The note said, “I hate you."

Disgruntled Princess, by artist Kate Hindley.

I ring the bell for circle just before lunchtime. Catie stands in front of me, silent and with downcast eyes. She unfolds a narrow strip of paper. “I found this note in my folder.”

“What does it say?” I ask.

Choking back a sob, she reads, “Dear Catie, I hate you,” and hands the note to me.

I know the writer from the handwriting. I don’t think Catie knows though it is one of her best friends. I ask, “Would you like a hug?” She says, “Yes,” and I hold her until she lets go. “We’ll talk about this during circle time.”

(Each child has a folder where they place work to take home. It also holds friendship notes children write to each other. The friendship note activity was presented as a way to practice using caring words such as “I'm glad you are my friend, “ or “I like sitting next to you,” or "I like your smile." 

After writing the note, the edges are colorfully decorated and the note is folded and placed in the receiver’s folder. There is an agreement that all notes are addressed by name to the receiver and signed by the writer.)

The children put their work away, come to the circle, sit, and quickly quiet.

“I want to read this note that Catie found in her folder.” I read it, look at Catie and pause. I ask, “What are you feeling, Catie?”

Catie’s eyes are red from crying. “Sad,” she replies.

“Is there more?” I ask. Catie shakes her head no.

“Before we talk about the note, does anyone have anything to say to Catie?”

“I like you,” says Brenna.

“I’m sad too,” says Anna.

“You can sit next to me at lunch,” says Miranda.

“I’m sorry you got that note,” says Graham.

After the children finish sharing their thoughts and feelings, I say, “When I’m uncomfortable I know that there is a hidden lesson. I wonder what I can learn. So, let’s talk about what happened.” 

“Is there anything good about this note?” I ask. The children are quiet and I wait.

“It’s good to write notes,” says Tomas.

“Nothing,” says Graham.

“We can know our feelings,” says Ashlinn.

“Ashlinn says that a good thing about the note is we can know our feelings. I agree. It helps to know what the writer is feeling.”

I pause.

“What’s not helpful about this note?” I ask.

“It’s mean,” says Will.

“What's mean?” I ask.

Max raises his hand, “No one signed it.”

Jake adds, “Catie doesn’t know who it’s from.”

“Why is that important, Jake?” 

“Then Catie doesn't know who to talk to,” he answers. “She can't say stop writing that.”

"That's helpful, Jake. If the note was signed, Catie would know who the writer is and how the writer feels and they could talk about it." I can tell the children are thinking about what Jake suggested. I continue, "Let’s talk about the feelings of the writer of the note. How do you think the writer might be feeling?”

“Mad at Catie,” says Miranda. I look at Miranda and nod that I hear her.

“Bad,” says Will.

“Say more about that, Will, why might this person feel bad?”

“Like she wrote a mistake.”

“What can the writer of the note do about writing a mistake?” I ask.

Sophia raises her hand, “Write her another note and be nice.”

Jake says, “The writer can write another note and say, 'I'm mad,'” and he adds, “The person has to sign it. Catie can ask the person about feeling mad."

(Dublin Montessori Academy, a circle conversation, about 2004)

NOTES - The kids never found out who wrote the note. Catie received many friendship notes later that day including one from the person who wrote the original note. I wrote a friendship message to the writer of that note that said, "I like you and I'm glad we learn together." We did not have another unsigned note that school year. 

August 26, 2012.