by Guest Blogger, Lisa Solar

Have you ever breezed past an acquaintance or colleague, offered a snap smile and a quick “Hi, How are you?” without listening for the answer?  Probably.  Most of us have.  It’s common habit in American and many other cultures to offer this rote greeting and inquiry, and then move on.  It’s the friendly thing to do, right?

But what if we could pause for a moment right then, and make a concerted effort to look at someone and truly acknowledge them, even for just a few seconds?  Could it make a tiny difference in that person’s day?  Could altering our greeting rituals just a little, and learning to move through the world with a little more intention, a little more connection, begin a chain reaction of kindness and caring that might effect an even more profound change?  I think so.

With a renewed and expanded commitment to Social and emotional learning at School For Little Children this year, some wonderful transformations are taking place.  One element that I am especially excited about is the Morning Meeting that is being practiced in many classrooms this year.

We’ve always enjoyed time together on the carpet, greeting one another and taking some time to look at one another and the school day ahead.  Having trained in the Responsive Classroom approach last fall, our teachers and staff have refreshed their own intentions and have brought an even more thoughtful attention to this well-known part of the class time.  Instead of singing a song that acknowledges the children in the circle all together, one version of Morning Meeting now includes the children practicing intentional person-to-person greetings and acknowledgements.  In this practice, each child in circle turns to the child next to them and takes their hand.  They say, “Hello, Amelia, I’m glad you’re here today.”  That child then turns to their partner and takes the opportunity to do the same until the circle is complete.

I had a chance to witness this new ritual in the Yellow Room, and it was a revelation to me.  I saw how time slowed for the kids.  How they watched and waited, excitedly yet patiently, for their turn to perform this special little act of seeing one another.  I’m not sure I can describe in words how adorable it was.  But it was also serious to me- I had the sensation that something important was taking place.  These children were seeing each other in a way that we don’t often prioritize in our fast-paced culture.

In South Africa, members of the northern Natal tribes greet one another daily by saying “Sawa bona”, which literally means: “I see you.” The response is “Sikhona” which means: “I am here”.

This sense of coming further into being when others recognize you is being echoed in the classrooms at our own school.  It gives every child a moment of recognition, and creates a feeling of belonging for them in that moment.  A feeling we hope they will carry with them throughout the school day.

As parents, we can foster this feeling of community by bringing the lesson home.  When we demonstrate to our children that each person matters by looking them in the eye and  effectively communicating that you see them in that moment, it spreads a sense of belonging far beyond circle time.

Try for some time to alter your own way of greeting the people you encounter, and see if it brings you yourself a greater sense of belonging.  I’m guessing it will.  And I’m guessing you will find a reward in your own heart that makes the extra seconds feel like they are remarkably well spent.