We start and end every week at Orchard House School with a whole-school circle, where we can see everyone’s faces, hear everyone’s voices, and map out our connectedness physically. The first Morning Meeting of the year is always a special one that starts us off with excitement, when the buzz of post-summer catching up is punctuated by the grand entrance of the incoming 5th Grade class.
This year, Head of School Laura Haskins began the year by urging students to focus on the practice of self-compassion. In practicing self-compassion, we rewrite the scripts of self-criticism, choosing instead to be kind to ourselves. We try to separate our stumbling blocks from our self-identity—we are not defined by our missteps, by our unfulfilled expectations, or by how much we have yet to learn. Maybe most importantly, while self-compassion has an inward focus, we do not practice it in a vacuum, but instead as a member of a larger community, as someone who has much to offer to others, even in our rough patches.
Ms. Haskins chose Maya Angelou as the beginning messenger for this lesson, screening this video that invites us to think about our obligation to be kind to ourselves as the interplay between rainbows and clouds.
“This school year and throughout your entire life,” Haskins told students, “you will experience rainbows in the forms of fun times with friends, scoring a field hockey goal, grasping a math concept you worked hard on, or trying something new.” It is naturally easier to be kind to ourselves when we feel like we’re measuring up to a conventional model of success. But we will also experience clouds, maybe in the form of an argument with a family member, a difficult time with a new academic skill, coming down with the flu on days we have something epically fun planned, or saying something we regret to a friend. “As we learn how to appreciate our rainbows and coach ourselves through the clouds so that we learn and are kind to ourselves, we become people that are well-balanced and ready for life’s challenges."
Mindful Mondays, a segment of the Monday Morning Meetings where the school collectively takes part in a mindfulness exercise to begin the week, reinforces the need to develop a regular practice of taking our emotional temperature. Language and Theatre Arts teacher Lucretia Anderson reintroduced Mindful Mondays this week, demonstrating with a swirling solution that clouded a figurine in a pitcher until the solution had time to settle. The message was simple: we’re still in there, even when we’re hidden by our clouds; we just need to take the time to let the debris settle every now and then.
When we get better at being kind to ourselves, we become better at being kind to others. If we are able to be mindful of our emotions while separating them from our self-characterization, we can train our brains to keep rumination to a minimum. Even further, if we’re able to recognize that our setbacks can help us in acknowledging shared experiences with others, we can reframe personal challenges as assets to the community. In Angelou’s words, “Prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
Welcome back, Orchard House students—we’re excited to see you expand your capacity for so many things, but above all, your willingness to be kind to yourselves.