Teacher’s ‘Baggage Activity’ helps kids cope with emotional baggage while learning how to support each other
“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.”
Karen Loewe, a middle school teacher from Oklahoma, often uses ‘getting-to-know you’ activities to break the ice with her new students. But this year, she decided to include a new activity called “The Baggage Activity.”
The activity is designed to help kids deal with emotional baggage and know that it’s ok to talk about what’s bothering them. Not only that, but it also teaches them about the healthy ways to deal with emotional baggage so it doesn’t feel so heavy.
She ended up posting the activity to Facebook and it quickly went viral and has since reached countries outside of the US including, Australia and China.
“I asked the kids what it meant to have baggage, and they mostly said it was hurtful stuff you carry around on your shoulders,” she wrote in the post, which had hundreds of thousands of shares by Tuesday evening.
“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 up, and threw it across the room.”
“I saw it on #TeacherProblems,” Loewe told TODAY Parents. She currently teaches seventh and eighth grade students in Collinswood, Oklahoma. “I kind of changed a few things and then just went with it.
I do a lot of getting to know you activities anyway, so I just tweaked it a little bit. I had no idea the kids would respond in the manner that they did.”
After a few days of assessing the class and making sure the activity would be ‘safe’ to conduct, Loewe implemented it on the 6th day of school. Even though she’d been laying the groundwork for the activity since school started, Loewe said she was still surprised by how impactful it was.
“I don’t think I ever had a day where I just felt like ‘this is what it’s all about,’ where my kids opened up and shared things,” Loewe said. “Kids tell me things, but it takes longer for them to open up a little bit.”
While she expected many of the listed concerns, like divorces and deaths in the family, some things surprised her.
“I was kind of shocked about the amount of drugs (discussed),” Loewe said. “I even raised my hand. Drugs affected my family in the past.
Suicide is one that’s becoming more prevalent, because they either have friends or family members or just someone that they know. These are things I wouldn’t expect a 12 or 14-year-old to throw out there. It was really moving.”
The activity resonated with the students, who Loewe said have been “so much more respectful” of each other.
“They don’t interrupt or talk down to each other,” she said. “They’re not rude. It’s completely, completely changed how they treat each other…I wish I would have done this years ago. It’s been so good.”
The activity has gained traction. Loewe said that she’s been contacted by teachers from as far as Pakistan, Australia, and China, asking how she made the activity so successful. It was a response that she never expected, and she said that if she had anticipated the viral nature of the post, she would have included more details about the groundwork she laid with her students.
“I’ve had so many kids come in that are just thankful, I think, that somebody’s listening,” Loewe said. “I think they’re liking it.”
“I want people to know that there is so much more that went into this than what I posted,” she said. “My original post was just for my friends and people that know me. They said ‘You need to make this public,’ so I did, but I didn’t change anything. If I knew it was going to blow up, I would have said what went into it ahead of time.”
Loewe’s kids have written classroom contracts, had discussions about how what happened in the room stayed in the room, and done other trust-building exercises. Since then, she’s had the students engage in several follow-up activities, like conversation starters, worksheets where they have another opportunity to share their “baggage,” and giving feedback.