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The Whatifs

Building a classroom community and establishing relationships with students is the primary goal of all teachers.  Helping students establish relationships with each other that evolve and grow is also a goal for teachers.  I tell my students on the first day of school that we will learn to be a family together, that it will take time and effort but it is important work in order to ensure that everyone feels included and heard.  It is also a key component to our success academically and socially.  There are so many books that can help establish community and develop relationships in the beginning of the year, yet it is important to keep working on these skills and to recognize how to respond to the changing needs of the class.  This year it has been important for all of us in Room 23 to understand that many of us often wonder “what if….”  As we began to read Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, many students were able to connect to Louie, the main character, and to relate to his overwhelming sense of worry and, “what if.”  In response to these connections, I collected a series of picture books that students could read to further explore the concept of worry. The Whatifs by Emily Kilgore, illustrated by Zoe Persico, is one that we shared together and often.  So MANY students could relate to Cora, the main character, who is described as being a nervous girl, someone the Whatifs LOVE.  As Cora describes her feelings and reactions to daily worries and her BIG worry about the upcoming concert, I could see students nodding their heads in understanding and agreement.  When Cora meets a friend who helps her with the Whatifs on the day of the recital, I could see the students start to understand that it is possible to turn the bad Whatifs into good Whatifs.   It was a lightbulb moment for so many of them!  The illustrations and use of color helped the students visualize how Cora felt when the bad Whatifs were occupying her mind and how her outlook and feelings changed when she turned them into good Whatifs.  

Here is what they had to say:

“The good Whatifs and the bad Whatifs look a little alike.”

“Everyone has the Whatifs at some point.”

“Sometimes the Whatifs can protect you.”

“There aren’t just bad Whatifs, there are good Whatifs too!”

“You can turn the bad Whatifs into good Whatifs by turning bad thoughts  into good ones.”

With all of this discussion taking place, I knew that we were growing and changing as a community.  Everyone loved the idea of turning the bad Whatifs into good Whatifs and we started to brainstorm different ways each of us makes that happen.  Relationships are so important in our room so we decided to make a handy chart of all the strategies that we use to combat the Whatifs, stress, anxiety, fear and worries.  I typed it into a small chart, copied it, laminated it and gave each student a copy.  It looks like this:

If I am feeling stressed, anxious, worried, nervous or scared….

Evie says, “Talk to someone about how you feel!”

Ella says, “Turn the BAD What-Ifs into GOOD What-Ifs!”

Gerald says, “Use the 5 senses grounding technique!”

Luke says, “Do something different to take your mind off it!”

Jack says, “Exercise, move your body, jump on the trampoline!”

Cam says, “Feel the positive energy inside of you!”

David says, “Take deep breaths!”

Kylie says, “Close your eyes and breathe for 3 seconds!”

Ashlyn says, “Think of something happy!”

Teagan says, “Count to 10 and if you need to, do it again!”

Olivia says, “Say to yourself, I’m OK!”

Frankie says, “Take a break, go for a walk.”

Ethan says, “Drink some water!”

Brody says, “Think of something that you can look forward to!”

Lucas says, “PBS-Pause, breathe, smile!”

Noelle says, “Listen to some music!”

Charlie says, “Breathe into your shirt and let the CO2 do the rest!”

Mrs. Leenhouts says, “Write it down and let it go!”

Mrs. K says, “Think of a happy memory!”

Mrs. Merten says, “Eat something sour, like Sour Patch Kids!”

Mrs. A says, “Laugh, especially at yourself!”

I have noticed that some students have put them on their desk while others have them tucked away in a safe spot.  Some students bring the list back and forth to school each day.  They love to tell me about the different strategies that they have tried at home, especially the one about eating something sour!  By giving each student an opportunity to share their own strategy and to have it IN WRITING, we have continued to build community and evolve as a family.  What if everyone did that? What a wonderful world it would be, for sure. 

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