believe in the inherent goodness of children and in their ability to look for and notice the things others may not. The joy that is shared between the giver and receiver is obvious and almost palpable and I know it is carried beyond my classroom. I can’t ask for more than that.