Karen Loewe has been a middle school teacher for 22 years. In that time, she has experimented with all kinds of different strategies for getting her kids to open up with one another. However, nothing proved as effective as the latest exercise she tried in her classroom.
She called it “The Baggage Activity”, and much to her surprise, it had an unbelievable effect on everyone involved, including her. Karen told her story of what happened in her classroom that day in a beautiful Facebook post that has since been shared over half a million times. It turns out, it was one of the most impactful days as a teacher that she has ever had.
“The Baggage Activity” all started with a simple question.
“I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders,” said Karen.
The answers she received were about what you would expect.
However, the most interesting part is what happened next.“I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc. No names were to be on a paper. They wadded the paper cup, and threw it across the room,” said Karen.
“They picked up a piece of paper and took turns reading out loud what their classmate wrote. After a student read a paper, I asked who wrote that, and if they cared to share.”
Each of the students listed off what baggage they were carrying around with them from their past.Although, Karen made it clear that the activity was not meant to single out specific people who had hurt the students before and there was to be no self-identifying information included on the papers.
It was a great way of bringing the students closer together and making them feel that they were all connected. While each person’s struggles might be different, the fact is that everyone has them. No one is exempt from accumulating baggage and we have all gone through life with a heavy heart at times.
The responses from the kids were pretty incredible.“I’m here to tell you, I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up about and shared with the class.”
“Things like suicide, parents in prison, drugs in their family, being left by their parents, death, cancer, losing pets (one said their gerbil died cause it was fat, we giggled😁) and on and on.”
Since it was anonymous, the kids didn’t hold back at all. They shared their deepest darkest fears and burdens with one another. The fact that every student would pick up a paper that wasn’t their own to read to the class allowed each of them to step into each others’ shoes for a minute and gain new perspectives they hadn’t been exposed to before.
As you would expect, it was an extremely emotional activity for everyone.“The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough. The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too. 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,” said Karen.
Everyone was able to learn something from the exercise that day. Karen wanted the kids to know that even though things get tough sometimes, they should never let their baggage define them. Everyone has struggles, but when they enter her classroom, all baggage gets left at the door. To illustrate the point, she hung the bag full of crumpled up papers at the entrance to the classroom so they don’t forget.
“As they left I told them, they are not alone, they are loved, and we have each other’s back. I am honored to be their teacher,” Karen said.
It was an activity that the students will be talking about for many years to come. They will always remember Karen as the teacher that inspired them to look out for one another. At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we are all fighting this great struggle called life together.
This Article Originally Published at shareably