Family & Parenting

This Teacher’s Awesome Back-To-School ‘baggage’ Activity Is Going Viral

What a brilliant way to get students to connect.

We’re all learning a big lesson from one teacher who shared that she was able to get her middle school students to open up about some pretty tough stuff.

The idea shared in Karen Wunderlich Loewe’s Facebook post is so powerful, it has been shared more than half a million times and liked by than 826,000 people. In the post, Loewe told of a day during which she had students write down their baggage — after first defining what the word “baggage” might mean to them.

Students told Loewe that baggage is “hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders.” They then wrote their personal baggage down on pieces of paper, crumpled them up and threw them across the classroom.

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No names were included on the pieces of paper. The students were then asked to pick up any piece of paper and read what was written on it aloud.

Loewe said it helped students realize that they’re not alone in the sometimes very heavy experiences they have to deal with at home, from depression and the suicides of people they know to losing pets and having parents in prison.

Her post tells of how emotional the experience was for everyone involved.

One student, for example, shared that their dad “left me and my brothers when I was four.”

Another shared that they did not get to see their mom for three years after a divorce, according to images of the crumpled paper Loewe shared with Today.

“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,” Loewe said in the post. “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.”

Loewe, who works in Collinswood, Oklahoma and has been teaching for 22 years, said she is honored to teach the seventh- and eighth-grade students. Her students have decided they want to leave the bag of crumpled papers hanging as a reminder to leave their baggage at the door.

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Loewe, who said she got the idea from #TeacherProblems and modified it for her own use, is not the only teacher prioritizing mental health in her classroom.

A teacher in California has also come up with a way to get students to understand that everyone struggles. Erin Castillo, a high school teacher, created a mental health check-in for her kids. In her classroom, a board hangs on the wall containing statements that may or may not match what her students are feeling on any given day. It includes words like “great,” “okay,” “meh” and “struggling.”

Here’s her Instagram page, showing the board:

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I used to think that incorporating social emotional learning into a day’s activities was difficult. I used excuses like “not enough time”, but the the truth is that we have to make time. My friend, @msduane, is great at reminding us that students that are stressed aren’t able to take in more than 15 SECONDS of what we are teaching. • So how do we make time? – Provide visuals such as this chart I created (photographed by my lovely friend @mrscessac5th). Ask students where they are at and then show them that they aren’t alone. – Explicitly teach strategies. You know those 2 extra minutes before heading to the library or when a lesson wraps up quicker than expected? Walk through a breathing technique and how and when to utilize it. Have students practice the technique as you walk towards the lunch room or the computer lab. – Set time aside ahead of time! While teaching a novel schedule time to discuss the mental health of a character and what strategies the person could use. Select a read aloud that focuses on SEL. ••• There are lots of ways to bring in social emotional learning. Whatever it is that you do, remember how important it is to take a breath and think about where our students are at in the social emotional health. ••• What do you do to support student mental health? Check out the hashtag #iteachmentalhealth for some more ideas and reasons for incorporating mental health education in the classroom and don’t forget that this chart is available for F R E E in my TPT store! (Link in my bio) • • • #specialeducationteacher #teachersfollowteachers #iteachspecialed #teacherlife #teacherresources #teachersofinstagram #teachers #meettheteacher #teachersofig #iteachtoo #classroomdecor #teachermom #teacherlife #teachers #weareteachers #teachermom #teachersoftpt #classroomideas #teachergoals #teacherideas #teachingisfun #teachingkids #teacherinspiration #teachertips #teacherstatus #teacherstuff #teacherswag #spedteacher #teachings #spedsquad #spedontpt

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Students are encouraged to take a blank Post-it Note, write their name on the backside and hang it next to the word that best describes their feelings. This allows all students to see that while some of them may be feeling great, others might be having a rough day.

If a student puts a Post-it Note in a spot that indicates they need help, the teacher may look at the back of the note to see who it is. She will privately meet with the student and they will have a check-in with a guidance counselor.

In the post, she wrote, “I used to think that incorporating social emotional learning into a day’s activities was difficult. I used excuses like ‘not enough time,’ but the the truth is that we have to make time.”

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What a great idea, and a wonderful way to help students feel less alone. We never know what others are going through unless we ask!