Last week our school hosted Challenge Day – a one day event that brings together a cross-section of the school and tries to help them see each other as people who go through similar things. The primary goal is to get kids who might not hang out or even get along to see how much they have in common beneath the surface.
I had the great honor of being allowed to take part in Challenge Day, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience for me. Though we were there to help get kids through it, we were also asked to take part in the activities that the students were doing. These ranged from silly, high-energy games to intensely emotional conversations.
One of the things that made Challenge Day powerful for me as a teacher is that I began to realize how layered and complicated many of my students’ lives are. With experiences ranging from teasing and bullying to drug addiction and suicide, these young people endure a lot of stuff when they’re not in my classroom (and probably a little bit even when they are in my room), and bring a lot of baggage with them when they come to my class. It was also very powerful for me to step out in front of students and share a little bit more about my own experiences and perspectives, and I felt like it let them see me as a normal person. I felt like they realized that their teachers were people who had been through a lot of the stuff that they are going through right now. Hopefully that turns into a foundation of trust that allows us to open up to each other when our lives aren’t going too well.
Since Challenge Day is extremely difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t been there, I encourage you to watch the video below, or check out the full 15-minute video at challengeday.org – it does a nice job of showing what it is and why we felt it was worth doing at our school.