I just received a message from a colleague and friend today. It reads, “Hi Caitlin, I was curious if you have any suggestions for activities to introduce to students tomorrow (9/11)? I have not planned a lesson, but I don’t want to ignore the day if it comes up. I was thinking of offering a chance to reflect or ask questions but not sure how to bring up the subject without sounding like I am forcing the (8th grade) students to think about something they may know nothing about?”
This message brings up a question applicable to us all: How do we honor September 11 in a way that is meaningful and authentic for our students? I define mindfulness as the 3 A’s of aware, advancing, and authentic… and, each mindfulness activity is designed to fit those three A’s, fostering growth and understanding.
Along those lines, I did some research and found many ideas about approaches to honoring 9/11. For teachers and communities who might want to go a bit deeper in their reflective activities, the 9/11 Memorial webpage has many aligned activities and lessons, organized by themes and age groups.
And, back to my friend’s question about “thinking about something that they (students) don’t have full knowledge about”… I was reminded of a 2017 post in Psychology Today about 9/11 in which the author says, “we face the opposite problem. The students whom we teach in class are far removed from 9/11. They have no memory of that day.” After the time that has passed between 2001 and 2019, the distance of time and proximity may make authenticity a challenge. It takes mindfulness to honor 9/11 in a meaningful way. My gentle, personal thought is to prioritize intention: Set aside an intentional time, during the day tomorrow, to honor 9/11 in a way that will carry a message of peace and (re)connection, for you and for your students.
What will that time look like? It might look like an intentional pause to take three breaths together as a class, inhaling and exhaling deeply, using guided timing (even your own voice) or a “breath ball” if you have one on hand that visually expands and contracts, timed with your breathing.
Or, your mindful connection time might look like a pause to quietly journal for 3-5 minutes about an open theme linked to gratitude, peace, and connection. You could play peaceful instrumental music in the background, to signal when the 3-5 minutes have passed. You can make the authentic link, and do share with students the intention behind their actions of care and love.
Ultimately, 9/11 is part of history, and addressing it takes time and care. An NY firefighter featured in the new HBO documentary (debuting tomorrow) “What Happened on September 11”, says: “Hearing a personal story from someone who was there kind of makes it easier to wrap your mind around the enormity of it.” The maker of the documentary, Amy Schatz, said in an interview, “One of the biggest questions the kids have is ‘why? ‘Why would somebody do that? Why would there be such cruelty? That’s a very difficult thing to grapple with and answer so that was the trickiest part of the project.”
Mindfulness is simply “a way to be,” and every approach made with care is a chance for opening, for connection. If we as experience designers do not have the capacity of time and space to approach the fullness of the history with students, then a message of peace, and honoring the day, is still a powerful act. Every bit of care counts, as we work to create more opportunities for peace, understanding, and positive learning worlds.